Tiffany Clarke scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, and Jasmine Lister added 20 points to lead Vanderbilt to a 59-44 Senior Night victory over the Auburn Tigers in Memorial Gym. With the victory, Melanie Balcomb became the winningest coach in Vanderbilt women's basketball history.
Going into the game, Melanie Balcomb was concerned about her team's ability to execute against the full court pressure defense that first year head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy introduced to Auburn this year.
And it turned out that her fears were justified, as the Tigers forced Vanderbilt into 26 turnovers and limited the Dores' shooting percentage to 39%.
"It’s just a real tough team because they’re doing something different than anybody else has done, a zone press into a zone," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game.
"You’ve got two days to prepare for it. We prepared," she said. "They did everything we thought they were going to do, but you can’t make it look like that in practice – the length they have, the anticipation."
The Vanderbilt defense was stout as well, holding the Tigers to an even lower field goal percentage at 31% and only one 3-point basket on 14 attempts. The Dores also out-rebounded the Tigers 40-31.
With both teams playing strong defense, unsurprisingly, baskets were few and far between. In the first five minutes of the game, each team made only one field goal. Eventually, Vanderbilt took the lead at 8-7 on a jumper by Morgan Batey. As it turned out, the Dores would be able to keep that lead for the remainder of the game, but there wasn't anything easy about it.
"It was s one of those games that you kept saying, let’s just gut it out, let’s just gut it out," said Balcomb. "I’m really proud to be able to gut out a win like that. To be a good team, you have to be able to win in different ways, And, yes, it was different tonight. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t how I drew it up."
If anything, the second half required more guts than the first half. The Dores held a 27-18 half-time lead, but in the second half, the Tigers kept hanging around, forcing Vanderbilt turnovers and scoring off offensive rebounds.
But when the Dores beat the pressure, kept their composure and were patient, even if they couldn't score from the field, they were able to get to the free throw line.
That was fortunate for Vanderbilt, because after a basket by Lister gave the Dores a 9-point lead at 37-28 with 13:34 left in the half, the Dores didn't score another field goal for more than 10-minutes.
But throughout that drought, a parade of Dores went to the free throw line. In all, five different Vanderbilt players went to the line and attempted 14 free throws, connecting on 13 them. Those free throws allowed Vanderbilt to maintain the 9-point lead they'd held when the field goal drought began.
Then, finally, with 3:13 left in the game a 3-pointer by Lister stretched the lead out to double digits at 53-41. That 3-pointer proved to be the dagger in the Tigers' heart, and they never cut the lead before double digits after that.
With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 19-9 overall and 9-6 in the SEC, ensuring that the Dores will finish with a winning SEC record for the 13th consecutive year,
Next, the Dores wrap up the regular season in Athens, where they'll meet the Georgia Lady Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU and can be heard on the radio on 560 AM.