WBB cruises past Montana in first roundPostgame audio, column and photos

March 22, 2008


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Next Game Monday – NCAA 2nd Round
vs. [5] West Virginia – 8:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Vanderbilt’s motto this season is “No Pressure.” And that’s exactly how it went in the NCAA tournament opener.

Freshman Hannah Tuomi scored 14 points, Christina Wirth added 13 and Liz Sherwood had 12 to help fourth-seeded Vanderbilt beat overmatched Montana 75-47 on Saturday night.

The Commodores (24-8) were right at home in the NCAA tournament, making a ninth straight trip and 21st overall. They worked their offense like a Swiss clock, exploiting a size and speed advantage for layup after layup.

“We were well prepared,” Wirth said. “That’s always a focus for us in every game. We did a good job of executing and coming out and being the aggressor. That keeps the other team on its heels.”

The effort backed up the slogan that coach Melanie Balcomb has adopted for this year’s team, an effort to reduce expectations for a lineup that features four freshmen and six sophomores.

“The key is we built confidence and trust,” she said. “We wanted to go into the next game with momentum. I think we gained momentum from this game.”

Vanderbilt advanced to play No. 5 West Virginia in the second round Monday at 8:30 p.m. CT, but Balcomb was reluctant to characterize the Montana contest as a warmup.

“No, I don’t think of this as a warmup at all,” Balcomb said. “Montana is a great team. We had a lot of time to prepare. We don’t have as much time to prepare for West Virginia.

At times, this one looked like an exhibition. The Commodores, with two freshmen starters, won for the 10th time in 11 games and showed how they finished third in the high-powered SEC behind Tennessee and LSU.

“Down the stretch, other than losing to Tennessee three times, we’ve played pretty darn good in a lot of games,” Balcomb said.

As for 13th-seeded Montana, the Lady Griz (25-7) scored a season low and had more turnovers (21) than field goals (15). Montana coach Robin Selvig blamed it on Vanderbilt’s quickness.

“You can’t simulate it in practice,” Selvig said. “It looked like we got frustrated because we’re capable of making shots. I knew we’d have trouble scoring but I thought we could defend them better.”

Mandy Morales led Montana with 11 points and eight rebounds.

Vanderbilt led 45-22 at the break, and the only time it was close was during pregame warmups.

“It was really important we came out with the level of intensity we wanted,” Balcomb said. “We always talk about starting strong the first 4 minutes of each half. We set the tone with our effort.”

Wirth started things for Vandy with a 3-pointer just after tipoff, then added a jumper as the Commodores opened with an 11-3 run.

“They’re obviously quicker than we are,” Montana’s Laura Cote said. “What really hurt was we didn’t come to the ball. That’s why we had so many turnovers.”

Montana cut the margin to 17-14 on a basket by Dvera Tolbert midway through the first half but Marsh hit two 3-pointers as Vanderbilt used a 20-3 blitz to put it out of reach early.

“We never were really in it,” Selvig said. “We played tough but everything has to go right for us. They came out and played great defense. We shot poorly and dug a hole.”

This year’s Lady Griz averaged 39.6 percent on 3-pointers to set a school record. By halftime, when Vanderbilt led 45-22, it was apparent Montana had way too much to overcome.

If that wasn’t enough, Vanderbilt started the second half with an 11-4 run and the lead grew as large as 65-35 after Sherwood completed a 3-point play with 8:54 remaining.

Montana shot 4-of-16 on 3-pointers. Sonya Rogers, whose 48.6 percent average led the nation in 3-point shooting, was 2-of-4 and scored eight points. The Lady Griz shot just 29.4 percent from the floor.

“They’re in your face all the time so it’s hard to get good shots off,” said Montana guard Johanna Clossen.

The Lady Griz, champions of the Big Sky Conference, were making their 17th NCAA tournament appearance and returned after a two-year break. The last trip was a 67-44 loss to Vanderbilt in a first-round game at Seattle.