'We’re Going to do Special Things'

Commodores survive tough month of January, look ahead to promising February

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Everything went right Sunday for Vanderbilt. It was a sigh-of-relief moment for a team who saw so much go wrong in the month of January.

An 81-66 win over visiting Auburn, however, gave the Commodores back-to-back league wins – their first consecutive SEC victories since 2017 – and catapulted them into the month of February in style.

“It means everything, honestly,” Jordyn Cambridge said about the back-to-back conference wins. “The people who have been here the longest, we’re just trusting the process and finally starting to see a lot of change.

“It may makes us feel really good, but we got a long way to go. We just got to keep playing the way we’re playing and try to get some more wins.”

Vandy was crisp, relentless and merciless in its dismantling of the Tigers on Sunday. It was hard to fathom it trailed 7-0 in the first quarter and went the first 3 1/2 minutes without a point.

But once Cambridgee’s three-point play found the bottom of the net at the 6:26 mark Vanderbilt avalanched Auburn possession after possession after possession. Four players scored at least eight points in the first half alone as Vandy raced out to a 25-point lead at the break.

Vanderbilt led by as many as 27 during the course of the win.

“Really proud of my team. I think we’re growing leaps and bounds every day and that doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet or in the wins-loss column, but the fact that we bounced back from that five-game losing streak – it was a tough stretch for us,” Vanderbilt head coach Shea Ralph said. “There’s a lot that can happen to a team when you went through what we went through the last couple of weeks.

“But their resiliency, their belief and their trust in us as a coaching staff and in each other and in the program that we’re building, it’s palpable. You can feel it. You can see it.”

The month of January had been a true gauntlet for Vanderbilt. The team went 3-5 after the dust had settled, but lost five straight at one point. In a matchup with No. 1 South Carolina on Jan. 24, the Commodores managed just 30 points in what is believed to be the program’s lowest single-game point total in its long history.

That result seems like a distant memory now as the Commodores go into the year’s second month on a winning streak.

“For me, and I really mean this when I say this to you guys, to see them have success and enjoy the process and become more of a team and understand how valuable that is and how hard it is to do and how easy it easy to lose and break and fall apart,” Ralph said. “But to see them really fight to do that on a daily basis is joyful for me.

“We’re going to enjoy it, we’re to celebrate it, but I think we’re capable of more. That’s where my mind is. I’m mad that we didn’t win by 30 while understanding how far we’ve come and enjoying the process of it with this team.”

Three of the squads the Dores faced in January were/are ranked and two others – Kentucky and Missouri – have been sniffing The Associated Press Top 25 all season. 

But Ralph’s team kept putting their shoulders down and leaning into the hard work. It paid off with a 65-57 triumph over Kentucky oat 6 p.m. CT Thursday.

Then came Sunday and one of the better performances of the season for Ralph and her kids. Make no mistake, however, there’s no one who is going to settle moving forward.

“We’re going to challenge them,” Ralph said. “Yes I’m going to get mad at them, I’m going to demand more of them, but I’m going to make sure they enjoy every moment of this college basketball experience that they have playing for me, on this team, at this University and we’re going to do special things because of that.”

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.