'Dores advance to SEC Championship gameVanderbilt defeated LSU 61-47 Saturday

March 7, 2009

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NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — All No. 22 Vanderbilt had to do was relax a little and hustle a lot to push away LSU and advance to the title game of the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Christina Wirth, a senior who scored a game-high 18 points, opened the way for the Commodores’ 61-47 victory over the Lady Tigers on Saturday night.

Vanderbilt faces No. 6 Auburn on Sunday for the title.

“It’s great when you have experienced players on the floor who keep you relaxed,” Wirth said. She said she told her teammates, “Let’s just relax and play our game.”

LSU (18-10) led 26-23 at the half, but Vanderbilt (23-8) tied it 30-30 at the 16:50 mark on a Jennifer Risper free throw. The Commodores took the lead for good when Wirth hit a 3 with 7:00 to play and a 43-40 lead. Vandy outscored LSU 21-7 in the final seven minutes.

“Those last seven minutes, we had people step up every single play,” Wirth said. “We didn’t stop for 40 minutes. It just came down to hustle plays and just attacking the basket.”

Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb credited senior leadership for keeping the team on track when the game was close and for inspiring more aggressiveness later in the game.

“The second half we did a much better job of being on the attack,” Balcomb said.

Just as Vanderbilt took Georgia leading scorer Ashley Houts out of Friday night’s game, the Commodores held LSU’s Allison Hightower (14.6 ppg) to six points.

“They were playing me in box and one … faceguarding me the whole time,” Hightower said.

LSU coach Van Chancellor said there was more to the loss than Hightower being shut down.

“It’s just hard to have 20 turnovers, give up 16 offensive rebounds and beat a team,” Chancellor said.

Prior to this game, Vanderbilt was 0-5 this season when trailing or tied at halftime. But the Commodores experienced lineup was able to hold LSU to five offensive rebounds in the second half and force 20 Lady Tiger turnovers. LSU has six freshmen.

LSU’s Courtney Jones and LaSondra Barrett each scored 10 points.

Jence Rhoads scored 15 points for and Risper finished with 11 for Vanderbilt.

Chancellor said he didn’t know whether his team would be picked for the NCAA Tournament.

“We won six of our last seven, 13 out of something. (We were) playing really good until the last eight minutes of this game,” he said.