Low Energy Plagues Dores

by Zac Ellis

Just 1:08 remained in Vanderbilt's first-round SEC Tournament matchup with Alabama on Wednesday when freshman Jordyn Cambridge grabbed a long rebound and streaked toward the opposite basket. Between two Crimson Tide defenders, Cambridge drove the lane and dropped the ball into the basket. Except the ball didn't go in. Instead, it rolled along the entire circumference of the rim before dropping out of the hoop at the last second.

Perhaps no moment better encapsulated Vanderbilt’s opening-round matchup at the SEC Tournament. The 14th-seeded Commodores fell cold from the field in a 74-57 loss to 11th-seeded Alabama, ending their season after a short stint at Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Vanderbilt shot just 37 percent from the field (24-65), including 32 percent in the first half. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, hit 28 of their 52 shots (54 percent).

From rebounding to points in the paint to point-blank layups, the Dores’ effort was not enough in tournament time.

 

I'm disappointed for our team. We've been through a lot of adversity this year. At times, we've shown great perseverance. But I'm disappointed from this game -- really, our last two games -- in terms of our energy and competitiveness.

Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White

Stephanie White Day in the Life (photos by Joe Howell)

Vanderbilt’s early exit from the SEC Tournament was an abrupt end to a season that had showed flashes of promise late in the year. In a two-game stretch in late February, the Commodores went toe-to-toe with No. 6 Mississippi State in Starkville and beat Tennessee in Knoxville for the first time in school history. Against the Bulldogs, the Dores fought to a two-point game in the third quarter before letting Mississippi State pull away.

Vanderbilt responded in its very next game, making history on Rocky Top with a 76-69 win over Tennessee on Feb. 28. The Dores rallied from 10 points down and ended the game having scored 29 fourth-quarter points, shooting 60 percent in the second half and outrebounding the Lady Vols 34-22. Vanderbilt went into the matchup 0-33 all-time in Knoxville.

The Commodores fought in single-digit losses to SEC foes Auburn, Georgia, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, as well. But that same intensity didn’t make the trip to Greenville.

We have to want it just as bad as we want it to beat Tennessee. We made history [by beating Tennessee], and you have to want that every time you step on the floor. Same thing about Mississippi State. If we can put Tennessee together, Mississippi State together, we're unbeatable. I feel like we didn't bring that today. We haven't brought it the last few games."

LeaLea Carter

The Dores eventually played to their potential, in part, by returning to full health. Excluding walk-ons, Vanderbilt players missed a combined 34 games due to injury in 2018-19. That number included lengthy absences from key names like sophomore Chelsie Hall and freshmen Brinae Alexander and Cambridge. In certain situations, Vanderbilt dressed just five scholarship players. The injury bug made it difficult for the Dores to maintain a rotation.

“With a young team, a team that I’m not sure how many games we had a consistent lineup on the floor, that’s still really trying to figure ourselves out, consistency is something we have to be able to bring every day,” White said.

Vanderbilt University Athletics - Official Athletics Website

Regardless of Wednesday’s loss, Vanderbilt hopes its late-season momentum carries through the offseason. The Dores graduate just one of its currently players in graduate student Bree Horrocks, which means the bulk of the program’s nucleus is set to return. That includes Second Team All-SEC honoree Mariella Fasoula (16.2 points/game, 7.1 rebounds/game) and All-Freshman honoree Alexander, who scored 13 points on Wednesday. Six signees will join the fold next season, as well, adding much-needed bodies to White’s bench.

That returning cast of characters has White looking forward to the offseason, because she is ready to write a different script when the Commodores return to the SEC Tournament.

“You certainly don’t want to continue to feel this way when you’re at the SEC Tournament,” White said. “But I’m looking forward to building with the pieces we have, with the incoming class we have, and really getting to work this summer. It’s going to be a growing experience for our staff. It’s going to be a growing experience for our team. At the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of fundamental skill work to do.”