NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Statistically, two key areas probably prevented the Commodores from pulling off a big-time win Wednesday inside Memorial Gymnasium.
Vanderbilt kept pace with No. 4 Connecticut in the first quarter and found itself down just 10 at the break. A 20-11 third quarter from the Huskies essentially put the game to bed before Vandy made a late run in the fourth quarter to lose 64-51.
When the dust settled, the Dores missed nine of the 10 3s they shot and turned the ball over 23 times and made just 22 field goals.
“Some of it was their length and how quickly they swarm and attack. Their rotations were really good,” Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White said of the miscues. “But I think a lot of it is we’re still learning how to make decisions under duress. We’re still learning how to make decisions in the flow of the game in terms of, if we haven’t scored in two or three possessions, then we got to reverse the ball and we got to get more than one pass on offense. We can’t make a play every time down the floor, we have to let plays develop.
“That’s part of a the growth process for a young team. Now I don’t like seeing our upperclassmen have so many turnovers. I expect it from our young kids. So we got to continue to work on that. But I’m also OK with the turnovers that we have trying to push in transition, the turnovers that we have when we’re misreading each other because we have a lot of new players on the floor.”
It was, obviously, somewhat a moral victory for White’s team. Coming off a seven-win season, it’s clear her unit is much-improved with a gritty and defensive-minded unit that fought for all 40 minutes Wednesday.
Despite shooting 37.9 percent from the floor and recording only 10 assists, the Commodores won the rebounding battle 40-35 and outscored the Huskies 38-32 in the paint.
Vandy also got 24 points off the bench.
“We just came in and we set out to battle. We got nothing to lose. They have all the pressure,” Vandy freshman Koi Love said. “They’re the No. 4 team in the country. They picked us to finish last. We have it all over our locker room. Everywhere. So we just knew that we wanted to come out and be the team that we are – gritty, defensive and let the chips fall where they may. We lost by 13 to the No. 4 team in the nation and they picked us to finish last.”
The Commodores began the night with energy and bravado and were up 7-4 after an early Brinae Alexander 3. And even after UConn recovered Jordyn Cambridge came off the bench and hit a layup to bring Vandy within 11-9.
Ninety seconds into the second quarter it was Love coming off the bench to score – that drew the Dores within 20-17. That would also be as close as they would get for awhile.
The Huskies expanded the lead to 31-19 with four minutes to play in the half and settled for a 33-23 advantage at the break.
“When you’re playing at home and when you’re playing against us, if you don’t have any energy for this game you don’t have any energy for any game,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “It took us to the beginning of the third quarter or somewhere in the third quarter to really get into a rhythm and get into a flow of our offense.
“I thought our defense for the most part was really good most of the night until the fourth quarter when we started giving up layup after layup. I thought for about 30 minutes, at least, our defense was really good because they’re not easy to defend. They’re big and they’re athletic.”
Vanderbilt was outscored 20-11 in the third quarter – but only after the Huskies started the frame on a 16-4 run and led 53-27 at one point. The Commodores still trailed by 20 with less than eight minutes to play before they started to chip away.
By that point it was too little, too late.
“I think they’ve got some good pieces out there. They’re tough to handle in the lane. They’re size was just too much for us,” Auriemma said. “I think they have the ability to put the pressure on you with their defense – which they did. I thought their defense was really good for the most part. They don’t make enough 3s, probably, to compliment their inside game. So if they find that they’re a very difficult team to play against.
“They get it out in transition pretty good for a team that’s got that kind of size.”
Vanderbilt will look to rebound at 2 p.m. Sunday against a Saint Louis team off to a 3-0 start. That matchup is part of the program’s five-game homestand and six-game stretch in the city of Nashville to start the season.
And if Wednesday’s result was any indication that progress was being made, White knows her team will have to bring the same intensity this weekend to get back in the win column.
“I’m really proud of our group. We have a group that’s gritty and tough and plays and competes,” White said. “We’re playing a program that’s arguably been the best program in the country for nearly two decades. We went out and battled. We had certain points in the ballgame where they did what UConn does and they capitalized on every mistake that we made.
“It got away from us a little bit and it would have been easy for us to fold. But we battled. And we fought. And we competed. Incredibly proud of the growth of our team. I think that there are a lot of positive things we can take from this ballgame and we’re going to do that and we’re going to come back to work on Friday and we’re going to prepare for Saint Louis.”
• Vandy forward Autumn Newby eclipsed 400 rebounds for her career. The junior now has 406 boards and counting.
• The Commodores are now 2-6 all-time against Connecticut.
• Vanderbilt last defeated a ranked team Feb. 28, 2016, and has now lost 24 in a row against ranked opponents.
• Vanderbilt last defeated a top-five team Feb. 19, 2009 (Auburn).
• The Commodores were looking to start 3-0 for the first time since 2014 when that squad began the 2015-15 season 5-0.