NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt will celebrate Thanksgiving in Mexico playing its first ranked opponent of the season when the Commodores (5-1) open the Women’s Cancun Challenge against No. 13 North Carolina State on Thursday at 3 p.m. CT (FloHoops).
It’s one of two games Vandy will play at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, an all-inclusive resort that is within walking distance from the team’s hotel rooms to the converted ballroom that hosts the tournament. Vandy plays Northern Iowa on Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT.
The Dores are making their debut in the event, which dates to 2005. The 10-team field is divided into two divisions. Vandy is part of the six-team Riviera Division along with Central Michigan, NC State, Northern Iowa, Tulane and West Virginia. All six teams play two games apiece.
Vanderbilt is coming off its first loss on the season, a 67-59 setback to St. Joseph’s last Sunday at Memorial Gymnasium. The Dores started the season 5-0 for the first time since 2014-15.
Graduate transfer guards Ciaja Harbison and Marnelle Garraud have continued their immediate impact to the injury-depleted Dores lineup. Harbison is averaging a team-leading 16.7 points, 5.5 assists and 2.5 steals. Garraud is averaging 12.2 points while shooting 45.7 percent from the 3-point line.
Sophomore forward Sacha Washington has been a steady presence inside for Vandy, scoring 11.2 points and grabbing a team-leading 7.3 rebounds. All nine healthy players on the roster are averaging at least 4.0 points and 1.3 assists per game.
Vandy has forced 19.0 turnovers and 9.5 steals per game.
North Carolina State (4-1): Vandy is 2-5 all-time against NC State. The Dores have lost three straight in the series, with the last meeting coming in the 2018-19 season.
NC State is coming off a 91-69 loss to No. 3 UConn. The Wolfpack have victories over Quinnipiac, Elon, Mount St. Mary’s (Maryland) and Charlotte.
Junior guard Diamond Johnson is averaging a team-leading 12.6 points per game for the Wolfpack along with 4.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists. She is shooting 44.8 percent on 3-pointers.
Junior guard Madison Hayes is averaging 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds, and senior forward Jada Boyd is averaging 11.0 points and 4.6 rebounds.
NC State has a plus-4.0 turnover margin, forcing 15.6 per game and committing 11.6.
The Wolfpack captured the ACC regular season and tournament titles last season and made the program’s first Elite Eight appearance since 1998. NC State set program records for ACC wins (17) and overall wins (32). The Wolfpack finished the season ranked No. 3 in the AP Top 25, extending their streak of season-ending Top 10 rankings to four seasons.
NC State head coach Wes Moore has deep ties to Tennessee. Before he was hired at NC State, Moore spent 15 seasons as the head coach at Chattanooga and also coached at Maryville.
Northern Iowa (2-2): This will be the first meeting between the programs. Northern Iowa has played a challenging schedule, with wins over St. Thomas and Saint Louis and losses to No. 5 Iowa State and No. 16 Creighton. The loss to Iowa State was by three points.
The Panthers were picked to finish fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll behind Belmont, Illinois State, Drake and Murray State.
Sophomore forward Grace Boffeli leads Northern Iowa in scoring (16.5) and rebounding (8.5). Sophomore guard Maya McDermott is averaging 15.3 points and senior guard Kam Finley is averaging 12.5. The Panthers have committed 15.0 turnovers per game while forcing 16.0.
In last year’s holiday tournament at the Paradise Jam, Vanderbilt battled No. 9 Arizona down to the final possession in the opening round before losing 48-46 in the Virgin Islands. The Dores beat Rutgers 51-40 in the second game and lost to DePaul 91-74 on the final day.