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Foster Auditorium - Tuscaloosa, AL

Commodores shut down Alabama's comeback

2098 days ago
Vanderbilt Athletics
Photo: Vanderbilt Athletics

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The Vanderbilt women let a big lead slip away in the second half Sunday, but they ultimately protected a small one down the stretch.

After seeing a 16-point first-half advantage turn into a two-point deficit near the midway mark of the second half, the Commodores came up with a series of huge plays in the final eight minutes and defeated Alabama, 55-52, to gain their first SEC road win of the season.

Vanderbilt freshman Paris Kea hit two free throws with 10 seconds left to give the Commodores (12-8, 3-4) a thee-point lead, and Alabama (12-10, 1-6) missed a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Morgan Batey scored a team-high 14 points or the Commodores, who have won four of their past five games. Paris Kea added 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Ashley Williams led Alabama with 12 points.

"In the second half, when they (took) the lead, we did a good job of keeping our composure to end up getting it right back," said Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb. "This was our third road game, and we've worked really hard on doing a better job being ready. I thought that's what we did (today)."

The Commodores -- who defeated Arkansas 55-53 on Thursday by holding the Razorbacks without a field goal for the final 12:26 of the game -- didn't allow a basket in Sunday's game until Alabama's Karyla Middlebrooks scored in the paint at the 9:53 mark of the first half. The Tide opened the game with nine straight missed shots.

The basket by Middlebrooks ended a 22-minute stretch in which the Commodores' opponents had gone 0-for-27 from the floor. (Arkansas missed its final 18 attempts in Thursday's game).

"Alabama started off really slow ... (but) I knew that wasn't going to continue," said Balcomb. "That changed midway through the first half and it became a more competitive game."

Vanderbilt has now won six straight games in Tuscaloosa, dating back to the 2003-04 season. The Commodores have won 17 of the last 19 games against Alabama overall, although the Tide beat Vanderbilt last year at Memorial Gym, marking Alabama's first-ever win in Nashville after 17 losses.

Vanderbilt dominated early in Sunday's game, jumping out to a 15-1 lead while Alabama was trapped in the field-goal drought. The advantage swelled to 21-5 with 5:58 left in the half, and the Commodores eventually carried a 32-24 lead into the locker room.

But Alabama made a huge second-half surge, eventually grabbing a two-point lead after two free throws by Meoshonti Knight with 10:09 to go. The free throws capped a 12-3 run by the Tide.

Vanderbilt, however, answered with a 6-0 run to retake a four-point lead, 45-41, after a layup by Kristen Gaffney with 8:55 remaining. And this time, the Commodores held on to the lead, although the Tide had several opportunities.

Alabama had a chance to tie the game with 14 seconds to go, but Nikki Hegstetter missed the front end of a two-shot foul. She made the second attempt to trim VU's lead to 53-52, but on Vanderbilt's next possession, Kea calmly sank two foul shots with 10 seconds left. Alabama's Khadijah Carter missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Vanderbilt defense limited Alabama to 31 percent shooting from the floor (17-of-54), including 4-of-19 from the floor. The Commodores attempted just five shots from behind the arc, with Rachel Bell finishing 2-for-3 and Rebekah Dahlman going 0-for-2.

Vanderbilt won the battle inside, outscoring Alabama 30-18 in the paint and out-rebounding Alabama, 39-32.

Vanderbilt visits No. 18/20 Mississippi State on Thursday. The Commodores defeated Mississippi State, 78-62, in Nashville on Jan. 11.