No. 2 seed Duke faces tough challenge at Vandy
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
The Vanderbilt Commodores take great pride in their home-court advantage. No one else has benches on the end lines, the concrete block walls hold in sound, and the result often is called Memorial Magic.
Add temperatures in the low 80s and the Southeastern Conference's oldest gym becomes a sauna.
The Commodores hope to transfer their comfort level here into a winning advantage Tuesday night against No. 2 seed Duke in their quest for their first regional semifinal since 2009.
''We like to get that Memorial Madness going,'' Vanderbilt sophomore center Stephanie Holzer said Monday. ''We like to play at home and we're comfortable here. We shoot on these rims every day and to have our fans out there and our practice players out there and our friends in the stands. It gives us a little confidence boost, especially when the game is tight. It gives you a little edge.''
The Commodores are 14-1 here in the NCAA tournament and 18-1 this season. Vanderbilt (23-9) improved to 11-0 this season at home against non-SEC teams with a 60-46 win Sunday over Middle Tennessee in the first round, and that lone loss came in overtime to South Carolina 65-60 on Jan. 22.
That home record this year includes a 78-66 win over then-No. 12 Oklahoma on Nov. 26 and a 93-79 rout of then-No. 11 Tennessee on Feb. 9. The Oklahoma game was part of Vanderbilt's annual Thanksgiving Classic designed to help prepare the Commodores for March.
''We played Duke four years ago when they were in the top five in the country, and we beat them in the final,'' Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said.
Vanderbilt has played in 14 regional finals and reached the 1993 Final Four, but the Commodores have reached the regional semifinals only four times since Balcomb took over. Vanderbilt lost in the opening round a year ago to Louisville and Xavier in the second round in 2010.
But Balcomb is 131-24 in her 10 seasons here on this raised court at Memorial. Her Commodores also are used to not having air conditioning in the gym where it can feel like 120 degrees during summer camps.
Duke (25-5) is trying to advance to the semifinal in Fresno on Saturday, which would be the Blue Devils' 14th in 15 years. Coach Joanne P. McCallie has a young team with guard Shay Selby the lone senior with three sophomores and a freshman starting. The Blue Devils are trying to bounce back from an opening loss at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
One advantage may be that McCallie thinks her team learned from the painful ACC loss. She also said they adjusted to the unique conditions Memorial offers, especially right now, in their 82-47 win over Samford on Sunday night for what will be a 9:30 p.m. EDT tip for Duke.
''I think we sweated right into the time zone, I think we're good,'' McCallie said.
The Blue Devils also feel comfortable with the unique bench setup as well.
''It was weird checking in when you're subbing in and out,'' Duke forward Haley Peters said. ''It wasn't as much of an adjustment as we thought it would be. And I think we did a good job as a team getting back to the bench on timeouts and things like that.''
The game could be an offensive show. Duke ranks fourth in the nation shooting 47.1 percent, while Vanderbilt shoots 46.4 percent. The Commodores also have the SEC's leading scorer in Christina Foggie who averaged 17.8 points per game this season.
''They are a high-powered scoring machine,'' McCallie said. ''They have terrific guards ... Their play is very solid. No. 10 (Foggie) is obviously, the leading scorer in the SEC and what she has done and the kind of year she had is remarkable when you look at where she was last year to this year. I think that is an extraordinary jump. We cannot stop her, but you try to work to make things more difficult.''
Four Blue Devils score in double figures led by freshman center Elizabeth Williams who is averaging 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game even playing with a stress fracture in her lower right leg. That didn't stop her from playing 24 minutes against Samford and scoring 11 points.
Defense will be key because Duke is just a shade better holding opponents to 35.7 percent shooting compared to Vandy's own 36.8 percent allowed.
Balcomb is familiar with Duke's defense from playing against Michigan State the year McCallie took that team to the Final Four before taking over at Duke.
''We think it's very similar, but I think back then it was more aggressive and more of a matchup, and now it's bigger,'' Balcomb said. ''She has different personnel and does different things with it. Now she uses the length like Tennessee and LSU did against us this year.''