By David Dawson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Vanderbilt offense put together a terrific shooting performance Monday night, but that wasn't the part that head coach Melanie Balcomb enjoyed the most.
Balcomb was more pleased with the Commodores' defense during an 86-29 victory over Air Force in front of a crowd of 2,213 at Memorial Gym.
Vanderbilt (5-2) forced Air Force into 30 turnovers and limited the winless Falcons (0-6) to single-digit scoring in the first, second and fourth quarters.
"Our defense is way ahead of our offense right now, and that's how it should be at this point in the season," said Balcomb. "We were able to change our defense (early in the game). We really wanted to just create a lot more offense off of our defense, which wasn't our strength coming into this game, but it was something we wanted to work on."
The Vanderbilt offense got rolling midway through the first quarter and never slowed down. The Commodores shot 69 percent from the floor for the game -- including a staggering 75 percent in the second half -- and had 10 different players reach the scoring column. It was the first time since Jan. 3, 2010 (against Ole Miss) that Vanderbilt shot 70 percent or better in a half.
Rachel Bell led the way with a career-high 20 points, going 4-of-4 from 3-point range, as the Commodores extended their winning streak to four games. Bell went 8-of-11 from the floor and had two rebounds and one steal.
"Every game we play I feel like we become closer and we get better," said Bell. "The board in the locker room says, 'Stay together, play together.' So that's what we're working toward and I feel like we are playing together every game."
Bell was one of three VU players in double figures. Jasmine Jenkins scored 12 points, finishing 6-of-7 from the floor, and Marqu'es Webb had 11 points and a team-high five rebounds. Webb was 5-of-5 from the field and 1-of-1 at the foul line.
Sarah Fotsh led Air Force with 11 points.
Vanderbilt's Rayte'a Long had nine points, and Morgan Batey had eight points and four steals for the Commodores, who finished with 15 steals.
Air Force came into the night averaging only 40 points per game -- and the Falcons' offensive difficulties were compounded by the Commodores' stingy defense that limited Air Force to 36 percent shooting from the field (13-of-36).
The final score represented the biggest margin of victory -- and the fewest points allowed -- by the Commodores since Dec. 21, 2008, when Vanderbilt beat UT-Martin by the identical score of Monday's game, 86-29.
Through the first seven games of the season, Vanderbilt is allowing an average of just 51.4 points per game, and Monday's win represented the third time that VU has held an opponent to 39 points or less.
The Commodores got off to a slow start on offense, and owned an 8-7 lead near the midway mark of the first quarter. But Vanderbilt reeled off a 27-0 run -- scoring the final 13 points of the first quarter and the first 14 of the second -- to build a 35-7 lead. Air Force's Venessannah Itugbu finally ended the run when she scored a basket with 3:36 left in the the second quarter, giving the Falcons their first points since the 4:43 mark of the first quarter.
Vanderbilt carried a 37-11 lead into the half, and then opened the third quarter with another big run -- this time, it was a 19-2 surge -- to build a 56-13 advantage, and the lead continued to swell the rest of the way.
The victory enabled the Commodores to cap a 4-0 homestand and improve to 5-0 at Memorial Gym this season. Vanderbilt will look for its first road win on Thursday, when the Commodores travel to Philadelphia to face Drexel.