Selection Monday: VU to face Louisville
Head Coach Melanie Balcomb
Head Coach Melanie Balcomb
Staff Writer
Posted Mar 14, 2011
Sharon Harper


It’s a repeat in River City – Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb will bring her squad back to Cincinnati, drawing a 10 seed in the Spokane Region in the NCAA tournament. Her Commodores will play No. 7 seed Louisville (20-12, 10-6) at 11:10 a.m. CT Sunday on the home court of the region’s No. 2 seed Xavier Musketeers, who edged Vandy 62-63 in the NCAA second round last season.

Cheers of “rematch, rematch” were heard from some players at the announcement during ESPN’s Selection Monday special. Fifth-ranked Xavier (28-2) meets No. 15 South Dakota State at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday following Vandy’s match-up. The Musketeers’ post powers 6-5 Amber Harris and 6-6 Ta’Shia Phillips again lead Xavier, 17-0 in the Atlantic 10 conference and league champions.

Vanderbilt (20-11, 10-6) has made the tournament draw for 12 consecutive seasons, and will first have to get past Louisville, which lost to Connecticut in the national championship game just two seasons ago. This year, the Cards, who had trouble on the road at 5-7 overall, tied for fifth in the Big East. They defeated Kentucky 69-55 in Louisville on December 5, lost to Xavier in Cincy 71-59 on November 23 and fell to Tennessee 63-50 on November 12.

Coach Balcomb, happy to be in the tournament after surprises with the men’s tournament draw on Sunday, is A-ok with a 10 seed. She likes the regional feel of Cincinnati being close enough to draw a fan base, and spoke about this team being hardy after overcoming so many difficulties.

“I feel good about this team because of our resilience. We've had a lot of injuries. We're the youngest team I've ever had, plus injuries and illness during the tournament. We've had it all. We'll be at full strength for the NCAA tournament and that's what I'm looking forward to - actually having my deck stacked for the first time.”

Cincinnati native Gabby Smith finds herself in the enviable position of returning home two years in a row. “I’m excited. It’s hard not to look ahead, but our coaches want us to focus on the first game against Louisville. We’ve had ups and downs this year and after our last game (loss to Kentucky 69-56 after scoring 11 points in the first half of the SECT semifinal), we can only go up from there. We’re going to work hard all week. We’ve been kind of sick (flu, colds) recently, but as far as injuries, we’re good.”

The guard adds her focus will be in the right place. “It might be a little hard to concentrate with friends and family screaming from the stands, but otherwise, I think I’ll be fine.”

The ‘Dores will also face a familiar guard in a Cardinal jersey – Louisville transfer Tia Gibbs, who left Vandy after her freshman year to return home to Kentucky. The 2008 Miss Kentucky Basketball was said to be homesick and left on favorable terms. While at Vanderbilt, Gibbs averaged 5.1 points in 29 games. At Louisville, she has scored in double figures 13 times, averaging 8.1 points.

Senior Hannah Tuomi, who said she is somewhat familiar with Louisville, remembers Tia as a good competitor.

“It will be interesting. I played with her only one season but nonetheless she is my former teammate. She’s a really good ball player. She’s done really well for Louisville. I didn’t play one-on-one defense with her since we’re in different positions, but it should be really fun.”



The announcement draws cheers from players during Vandy's Selection party.



Gabby Smith and Clair Watkins 'study' the bracket on ESPN.

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