March 8, 2008
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| RISPER CAPS STRONG TOURNAMENT
Jennifer Risper was Vanderbilt's most consistent player throughout the tournament. She averaged a team-best 11.5 points and 12.0 rebounds in both of Vanderbilt's games. The Moreno Valley, Calif., native also tied for the team lead with four steals. On Saturday, Risper paced the Commodores with 14 points (6-of-10 shooting), nine rebounds and two steals.
Although Vanderbilt was never able to get it going offensively in the SEC Tournament, its defensive effort was very strong. Against Auburn and Tennessee, both teams shot a combined 33.6 percent (35-of-105) from the floor. After holding Auburn to a season-low 44 points on Friday, Vanderbilt limited the Lady Vols to their third-lowest scoring output of the season with 63 points. Tennessee is averaging a league-best 79.4 points per game. "The fact that we held them to 63 points, I don't think that happens to them a lot," head coach Melanie Balcomb said. "I think that's something that's going to give us an opportunity to make a run in the NCAAs. That's were we want to be defensively."
ALL-TIME ATTENDANCE MARK SET
Saturday's attendance of 12,897 was a new SEC Tournament record for a single session. The previous high was 11,788 set in 1999 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The mark in 1999 was also set during the semifinals. With Sunday's championship still to take place, this year's tournament is just 4,998 people short of breaking the total attendance mark of 43,642 set in 2003 in North Little Rock, Ark.
SOMMET STREAK ENDS
Before Saturday's loss to Tennessee, Vanderbilt had an unblemished mark of 8-0 in SEC Tournament games played in what is now named the Sommet Center. In addition to Friday's 49-44 win over Auburn, the Commodores won tournament titles in 2002 and 2004.
Vanderbilt opened the game on fire, hitting 8-of-14 shots to build an 18-8 lead. Leading the charge was Jennifer Risper, who connected on each of her first three shots and scored six of the team's first 14 points. "I thought we came out really strong, and (Tennessee) had been starting games unbelievably," head coach Melanie Balcomb said. "I think we did a great job being ready to play."
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Lady Vols have a chance to show how much they've improved since being humiliated by LSU.
Candace Parker scored 17 of her 25 points in the first half as the No. 3 Lady Vols advanced for a shot at their third Southeastern Conference tournament title in four years by beating instate rival Vanderbilt 63-48 on Saturday night.
The victory gives the Lady Vols (29-2) a rematch Sunday night against the last team to beat them: LSU, a 66-49 winner over Kentucky in the other semifinal. LSU (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP) won the SEC regular-season title by routing Tennessee 78-62 in Knoxville on Feb. 14.
"They beat us on our home floor and they won the SEC championship outright, so obviously we have incentive going in," Parker said. "It's going to come down ... to defense and rebounding and playing a 40-minute game. I think we're a completely different team than we were when we played them. I think we're going to play with energy and play for 40 minutes."
Senior center Nicky Anosike said the key lesson was not slacking up with a big lead.
"You have to keep fighting and pushing, and the defense still has to be there," she said.
Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt said the LSU loss was a wake-up call for her team. They have won five straight since that loss, which prompted a meeting between coaches and players and a players' only session. She believes the Lady Vols realized they had been playing in spurts since winning the national championship last season.
"They really had no one to blame but themselves," Summitt said.
"That's when they took ownership. I told them, 'We've gotten away with being a team that just played in spurts and played the scoreboard instead of playing the game with great passion for 40 minutes.' I said, 'If you're going to be a championship-caliber team, you've got to do it.'"
Tennessee, which already has 12 SEC tournament championships, will be making its 18th appearance in the title game after knocking off the defending champion. Vanderbilt (23-8) lost for the first time in nine games after winning the 2002 and 2004 titles here at the Sommet Center, only a mile from its own gym.
Vanderbilt, whose five tournament titles are more than any other SEC school but the Tennessee, had been trying to win for the fourth time in seven years.
"We've played them harder every time we've played them this year, and ... I'm proud of how much we've improved as a team," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb
(Photo by Neil Brake)|
The Commodores couldn't sustain a hot start that had them leading by 10.
Alexis Hornbuckle added 14 points for Tennessee.
Jennifer Risper led Vanderbilt with 14 points and nine rebounds. Christina Wirth, the Commodores' leading scorer with 13.1 points, was held to seven.
"We're young," Wirth said, "we're getting better all year long."
It was a defensive struggle between the SEC's top two scoring teams, especially in the second half. Tennessee hit only six of 27 field goals against Vanderbilt, which is second only to LSU in scoring defense. But the Lady Vols held Vanderbilt to a season-low in points and its worst 3-point shooting performance of the season (2-of-17).
"We held them to 26 points in the second half," Balcomb said. "This is a team that scores 80 and 90 a night. I think that was definitely a big part of our game plan and was successful."
The Commodores got within 39-33 on a 3-pointer by Wirth in the opening minutes of the second half. Anosike scored a three-point play, Risper picked up her third foul and went to the bench. Alberta Auguste put back a miss, and Alex Fuller hit a 3 with 13:33 left for a 47-35 lead that never dipped back into single digits again.
Parker hit four free throws, and Hornbuckle added a jumper midway through the second half for the Lady Vols' biggest lead at 53-35.
Vanderbilt, which struggled to score points in its 49-44 quarterfinal win over Auburn on Friday night, opened with intensity against Tennessee. The Commodores hit five of their first eight shots, and Risper's putback with 14:29 to go gave Vanderbilt a 14-4 lead. They matched that at 18-8 on a layup by Jence Rhoads.
The Lady Vols, who hit only two of their first seven shots, settled down and got to work. Parker scored six points, and Hornbuckle and Bobbitt each hit a 3 in a 23-4 spurt that put Tennessee up 31-22 with 4:43 left. When Parker hit a 3 from the top of the key, that put the Lady Vols up by seven on the way to a 37-28 halftime margin.