By David Dawson
BRONX, N.Y. - Long break between games or no break at all -- it seems to makes no difference to the Vanderbilt women. The Commodores just keep on rolling, regardless of what the schedule throws at them.
Vanderbilt extended its winning streak to 10 games on Wednesday and captured the championship of the Fordham Holiday Classic by defeating host Fordham, 53-40, in the title game of the two-day tournament.
Minta Spears scored 11 points, going 3-of-4 from 3-point range, to pace the Commodores (11-2) in the low-scoring victory. Rebekah Dahlman came off the bench to score 10 points and was named the tournament's MVP.
Marqu'es Webb was also named to the Classic's All-Tournament team for the Commodores, who led the game from start to finish. Vanderbilt limited Fordham to three points in the second quarter and enjoyed a 27-14 advantage at the half.
The Rams (5-8) made things interesting late in the fourth quarter by trimming Vanderbilt's lead to 48-40 with 2:18 to go, but Fordham didn't score the rest of the way and the Commodores finished strong at the foul line, making 5-of-6 attempts in the final minute to secure the win.
"Coming here to New York and winning this tournament is big for our confidence," said Spears. "We're really maturing as a team, and we have come a long way since the start of the year."
Samantha Clark and Hannah Missry led Fordham with 11 points each.
The Commodores have had a strange schedule during their 10-game surge, but they have made it look easy. Wednesday's win marked the second time that they've posted wins on back-to-back days during their hot streak. They've also notched wins after having extended breaks, including layoffs of 10 days and seven days.
"The schedule has definitely been a little crazy, but I think it says a lot for our team that we've been able to handle it and just focus on doing what we needed to do," said Spears.
The 10-game winning streak is Vanderbilt's longest since the 2011-12 season, when the Commodores opened the year with 10 straight wins.
Vanderbilt came into Wednesday's game ranked No. 7 in the nation in field goal percentage (49.8 percent) and ranked No. 12 in defense, allowing 51.0 points per game. The Commodores thrived in both departments during the tournament.
Vanderbilt shot 61.2 percent from the floor during Tuesday's 71-45 win over New Mexico State in the opening round, and then dominated defensively during Wednesday's win. Vanderbilt's defense limited Fordham to 32 percent shooting for the game, including 4-of-17 from 3-point range.
Senior Rayte'a Long finished with seven points and six rebounds.
"I thought we had different kids step up on each of the floor during both games," said Balcomb. "And that's always great to see. When you are getting contributions from so many players, that's obviously tough to defend against us. I felt like our depth really played a big role in the wins."
The Vanderbilt defense nearly held Fordham scoreless in the second quarter, but Missry hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer for the Rams' only points of the period. Vanderbilt's offense was exactly red-hot, either. The Commodores scored just six points in the second quarter, and carried a 27-14 lead into the half.
Vanderbilt maintained a comfortable advantage for much of the third quarter and the opening part of the fourth period until Fordham put together a late spurt to trim the deficit to eight with just over two minutes to play. The Rams had a chance to draw even closer but missed a 3-pointer, and Kristen Gaffney hit two free throws on the other end to push the lead to 10.
Vanderbilt got out to a quick start to open the game, with Spears hitting two 3-pointers on Vanderbilt's first two possessions. That set the tone for a high-paced quarter for the Commodores, who strung together a 9-0 run and built a 21-11 lead. Long and Spears scored six points each during the period.
The game slowed to a crawl in the second quarter, as the teams combined for just two field goals in the period. Vanderbilt's lone basket came on a jumper by Batey at the 4:02 mark, and Fordham's only basket was Missry's 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Commodores went 4-of-5 from the foul line during the period to account for the only other points of the period.
Wednesday's game was Vanderbilt's final non-conference contest. The Commodores open their SEC schedule on Sunday at Ole Miss.
"We like the way we playing right now, but we now we are capable of more," said Spears. "We have a lot of confidence going into conference play."