Poor second half, dismal shooting lead to Lady Tops’ defeat at Vandy

Cole Claybourn

NASHVILLE – Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said the Lady Toppers played the best first half they had played all season on Tuesday night at Vanderbilt.

The only problem was that they followed it up with one of their worst second-half performances all year.

After leading for the first 10 minutes of the game and going into halftime down just six, the Lady Toppers (4-7) scored just 26 points in the second half and watched Vanderbilt explode for 46 second-half points en route to a 74-48 victory at Memorial Gymnasium.

“What we saw in the first half is really what you want as a coach,” Cowles said. “Our defense really dictated how we played overall. I think we saw the opposite of that in the second half.”

The Lady Toppers jumped out to an early 6-0 lead and led by as many as seven. They held onto their lead until Stephanie Holzer hit a layup to give Vanderbilt a 17-16 advantage with 6:47 left to play in the first half.

From there, it was back-and-forth until Vanderbilt (8-3) put together a 9-1 run to close out the half with a 28-22 lead. Cowles said that swing gave the Commodores their momentum, which carried into the second half.

Vanderbilt opened the second half with a 13-4 run that stretched more than four minutes, and the Lady Toppers couldn’t overcome. Vanderbilt eventually expanded its lead to as many as 32.

The Lady Toppers’ 26 second-half points were the second lowest total for a Vanderbilt opponent this season.

WKU struggled with poor shooting throughout the game, but especially in the second half, when the Lady Toppers shot 21.2 percent from the field. They ended up shooting 26.2 percent for the game and were 1-for-13 from 3-point range – just 7.7 percent.

Aside from senior forward Arnika Brown and junior forward LaTeira Owens – who shot 6-for-10 and 7-for-16 from the field, respectively – the rest of the team shot 4-for-39.

Cowles said WKU had spent plenty of time preparing for the zone defense Vanderbilt played but just didn’t execute.

“We just simply didn’t handle it,” she said. “We got good shots, but when shots didn’t fall, we didn’t respond defensively.”

Although the shooting woes have plagued the Lady Toppers – who came into the game shooting 38 percent – all season, it hadn’t gotten as bad as it did Tuesday night. Their 26 percent was the worst percentage in a game this season.

Brown said the only way to fix that is to take more shots and keep practicing on their shooting.

“We need to take pride in it, and if we have a little extra time in our day, we need to go shoot,” she said. “It’s just something we have to take pride in. The coaches can only do so much.

“We need to practice outside shots. They played zone, and to beat a zone, you have to hit outside shots. If you hit them, they’re going to come out of the zone.”

The Lady Toppers now begin an eight-day break for Christmas with a 4-7 record, something that has never happened in program history.

And although that type of start wasn’t what Cowles or the players wanted heading into the break, junior forward LaTeira Owens said there’s still positives that can be taken from it.

“We know we can play with anybody,” she said. “We know if we put two halves together than we can come out successfully and win. This stretch is just preparing us for our conference schedule.”

Owens led the Lady Toppers with 20 points and seven rebounds. Brown added 15 points and six rebounds. Aside from Owens and Brown, no Lady Topper had more than three points.

Vanderbilt had four scorers in double figures and was led by Jence Rhoads’ 21 points and five rebounds.

The Lady Toppers return home on Dec. 29 to play Texas Tech before entering Sun Belt play on Jan. 2.