Photo by: Brendan Sullivan Norcross graduate Tiffany Clarke (34) now a forward for Vanderbilt attempts to block a pass by Missouri's Liene Priede (32) during the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Thursday. Clarke led her team with 14 points during her 36 minutes of playing time.
DULUTH -- Despite horrific first-half shooting and a tough start for their star player, Vanderbilt regrouped to power past Missouri 53-40 at the women's SEC Tournament on Thursday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Former Norcross standout and first-team All-SEC selection Tiffany Clarke finished with a double-double, but it was hard-won.
Clarke, like the Commodores, was ice cold offensively in the first half.
Clarke, like the Commodores, stuck to defense and rebounding until the offense finally came around after halftime.
Vanderbilt (20-10) went on an 18-0 run early in the second half and Missouri never came close again.
"Basically our coach just told us to slow down," Clarke said. "We were very tight and very nervous. We weren't playing Vanderbilt basketball in the first half. New court, new arena, first time shooting on it. Coach told us to stay with it.
"Defense is what kept us in the game when our shots weren't falling. But our shots were falling in the second half -- we couldn't shoot that bad again."
Vanderbilt shot a meager 17.1 percent in the first half, but things remained close because Mizzou (17-14) committed 10 turnovers.
Clarke was clearly frustrated by her own offensive troubles.
"I don't think I've had any (halves) that bad before," the senior said with a chuckle. "I've had frustrating halves before, but that first half was definitely frustrating for me. Especially because I know what I'm capable of, what I can do. My shots weren't falling, but I had to let go of that and keep defending and rebounding."
The Tigers' first lead came at 15-14 on a layup by Liz Smith at 7:13.
Vandy's Jasmine Lister responded with a baseline drive to restore the lead, but a jumper from Smith sent Mizzou into the half with a scant 17-16 advantage. Smith, who finished with a game-best 16 points, helped expand that lead to 26-19 to start the second half.
But a jumper by Clarke sparked Vanderbilt's big run. Juniors Christina Foggie and Lister combined for a pivotal swing on the scoreboard.
Foggie drained a 3-pointer, grabbed a defensive rebound and dished to Lister, who made her own 3 from the corner to put Vandy back in front 27-26.
Clarke found Foggie right away for another 3-pointer as the Commodores did what Missouri has done so well all season. The Tigers led the SEC in shots made from behind the arc this season.
"Obviously I'm really pleased with our defense and the ability to continue to defend when shooting probably the poorest I've ever had a team shoot in the first half," Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb said.
"I thought we showed a lot of maturity with a combination of some upperclassmen, but a lot of underclassmen.
"I'm proud of the defense and the comeback and the resilience that we showed as a team in the second half."
Clarke made a driving layup, Foggie converted on an old-fashioned three-point play and Clarke hit a pair of free throws to close out the 18-0 run that resuscitated Vanderbilt. By then, there was only 6:31 left in the game and the Commodores continued to pull away.
Vanderbilt won for the first time this season when scoring less than 59 points and for just the third time when trailing at the half.
"Our coach always says offense will eventually come, but defense is an effort," said Clarke, one of two players to finish among the conference's top four in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage. "You can't control when your shots aren't falling, but you can always control your effort and defense. That's why we were able to stay in the game in the first half."
Clarke ended up with a team-high 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Foggie, who had missed four of the last six games coming into the tournament, had 12 points.
"We tried to create some offense off our defense," Balcomb said of the second-half turnaround. "Not just stop them, make them take tough shots, but get in transition on offense and put them on their heels and get some looks to Tiff, get her on the block.
"I also think Foggie being able to hit some shots, all of a sudden the rim was open. It was like there was a lid on it. As soon as she hit two 3's, then we started to relax and realize we can make shots."
Vanderbilt now plays Kentucky, a team that handed it its worst loss of the season, at 6 p.m. today.
Florida 64, Arkansas 59
Florida roared back from an 11-point second-half deficit and won a tip-and-tuck finish to oust Arkansas from the tournament.
The Gators (18-13) were led by a game-high 17 points from Jaterra Bonds. January Miller scored 12 of her 14 points in the first half for Florida, which also got a double-digit effort from Sydney Moss, who finished with 13 points and sealed the win at the free-throw line with 10 seconds left.
The Razorbacks (18-12) got 12 points each from Dominique Wilson, Quistelle Williams and Keira Peak, but they couldn't hold off the tenacious Gators in either half.
Arkansas led by as much as five in the first half before Florida pushed back to go up 26-20 on a 3-pointer from Miller that rattled in with 3:28 left.
The Razorbacks answered with a late rally to take a 33-30 halftime lead and continued to surge in the second half.
Arkansas broke open a 41-30 lead coming out of intermission -- only to see it dwindle slowly away. Bonds tied it 49-49 with 9:31 to go and it was a one-possession game from there.
South Carolina 77, Alabama 35
Led by 19 points from Elem Ibiam, South Carolina demolished Alabama in the second half on 61 percent field-goal shooting.
"I thought we played with a lot of energy, especially our second half," South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. "I thought our players really concentrated on taking care of the basketball, getting the ball inside and taking care of mismatches that we had on the floor. We put a total 40 minutes together."
The Gamecocks' lead ballooned to as much as 12 points in the first half and they went into the break up 28-18.
Ieasia Walker, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as the Gamecocks raced away from the Tide in the second half. South Carolina (24-6) opened with a 9-0 run and just kept rolling. Alabama (13-18), led by 10 points from Daisha Simmons, was outscored 49-17 in the second half.
Khadijah Sessions added 11 points and Ashley Bruner had 10 for South Carolina, which now gets a chance to avenge one of its few losses. The Gamecocks play Texas A&M, a two-point winner in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 10, today at 2:30 p.m.
LSU 65, Auburn 62
Buford grad Blanche Alverson scored a team-high 17 points and Auburnmade a furious comeback bid, but LSU held on for the win in the lategame.
LSU led by as many as 18 in the second half before Auburn (16-14)began to chip away.Alverson, who led Buford to a state championship as a senior, hit aturnaround jumper off an inbounds pass to get Auburn within six astime wound down. Tyrese Tanner nailed a jump shot with 1:16 to go tomake it 64-60 and a layup by Chadarryl Clay gave Auburn a chance towin with 10 seconds on the clock.
LSU (20-10) hit a free-throw and Clay threw up a contested 3-pointerat the buzzer, but it bounced off the front of the rim.
LSU was led by Adrienne Webb's 18 points and Theresa Plaisance's 15 points.