Highlights | Balcomb | Gaffney & Spears
By David Dawson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Determined not to make the same mistake twice, the Vanderbilt women finished with a flurry this time.
Less than 48 hours after seeing a late lead slip away at Green Bay, the Commodores played crisply down the stretch Monday afternoon and pulled away from Presbyterian for a 56-38 win. The victory came in front of a crowd of 5,351 -- roughly 3,000 of which were school-aged children -- on "Education Day" at Memorial Gym.
Vanderbilt (2-2) was clinging to a shaky 44-38 lead after Presbyterian's Taylor Perry hit a pair of free throws with 4:52 remaining. But the Commodores showed late-game poise, and closed the fourth quarter on a 12-0 run. The surge included back-to-back three-point plays by Kristen Gaffney and Minta Spears in the span of 51 seconds as Vanderbilt finally broke free from the Blue Hose (1-4).
Vanderbilt sophomore guard Christa Reed finished with a team-high 12 points and Gaffney added 10 points and four rebounds. Jasmine Jenkins also scored 10 points and matched her career high with seven rebounds, three of which came on one sequence in the second half. Jenkins has reached double figures in all four of VU's games this season.
Rayte'a Long finished with five points and a team-high nine rebounds for the Commodores, who bounced back resolutely from Saturday's stinging loss in Green Bay. In that game, Vanderbilt owned a nine-point lead with less than eight minutes to play before going cold from the floor and getting saddled with a 58-56 loss.
Head coach Melanie Balcomb was pleased that the Commodores showed more resolve on Monday, but said her team needs to do a better job of maintaining its intensity from start to finish.
“I don’t think our play has been consistent in any game this season," said Balcomb. "(Against Green Bay), we were better in the second and third quarters than the first and fourth. That’s concerning, and it’s mental. We’ve got to figure out that piece of the puzzle."
The Commodore defense keyed Monday's victory, limiting Presbyterian to only 30 field goal attempts -- half of which came from 3-point range -- and holding the Blue Hose to eight points in each of the final three quarters. Presbyterian finished 10-of-30 from the floor (33 percent), including 5-of-15 from 3-point range (also 33 percent).
Vanderbilt didn't shoot the ball effectively, either, as the Commodores also finished at 33 percent. But VU took almost twice as many shots as Presbyterian, finishing 19-of-57.
Vanderbilt trailed 14-12 at the end of the first quarter but outscored Presbyterian 18-8 in the second quarter to build a 30-22 halftime lead. The Commodores stayed in front throughout the second half, although Presbyterian stayed within striking distance until the final four minutes.
Aianna Kelly scored a team-high 14 points for the Blue Hose, but Vanderbilt didn't allow any other Presbyterian players to score more than seven. Vanderbilt has now held its opponents to less than 40 points in each of its first two home games. The Commodores defeated Mississippi Valley State, 89-39, in lthe season opener.
Balcomb said her team's defense was "tremendous" in certain stretches on Monday.
"I don’t care who you’re playing, to hold a team to 38 points is a great job," she said.
Perhaps the most pivotal play of the game came with 4:39 remaining, when Gaffney converted a three-point play after Presbyterian had closed within six points at 44-38. Spears then added another three-point play on VU's next possession, and suddenly the Commodores' lead ballooned to 50-38 with 3:43 to go.
"Down the stretch we figured out what we should run and we attacked a lot better," said Spears. “We just had to read the defense. We didn’t technically switch offenses, we just tried different options and they started working."
Vanderbilt dominated the stat sheet, winning the rebounding battle, 38-21, and forcing Presbyterian into 19 turnovers while VU committed only 10.
The Commodores now turn their attention to the upcoming Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament. Vanderbilt will host Austin Peay at noon on Friday in the opening game of the two-day event. Indiana will face Ohio University on Friday at 2:30 p.m. The third-place game will be played on Saturday at noon, followed by the championship game at 2:30 p.m.