By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Kayla Overbeck needed no more than a moment to diagnose Vanderbilt’s loss to Arkansas in the SEC Tournament.
“For a whole 40 minutes, I feel like they wanted it more than we did,” Overbeck said.
On Wednesday, the Commodores saw their season come to a close with an 88-76 loss to the Razorbacks at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. In its second campaign under head coach Stephanie White, Vanderbilt finished 7-24 overall and 3-14 in SEC play.
Those numbers don’t sit well with White, whose Dores sunk the same Arkansas team last Sunday in their regular-season finale at Memorial Gymnasium. That’s why White hopes her players don’t forget Wednesday’s loss anytime soon.
“Nobody likes to lose,” White said. “We have great motivation going into the offseason to get better, individually and collectively. We close the book on where we were this season, we move on and look forward to taking our opportunity to get better as we move forward.”
No. 12 seed Vanderbilt looked poised to advance to the second round of the SEC Tournament after one quarter against No. 13 Arkansas. The Dores held the Hogs to a 5-for-21 (24 percent) start from the field and led 20-13 ahead of the second quarter. But Arkansas outscored Vanderbilt 24-12 in the second period and led 37-32 at the break.
The Razorbacks turned on the heat after halftime, knocking down nine 3-pointers and leading by as many as 18 points. Arkansas’ defense made the Commodores pay for mistakes, turning 20 Vanderbilt turnovers into 23 points.
“Arkansas was just more hungry that we were,” senior Christa Reed said. “They really outworked us, especially going towards the end of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. We just didn’t have the desire that we needed to have to pull out the ballgame.”
Vanderbilt now enters an offseason of reflection. It loses three seniors – Rachel Bell, Myka Dancy and Reed – but returns plenty of big-game experience. Against Arkansas, four of Vanderbilt’s five starters were freshmen or sophomores. That group included shifty guard Chelsie Hall, an SEC All-Freshman Team honoree who led Vanderbilt in scoring during the regular season. “I think she can be the best point guard in the SEC,” Overbeck said.
Alongside Hall and freshman forward Autumn Newby, the Commodores expect to return Overbeck, who notched 16 points and a career-high 14 boards vs. the Hogs, and Cierra Walker, who hit three treys. Boston College transfer Mariella Fasoula will be eligible to play next season. Plus, White will toss a top-20 signing class into the mix comprised of forward Brinae Alexander and guard Jordyn Cambridge.
The Commodores won’t lack for experience next season. But no matter the makeup of the locker room, White said the Dores must dig deeper within themselves to compete in the SEC.
“We’re changing a culture and changing mindset, that we have to step on the floor with some swag and some confidence and step on the floor expecting a level of excellence,” White said. “You don’t just step on the floor and expect that to happen. You build that every day in everything that you do.”
That’s why White doesn’t plan to waste this offseason.
“Losing sucks,” she said. “Nobody wants to repeat what we’ve done. Now it’s what we do in the offseason to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.