USAF Academy, Colo. --- Fueled by freshman Cierra Walker's explosive performance, the Vanderbilt women captured the first championship of the Stephanie White Era on Saturday afternoon.
Vanderbilt fans hope, and expect, there will be many more to come.
Walker scored 21 points, making 5-of-7 shots from 3-point range, to help the Commodores defeat Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 73-63 in the championship game of the Air Force Classic.
Walker also had a season-high six rebounds and added four assists while logging 37 minutes of playing time for the Commodores (7-1), who stretched their winning streak to six games.
Vanderbilt closed the game on a 9-1 run in the final 2:03 to pull away from the Cougars (2-5) in a tight contest that featured nine lead changes and eight ties.
The Commodores finished 12-of-25 from 3-point range. Walker played a big role in the outside attack, including going 4-of-6 from long range in the first half.
Three other Commodores also reached double figures in the win: Christa Reed had 13 points, Erin Whalen added 12 and Rachel Bell had 10. Whalen and Bell both made the All-Tournament team.
Donshel Beck had 14 points for SIUE (2-5). Marqu'es Webb had 10 rebounds for the Commodores.
Vanderbilt committed 18 turnovers and lost the rebounding battle, 47-37, including surrendering 23 offensive boards to the Cougars. But the Commodores were able to offset those issues with the strong outside shooting.
"I was very disappointed in our effort and our energy in the first half," said White, the first-year head coach. "But I was pleased to see that we found a way to win. We've got some things that we need to clean up, but it's a process."
Perhaps the biggest 3-pointer of the game belonged to Bell, who knocked down a jumper from the corner with 1:13 to play to give Vanderbilt a 69-62 lead. Reed also made a key 3-pointer near the midway mark of the fourth quarter to help the Commodores fend off SIUE.
Vanderbilt's Myka Dancy played all 10 minutes of the third quarter, and contributed a pair of big baskets.
The Commodores owned a 33-31 lead at the end of a tightly-contested first half, which featured four ties and seven lead changes. Three players combined for 31 of Vanderbilt's 33 points -- Walker had 12, Reed added 10 and Whalen had nine.
Both teams had big scoring runs in the first quarter. The Commodores struck first with a 13-2 spurt to flip an early 5-0 deficit into a 13-7 lead. Reed fueled the run with 10 quick points, including a pair of 3s. SIUE answered back late in the quarter with a 9-0 run, and the Cougars led 18-17 at the end of the quarter.
Vanderbilt doesn't have much time to celebrate the tournament championship: The Commodores host Tulane on Monday.