GREENVILLE, S.C. — It was almost symbolic in a way.
Just when everything appeared to be going Vanderbilt’s way Wednesday, Jordyn Cambridge fell crumpled underneath the basket clutching her left leg.
The Commodores (14-16) had a 30-25 lead at that point. They were outscored 52-37 from there in a 77-67 loss to Auburn at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena at the SEC Tournament.
Cambridge could only return to the bench to watch in what turned out to be Vandy’s final game of the season.
“That’s tough. That’s just really tough for us,” Vanderbilt freshman Koi Love said. “I think that was the defining point in the game. I think if we have (Cambridge) we win.”
Vanderbilt has tried to play through injuries all season. Guard and leading scorer Brinae Alexander missed 23 games. Guard Kiara Pearl was on the bench Wednesday and missed her eighth contest of the season. LeaLea Carter and Autumn Newby also saw time away from the floor recovering from injury and freshman Kyndall Golden missed most of the season with a knee injury.
So when Cambridge went down Wednesday, that appeared to break Vanderbilt’s always-strong spirit.
“Everything that we do from an intensity standpoint starts with (Cambridge). It’s tough. It’s makes it tough,” Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White said. “We had to collectively raise our intensity level on the defensive end – plus now we’re down another guard, so our depth was certainly impacted. We weren’t able to have a rotation, we weren’t able to sub out, we had to keep changing defenses and without having (Cambridge’s) pressure and another defender on the floor, it certainly opened things up for (Auburn forward) Unique (Thompson) inside.”
The Commodores led by as many as eight in the second quarter. A back-and-forth game started to trend their direction with an 11-2 run just before halftime.
But it didn’t take long for the Tigers to take advantage of one of Vanderbilt’s top players, one who was averaging 2.9 steals per game, not being on the floor any more. The loss of Cambridge affected the Dores on the other end as well – Vandy finished with 25 turnovers and Auburn scored almost at will after those miscues.
“There’s just no way to make up for 31 points off of turnovers,” White said.
Love did all she could to carry Vandy offensively – she finished with a career-high 26 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dealt out seven assists. The Tigers, however, contained senior center Mariella Fasoula to the tune of 12 points and six rebounds.
Newby, a junior forward, was held scoreless and grabbed just one rebound while in foul trouble all game.
The Commodores still had a chance to survive and advance with as little as 7:26 to go. They trailed just 60-59 at that point – then Auburn put the game away with a 13-0 run over the next 5 1/2 minutes.
Vanderbilt now turns its full attention to the offseason and the 2020-21 campaign. Love will be one of six freshmen who played this season returning to campus – Cambridge, Alexander, Newby, Missouri transfer Akira Levy and junior guard Chelsie Hall will be back as well.
The Commodores saw marked improvements in nearly every area during the ’19-20 slate despite a young team and the rash of injuries. The next mission will be continuing to move the program up and onward.
“Now we know what to expect, we’re ready to take the next step – the execution, the mentality, the consistency and putting ourselves in position to keep moving forward,” White said. “We have faced so much adversity with injuries. Though it all they’ve continued to step up and be resilient and continue to stay together. Sometimes that’s really hard, especially for a young team.
“They’ve done an outstanding job of doing that and I’m so proud of them.”