By David Dawson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Vanderbilt women weren't going to allow something as minor as fatigue to stand in the way of extending their winning steak -- and securing a milestone victory for the program.
Playing their sixth game in the span of 13 days, the Commodores used a combination of smothering defense and hot second-half shooting to roll past East Tennessee State, 65-39, at Memorial Gym. It was Vanderbilt's sixth consecutive win -- and the 800th all-time victory in the program's history.
Rachel Bell scored a team-high 16 points and Rebekah Dahlman added 15 for the Commodores, who shot 61.5 percent from the floor in the second half. Shamauria Bridges paced ETSU (3-6) with 17 points, 11 of which came in the first quarter.
The Vanderbilt program, which played its inaugural season in 1977-78, now owns an all-time record of 800-401.
"(Reaching 800) means a lot to me," said head coach Melanie Balcomb. "I came to Vanderbilt because it was a winning program and it had a history of tradition, success, and fan support, and it was really just a quality program. I wanted to continue that as head coach."
Balcomb is on the doorstep of a milestone herself, needing just one more victory to reach the 300-win mark at Vanderbilt. The Commodores will look to help her achieve that number when they host Troy on Thursday night.
"As far as me personally, those numbers don’t mean anything," said Balcomb, who is in her 14th season with the Commodores and is the program's all-time wins leader. "I was joking that it means I’ve been coaching for a while. It just makes me appreciate so many players, coaches, and other people that helped me grow and get better. I don’t win any games without their help."
On Saturday, the Commodores received contributions from a variety of sources, with 10 players reaching the scoring column and all 12 players on the roster seeing action.
Bell and Dahlman led the balanced scoring attack, with Bell securing team-high honors for the third consecutive game. Dahlman came off the bench to go 5-of-7 from the floor as the Commodores' bench outscored ETSU's reserves, 30-8.
Minta Spears finished with eight points and a team-high six assists, and Kristen Gaffney pulled down a team-high six rebounds.
Bell said the hectic stretch of games in the past two weeks has been challenging for the Commodores, but also said they have enjoyed the frantic pace.
"I think our mental toughness has been great," she said. "We're missing class, so that's really hard. But at the same time, we all love basketball, so we're glad to be out there and we're ready to get back at it."
The Vanderbilt defense -- which is quickly becoming a staple of this year's team -- limited ETSU to just 34 percent shooting and forced 22 turnovers. The Bucs became the fourth team this season that has been held to 39 points of less by the Commodores.
The first quarter played out almost like a one-on-one contest between ETSU's Bridges and Dahlman. Bridges scored all 11 of the Buccaneers' points in the quarter and Dahlman countered with 10 for the Commodores, who led 13-11 at the end of the period. Bridges, however, scored only six more points the rest of the way for the Bucs, who dropped their fourth straight game.
ETSU owned a 15-13 lead at the 8:14 mark of the second quarter after a basket by Malloree Schurr, but Vanderbilt outscored the Bucs 12-0 over the rest of the quarter to grab a 25-15 halftime lead. The Commodores then opened the second half with an 18-7 surge to extend the advantage to 43-22 on a jumper by Batey with 2:35 left in the third quarter.
ETSU trimmed the deficit to 45-30 at the end of the quarter, but Vanderbilt put together another 12-0 run to start the fourth quarter to pull away for good.