BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Ciaja Harbison scored 28 points and dished out five assists in her Vanderbilt debut to lead the Commodores to an 82-71 victory over Western Kentucky on Monday night in the season opener at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Vanderbilt improved to 37-9 in season openers, including 2-0 under head coach Shea Ralph.
Playing in her home state, Harbison made an immediate impact. The Louisville native scored the first eight points for the Dores (1-0), and her jumper capped an 11-3 run to end the first quarter and give Vanderbilt a 19-9 lead.
The Dores, who ranked sixth in the nation in steals last season, picked up right where they left off defensively. Vandy forced 11 turnovers in the first quarter, scoring 10 points off them.
Harbison embarked on a personal 6-0 run to end the first half and give the Dores a 34-23 advantage at the break. She finished with 16 points on 6 of 7 shooting from the field through the first 20 minutes.
The Dores forced 18 turnovers in the first half and limited the Lady Toppers to just 8 of 27 shooting (29.6), including 1 of 11 from behind the 3-point line.
After WKU (0-1) cut into the deficit with an early scoring burst to start the second half, Vandy answered back. Pretty ball movement led to a 3-pointer from graduate transfer guard Marnelle Garraud that expanded Vandy’s lead to 13 points midway through the third quarter.
Vandy’s lead peaked at 15 points, and the Dores held off any comeback attempts by WKU by making free throws down the stretch.
Vandy finished shooting 57.1 percent (28 of 49) from the field and 22 of 31 from the free throw line.
Sophomore forward Sacha Washington scored 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting while Yaubryon Chambers filled the stat sheet. The senior forward was a perfect 5 for 5 from the field for 10 points while adding eight rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Jaylin Foster scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead WKU, which missed 12 free throws.
Harbison may be playing in a new jersey, but her scoring ability remains the same.
The graduate transfer (Saint Louis) was 7 of 8 from the field (87.5 percent) and 12 of 14 from the free throw line (85.7).
Harbison finished her four-year career at Saint Louis as the program’s second-leading all-time scorer (1,688 points) and her per game scoring average (15.9) ranks third in school history. Her free throw percentage (80.7) ranks in the top 5.
In the first meeting since the 2013-14 season, the Commodores increased their winning streak over WKU to nine straight games. Vandy leads the all-time series 23-12 and improved to 7-9 on the road against the Lady Toppers.
The Dores return to Nashville for their home opener at Memorial Gymnasium at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against Samford.