After not topping 50 points in each of the last two games it played, the No. 4 seed Vanderbilt women's basketball team was looking to turn things around offensively in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
Fourteen days after their last game, a season low 48 points in a loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the Commodores were ready to make a statement.
Fifty points? They nearly had it by half time scoring 45 in the first period. They topped the 50 point mark with 18 minutes left in the game.
The Commodores jumped out to an early lead using an 11-3 run in the first four minutes of the game en route to their 75-47 victory over No. 13 seed Montana. The 28-point margin of victory ties for the fourth largest by the Commodores in their NCAA Tournament history.
"We always talk about starting the game off really strong in the first four minutes of each half and I think we set the tone with our effort," said Head Coach Melanie Balcomb. "We were very relaxed on offense and hit shots early and then just continued to play very unselfish on the offensive end. I really liked making the extra pass and setting up people. I think we're really comfortable in our roles right now offensively."
Freshman center Hannah Tuomi paced the rejuvenated offensive attack by tying her career high with 14 points. The rookie didn't show any signs of jitters on the big stage as she connected on all five of her first-half field goal attempts to score 11 points in the period.
"I just came into it trying to give it all I've got," Tuomi said. "We just focused on executing and running our offense because it works. We just have to execute and take good shots. Our coaches just really reinforced the fact that with a great offense you can score a lot of points."
Balcomb said she thought that Tuomi and her fellow freshmen more than held their own in their first taste of the Big Dance.
"She was amazing in practice," Balcomb said. "She practiced like an All-American and just carried it over to the game. I'm just really impressed with her and with (freshman point guard) Jence Rhoads. Both of them played extremely well and in these two weeks off they've just practiced really, really well. It just carried over to the game and it was fun to watch."
A big part of the Commodores' success offensively came, as it has all season, from solid defense. Vanderbilt scored 27 points off of 22 Lady Grizzlies' turnovers.
"I just feel like we did what we always kind of do," junior guard Jennifer Risper said. "It just shows we're a pretty balanced team. We can score and we can play defense."
Turnovers weren't Montana's only problem on the night. The Lady Griz came into the game boasting the 11th highest scoring offense in the nation and ranked No. 5 nationally in three-point shooting percentage (39.6%), led by the country's top outside marksman Sonya Rogers (48.6%).
After allowing 39.1% shooting by Montana in the first half, Vanderbilt limited its opponent to only six made field goals and 21.4% shooting in the second half while holding the Lady Grizz to a season-worst 47 points. The team finished 4-16 (25.0%) from three-point land.
"I think we pushed the basketball and the tempo the whole time and (Montana) got tired," Balcomb said. "When your three-point shooters get tired, that can really affect their shot."
The team hopes both its offense and defense continue firing on all pistons when the Commodores face No. 5 seed West Virginia on Monday night for the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Spokane, Washington.