Nashville, TN — Tonight, the Vanderbilt Commodores rushed the Memorial Gymnasium court donned in hot pink jerseys and ready to show their support in the fight against breast cancer. The ladies began the night by recognizing several strong and courageous breast cancer survivors by presenting them with a pink rose.
“It’s really special and humbling to know the fight that these women are going through and to be able to honor them and be able to progress the cause and bring awareness,” said Vanderbilt’s Head Coach Stephanie White. “More than anything, it is important to honor them with the way that we play, and it was an honor to recognize them.”
Their opponents, the Louisiana State University Lady Tigers, also wore pink in honor of Vanderbilt’s special night. Although both teams shared a common respect and support for the evening’s cause, they refused to agree on one thing -- who would be victorious on the court.
Looking at both teams’ statistics for the season, any spectator would bet on the Lady Tigers to take the win. LSU entered the game at 17-7 and 6-5 in the SEC while Vanderbilt clearly claimed the title of the underdog with a record of 11-13 and 1-10 in the SEC. However, the Commodores weren’t afraid.
“For the most part, I just felt prepared,” said senior Marqu’es Webb after the game. “For me, it’s the always the moment you’ve been waiting for. There is no time to be nervous.”
That level preparation was apparent as the first quarter alone showed that the underdog could still have a bite! Led by Christa Reed and Webb, the team of primarily underclassmen came out fighting, scoring 19 points in the first 10 minutes of play.
Even with LSU’s small but quick firecracker, Jaelyn Richard-Harris running the court offensively and their guard Raigyne Moncrief scoring a beautifully executed three-point shot in the last second of the quarter, they wrapped up the period trailing Vanderbilt by one point, 19-18.
As the Commodores continued to maintain the lead during the second, the game came to a screeching halt as the Tiger’s forward, Ayana Mitchell, fell to the floor trying best to capture a rebound for her team. LSU’s trainers rushed to the court and carried Mitchell to the locker room where she, fortunately, did not remain for too long.
In fact, just as Mitchell returned to the sidelines, she checked in to replace Jasmine Rhodes who had picked up two early fouls. A layup by none other than Moncrief allowed the Tigers to break a 32-32 tie.
The roles were reversed from the end of the first quarter as LSU ended the first half of play in the lead with a score of 36-35.
It seemed that LSU liked the taste of the lead at the end of the half, as they came back to the court fighting harder than ever. The Lady Tigers’ hunger to keep that lead was aided by the Commodore’s turnover trouble. By the middle of the third, Vanderbilt had a 34.1% turnover rate that the Lady Tigers took advantage of having scored 15 total points off of turnovers with four minutes left in the period.
Vanderbilt’s inability to step up their defense allowed LSU’s Alexis Hyder to take her scoring into the double digits. In fact, the Lady Tiger’s ended the quarter with four players in double figures: Hyder and Mitchell with 10, Chloe Jackson with 11, and Moncrief leading the way with 16. Because of this stellar offense and a reevaluation of their defense, LSU was able to take the lead for the second time in the game and close the quarter out leading the ‘Dores, 57-50.
“Our defensive intensity picked up, and we weren’t trapping us much,” remarked LSU’s Head Coach Nikki Fargas on the change in LSU during the third quarter. “We were just trying to keep them in front of us. At first, we were doing a poor job of our interceptor’s responsibility in the traps. We weren’t covering the right outlets. So, we went away from that and tried to play our true five defense, and we rebounded well.”
The pressure was on as the buzzer sounded the start of the last quarter. The victory was truly up for grabs as the game moved like lightning with both teams electrifying the court with energy. With just five minutes of play left, the Lady Tigers led only by two points. A game that could’ve easily been a sweep in the LSU’s favor was now a tight match.
The Commodores would not give up as they used eight second-chance points to pull within one of the Lady Tigers with four minutes remaining. “Just one point behind” would be the tagline for the rest of the game.
The clock ticked down from one minute remaining as Commodore fans sat nervously on the edges of their seats. With thirty seconds left, and Vandy still remained one point behind at 68-67.
Music reverberated through the gymnasium, but the volume could not be matched by the screaming of the fans. With seconds left and an assist by Minta Spears, Vanderbilt’s Rebekah Dahlman scored, and the Commodores were “just one point behind” no more!
“That shot meant the game, obviously,” said Dahlman when asked about her game-winning shot. “But it wasn’t even about that. It was about finally getting that win. We believed from the start, and we were able to execute.”
Against all odds, Vanderbilt claimed the victory over LSU with a final score of 70-68, bringing them their second SEC win. Even with this win, Coach White is ready to keep pushing her team to greatness.
“I’m proud of our team. We’re going to watch the film and learn what we need to learn from this. We’re going to enjoy it tonight and come back ready to work tomorrow.”
Will this victory give them the confidence they need to keep bringing in the wins? Fans will see on Thursday Feb. 16 as they watch their Commodores take on the University of South Carolina.