NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There couldn’t have been better script written for Mariella Fasoula’s final game in Memorial Gymnasium.
The Vanderbilt senior from Athens, Greece, listened to the Greek national anthem sung before tipoff, went out and scored 24 points – nine of which came in the fourth quarter – and helped lead the Commodores to a 70-64 win over No. 15 Kentucky on Sunday.
“Super emotional. I caught myself slipping. I almost started crying,” Fasoula said. “It’s been a journey for me. You never want it to end, but when it does, I’m just glad it ended with this group of people, with this team, with these coaches – this team is super special so I’m excited to have been a part of it.”
Vandy came into the affair having lost five in a row. It also had dropped 29 straight against ranked opponents dating back to 2016.
But after the “Hymn to Liberty” was sung and the ball was tipped, Fasoula and the Dores had a different look about them.
They led by a point after one quarter and at the half. They then trailed by as many as 10 late in the third quarter – but still never wavered.
Fasoula scored the first points of the final frame to get Vanderbilt within 55-48. That would turn out to be the start of a memorable, 24-9 period for the home team.
“It just showed that we’re never done,” Fasoula said. “We might have had some adversity with other games, but we come into each game with a different mindset and mentality to go win, what we need to do to win that specific game. I think what mattered most is us locking in today and executing.”
Sunday’s game was the 59th in a black and gold uniform for Fasoula. It was the 100th for LeaLea Carter who finished with 10 points – including a crucial layup in the waning moments.
That duo, along with Sarah Gordon, were honored postgame for their efforts in helping turn around a program that doubled last season’s win total and recorded 10 home victories for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign.
“Both of them have really been outstanding leaders in their own way. They come to play every day,” Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White said. “(Carter) has been up and down from a production standpoint. She’s maintained consistency in terms of her communication and work ethic.
“(Fasoula) is an outstanding player. She’s a great kid. For her to be able to come here and to help us get to where we are – I think it said it all when she said that you want to leave the place better than you found it and they both have certainly done that.”
The Commodores now head to the SEC Tournament in Greenville, South Carolina, with a ton of momentum on their side. That momentum began to snowball in the fourth quarter against the Wildcats.
After Fasoula’s layup got Vandy within nine, Cheslie Hall’s three-point play and Koi Love’s layup made it 57-53. Jordyn Cambridge buried a 3 – Vanderbilt’s first and only 3 of the day – to cut it to 61-58 and then Fasoula and Cambridge, respectively, scored on back-to-back possessions making it 61-60.
With 3:25 left, Fasoula’s jumper in the lane finally gave Vanderbilt the lead. Her layup 90 seconds later broke a 63-63 tie. Carter began to put the game out of reach with a left-baseline layup making it 67-64.
“We’ve been close the last few games against some really good teams,” White said. “I think for us, being able to execute in time and score situations in the fourth quarter was really good for us on both ends of the floor. We challenged them after the third quarter because that was really poor. And that team responded.”
The Commodores now head into the postseason where they’ll face Auburn (10-17) at 10 a.m. CT Wednesday at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. But until then they can savor the thrill of victory.
And Fasoula can hold close the memory of the night she honored Vanderbilt after they had honored her.
“That touched closed to home because I’m so far away,” she said in reference of the Greek national anthem. “I appreciate so much because that’s my home, that’s my culture, that’s my national anthem. It got me hyped before the game and got me a little emotional where I couldn’t stop smiling.”