TUSCALOOSA -- Vanderbilt improved to 14-6 overall (4-3) in the SEC with a hard-fought 67-58 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide on Sunday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The first 32 minutes of the game featured 13 ties and 11 lead changes before the Dores took the lead for good with eight minutes left in the second half.
The box score for the game wasn't a thing of beauty for Vanderbilt. On the positive side, the Dores dominated the board with a 49-29 rebounding margin over the Crimson Tide, but on the negative, the team shot only 20% from three-point range and committed a season-high 27 turnovers.
But Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb was proud of her team. "Absolutely. This isn’t an Alabama team of the past. They’ve got a lot more talent; they’re playing harder; . . . they have a better environment than they ever had. Wendell’s got it going on." She said that one of the factors in that improvement is the return of Kaneisha Horn, the #5 recruit in the country as a high school senior, following a redshirt season in 2011-2012 due to a torn ACL and the addition of transfer Daisha Simmons, who had been part of the rotation at Rutgers during her freshman season two years ago, as two reasons for that improvement.
She also was pleased with her team's mentality. "Our kids know who they play next and who they played last, and we didn’t focus on that," she said. "We focused on the team we were playing at the time, and that shows maturity from my team, and I really liked how tough we were tonight."
The game was played in historic, but newly renovated, Foster Auditorium. In the early 1980s, the Alabama women's basketball team played their games in Foster Auditorium but for the past couple of decades had played their games in Coleman Coliseum. After renovations, the Crimson Tide moved back to the historic facility last season. Vanderbilt had played a couple of games there in the olden days, but Sunday afternoon was the Dores' first game in the renovated facility.
Foster Auditorium was the setting of Governor George Wallace's famous Stand in the Schoolhouse Door in 1963 after a federal court ordered the admission of two black students to the university. This iconic photo from the Library of Congress shows Vivian Malone Jones making her historic entrance into the auditorium to register for accounting classes.
A historical marker commemorates those events of fifty years ago, but on Sunday afternoon, it wasn't about history, it was about a basketball game.
Alabama Head Coach Wendell Hudson
Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb used the same starting lineup that she has used for most of the season: Jasmine Lister, Christina Foggie, Kady Schrann, Elan Brown, and Tiffany Clarke.
But early in the game, she switched up the lineup, moving Elan Brown to the 3-guard position and subbing in freshman Heather Bowe into the post along with Clarke.
"It’s all about toughness," she said, " and one of our toughest players is Heather." Coach Balcomb said that she thought Brown and Schrann had been playing really well but that Bowe wasn't getting enough minutes.
"I thought was if I could move EB back to the 3 a little bit, play her at both, let her be back and forth, I like her at the 4, I like us with her at the 4, but also it gives us more rebounding and then it gives Heather an opportunity to play more minutes," she said. "I just felt like of anybody on the bench who I trusted who I knew was ready to give us more productivity off the bench, it was Heather. And so it’s my job to find a way to get her on the floor more. She’s earned it."
The lineup changed paid off, with Bowe playing a career high 30 minutes, scoring 13 points to go along with 13 rebounds. "My biggest thing is to focus on my role, whether it be sprinting the floor, getting defensive stops, hustling in the trail to get my other teammates open, setting good screens, and then the team was sagging off my tonight so I had my open shots," Bowe said after the game.
Christina Foggie finished with 13 points, five rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot.
Tiffany Clarke put together two solid halves of basketball with 15 points and 7 rebounds in the first half and 12 points and 8 rebounds in the second half. In her 38 minutes of playing time, she only committed one foul.
"We did a really good job getting the ball into Tiff," said Bowe. "I think Tiff had a really great game. I think she set the tone. She had the spark tonight, and she was a great leader tonight as well."
Clarke's basket gives the Dores a 32-29 late in the first half.
Vanderbilt held a four-point halftime lead, but the Crimson Tide tied the game before the first media timeout. For the next eight minutes or so, it was neck-and-neck. This jumper by Elan Brown midway through the second half tied the score at 44-44.
A pair of made free throws by Jasmine Lister following a technical foul called on Alabama gave Vanderbilt a two-point lead at 48-46 at the 8:00 mark. From that point on, the Dores were able to hold on to the lead for the rest of the game.
But even though the Dores held on to the lead, the game stayed tight for a while longer. When Alabama came within one, a jumper by Bowe put the Dores back up by three points at 51-48.
Soon afterwards, Bowe sank another basket and was fouled in the process, eliciting cheers from the bench.
The free throw that followed gave the Dores a six-point lead at 54-48 with 6:09 remaining, and from then on, the Crimson Tide would come no closer.
Vanderbilt took a double digit lead for the first time with 2:27 left in the game, but Alabama closed within seven points at 63-56 with 1:54 left. But Brown knocked down a couple of jump shots to restore the double digit lead.
Alabama scored once more, but when the final buzzer sounded the Dores were the victors. Next up for Vanderbilt is a trip to College Station, Texas, to play the #16 Texas A&M Aggies on Thursday night.
* * * * *
Unless otherwise noted, photos copyright 2013 by Whitney D for VandyMania.com