Duluth, GA — In the third game of the second round of the SEC Tournament, Vanderbilt asserted itself late in the second half to win 53-40 over Missouri.
“Our offense came when we needed it in the second half,” said Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb. “But we are the best defensive, rebounding team that I’ve had at Vanderbilt — and I think that showed tonight. The consistency that we showed where we weren’t making shots, to continue to defend was impressive. And I’m really proud of that…that shows a lot of heart and a lot of guts.”
The Commodores got off to a quick start; they established a 7-2 lead. But once the diminutive Lianna Doty got into the game for Missouri, things changed in a hurry.
A game that seemed to be headed towards a possible blowout became competitive as Doty took control — running the Tigers offense with complete control and precision. She quickly got everything settled as they were able to bring them within one, 14-13.
While Missouri was able to get into the flow of the game, Vanderbilt star forward, Tiffany Clarke struggled. Clarke got off to a 1-7 start with only two points.
But Clarke wasn’t the only victim of offensive ineptitude, as both teams clearly couldn’t get into any kind of rhythm whatsoever — it was almost as if the rims had lids on them. Both teams shot and shot some more with no avail; they just couldn’t get anything to fall for them.
Missouri’s 2-3 match-up zone was the elixir for their struggles offensively as it completely flustered the usually efficient Commodores. And while the zone caused Vanderbilt to sputter, Missouri couldn’t capitalize as they allowed 15 offensive rebounds in the first half alone — that was almost the amount that Missouri had in total in the first half.
“When you give up second and third shot opportunities, there’s a little bit of deflation sets in,” said Missouri coach Robin Pingeton. “What hurt us tonight, it’s kind of been our Achilles Heel all year long, and they had 20 points off our turnovers. I liked our defensive game plan coming in. Every possession is big — and especially when you are not shooting the ball very well.”
It was obviously that something would have to chance, and whatever team made the proper first half adjustments would win this game.
Adjustments — and well, just making shots. With Missouri’s Morgan Eye still struggling, Vanderbilt was able to seize control in the second half — mainly because of the play of Jasmine Lister and Christina Fogge.
Both seemed extremely focused in the second half and instantaneously made plays. With Missouri taking slight control of the game, up seven with such and such time left. Both made back-to-back three pointers that seemed to be the catalyst as they went on an 18-0 run — this run inevitably broke the backs and wills of the Tigers.
“I think that was absolutely the turning point,” said Pingeton. “And I just didn’t think we handled that…responded very well to that. They were spot up good looks at the basket, we just absolutely had a breakdown in our defensive assignments — and didn’t weather that very well.
“In tournament games this time of the year, it’s going to be a game of runs, it’s going to be some highs and lows, but you got to play in the present — and not allow that kind of deflation to set in. I really felt like it got the best of us, and we just did not respond or regroup from that point on.”
Vanderbilt plays #2 seed Kentucky in the semifinals tomorrow.