NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Tuesday, the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team led visiting Jacksonville State by three at halftime.
In the second 20 minutes, defense was clearly the initiative.
“That’s what we’re focusing on. We’re trying to be one of the best teams defensively in our league,” Vanderbilt sophomore guard Jordyn Cambridge said. “We just showed that we can do that. We have some things that we can fix but we definitely can be that team.”
The Commodores held JSU scoreless over the first five minutes of the third quarter and relatively cruised from there to pull away for a 88-66 win inside Memorial Gymnasium. Jacksonville State (0-1) shot 25.9 percent in the second half and turned the ball over 22 times.
Vandy also recorded 12 steals and registered 28 points off JSU turnovers.
“We were never able to play this sort of defense the first three years that I’ve been here,” Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White said. “So for our upperclassmen they’ve not been expecting to do this. So now the expectation is to play defense at a high level with a high intensity. Now we just got to be a little bit more disciplined.”
Leading by 15 going into the final period, Vanderbilt began to pull away easily and quickly. Brinae Alexander’s three-point play pushed the lead to 78-55 with 3 1/2 minutes to go and Alexander’s layup on a back-door cut – taking the feed from Autumn Nemby – made it 82-60 with a little more than six minutes to play.
Jacksonville State didn’t have any answers left.
Alexander finished with 20 while Cambridge had 18 and freshman Koi Love added 16. Love also pulled down 10 rebounds and Newby had 13 boards.
The Commodores (1-0) return to action at 7 p.m. Friday when they host Radford.
“Really proud of this group,” White said. “They have been battling since June and have been so competitive everyday. Have been working incredibly hard, have gotten better, have gotten closer, have gotten tighter, have played so well together and it wasn’t pretty the entire ballgame, but we did some really, really good stuff.
“I think that you can see the future is bright and that we are a team that’s going to make some noise and we’re real excited about our opportunities ahead.”
Vanderbilt began the game at a quick pace while jumping out to a 14-6 lead. Alexander had seven of those 14 points in the first six minutes and Vandy made five of its first eight shots from the field.
Cambridge drilled a 3 from the right wing to push the lead to 25-12 and that’s the margin Vandy would enjoy going into the second. The Commodores outscored JSU 12-4 in the paint during the first 10 minutes, shot 69.2 percent and held the Gamecocks to a 30.8 percent clip from the floor.
Cambridge scored five straight to start the second quarter which allowed Vandy to enjoy a 30-14 lead. But the Gamecocks responded with three triples and a couple free throws slicing the deficit to five before Demi Washington restored order with a layup and elbow jumper in back-to-back possessions three minutes into the period.
Jacksonville State’s seventh 3 of the night got the Gamecocks within two with 3:12 to go in the half. They would settle for a 44-41 deficit going into the break as Vandy went the final 2:07 without a field goal and finished the first 20 minutes with 12 turnovers.
“We didn’t let that get to us because teams are going to make runs,” Cambridge said. “We just had to adjust and come back out in the third quarter and make sure that we came out strong and made our run first before they had a chance to make theirs.”
Vanderbilt threw a shutout for the first five minutes of the third quarter and took a 52-41 in the process – Love capped the 8-0 start to the quarter with a layup after driving through the ride side of the JSU defense.
Cambridge picked up her fourth foul with four minutes to play in the fourth quarter and with JSU still scratching and clawing to stay in contention. Love picked up the slack with four straight to push the margin back out to 59-49 and her layup at the 1:20 mark made it a 65-52 game.
Vanderbilt took a 69-54 lead into the final quarter, a lead too much to overcome from the visitors in the fourth quarter thanks, in part, to the Commodores’ relentless defensive pressure.
“Our freshmen came in and we had upperclassmen in foul trouble and we just battled,” White said. “And we fought and competed and made hustle plays and gave us second chances and that’s what it’s going to take for us. We got to be the scrappy team that every day you know you’re in for a battle when you play us.”
— Vanderbilt Women’s Basketball (@VandyWBB) November 6, 2019