ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands – Vanderbilt contended with No. 9 ranked Arizona in the opening round of the 2021 Paradise Jam. The Commodores (3-3) fought to the final buzzer against the Wildcats (5-0) losing on a buzzer beater 48-46.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to see that we’re improving every day and I’m happy for our team,” Vanderbilt head coach Shea Ralph said. “We found out today, I think, who we can be and where we want to go.”
Arizona struck first and reached a 5-0 apex before a 3-pointer from Iyana Moore found the net for Vanderbilt’s first points of the afternoon. The Commodores began to rally and held the Wildcats to 11 points, the second lowest first period total of the season.
The second period was much of the same as Vandy continued to press into the Arizona lead, entering halftime only trailing by eight.
The Commodores notched 11 points in the third stanza bringing the deficit to 11 points at 38-27.
Demi Washington commenced the final period on a solo 8-2 run to bring Vandy within six points with five minutes remaining. Through the next four minutes, Vanderbilt mounted a monumental rally to come within one of Arizona at 45-44 with a little less than two minutes to go.
A split trip to the free throw line from the Wildcats’ Taylor Chavez allowed Arizona to increase its lead to 46-44 with 23 seconds. Kaylon Smith’s attempts on the low block were rejected by Lauren Ware but a second-chance bucket from Brinae Alexander tied the game with six seconds remaining.
A pull-up jump shot from Shaina Pellington sealed the win for Arizona.
The Commodores notched more second chance and bench points than the opposition. Vandy was active on the defensive end as well by tallying 12 steals and forcing 25 Arizona turnovers.
Vanderbilt also out-rebounded the designated home team 33 boards to 25.
“We don’t we don’t do moral victories but what we are doing is growing up,” Ralph said. “We saw today that when we stay together and we compete and play hard and do all the things that we talked about doing, we can actually win any of these games that we play.
“I was happy for our team today because when I was watching them out there playing like that, you saw that they believe that too. So in that way, our team is growing and actually becoming a team. In the win-loss column this shows up as a loss but I don’t think that we lost. I think today Arizona had to beat us and those are two very different things. We found out a lot about ourselves. I think we matured and grew up a lot today and I’m just excited to continue to do that with our team.”
Washington and Moore combined for 20 points and led Vanderbilt in scoring. Ten of the 11 Commodores that played concluded the game with at least one rebound.
Arizona was led by Sam Thomas with 13 points, three rebounds, two steals and one block.