A week ago, Angela Puleo provided a glimpse of what was possible if she got locked in from the outside.
On Sunday, the Vanderbilt guard picked up where she left off and unveiled how dangerous she can be if given an opportunity from the outset.
Making just her second start of the season, Puleo drained a career-high six 3-pointers and with a season-high 20 points as the Commodores blew out Ole Miss 71-42 in front of a season-high crowd of 5,862 at Memorial Gymnasium.
Puleo, a 5-foot-9 junior, had 14 points by halftime and finished 6-for-9 from the field — all from 3-point range — in 36 minutes. In Vanderbilt’s last outing — a road loss to Kentucky last Sunday — she was 4-of-5 from beyond the arc and scored 12 points in just 13 minutes.
“I think no matter when you get in you have to be mentally ready, whether it is in the beginning of the game or 20 minutes into the game,” Puleo said. “It was nice to get the starting nod but you always have to be ready to produce for your team.”
She was ready against Ole Miss (9-11, 2-6 Southeastern Conference), scoring 12 points during a 24-2 run in the first half that broke the game wide open. Her fourth 3-pointer of the opening half capped the spurt off, giving Vanderbilt (14-7, 5-3) a 31-9 lead with 4:02 left before intermission.
“I have been building confidence in practice, just making 3s against the guys in practice,” Puleo said. “But mostly it is teammates getting me the ball in a good position, with my foot down and set and getting a good look at the goal.”
According to Ole MIss coach Renee Ladner, Puleo had plenty of open shots as she took advantage of the Rebels’ 2-3 zone defense.
“We didn’t guard her,” Ladner said. “You know coming into this environment they have won 83 percent of their games here, you are coaching underneath the basket [so] you better defend and you better rebound. The ball does not always go into the hole. Obviously we didn’t shoot it well, we didn’t defend it well and we didn’t rebound it well.
"Really, we didn’t even give them a good scrimmage on a Sunday afternoon.”
It was Puleo’s best performance since the Maryville native transferred from the University of Georgia following the 2008-09 season. Prior to the Kentucky game, she was averaging just 4.1 points and 15 minutes.
But her performance against Kentucky didn’t get her the start against Mississippi, Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. Instead, Balcomb said it was improvement in other areas of Puleo’s game during practice last week was the difference.
“It really had nothing to do with her shooting — she can shoot. It was about her rebounding and defense and doing the other parts of the game that we have been trying to stress her,” Balcomb said. “She is doing them and we sure could use her 3-point shooting. It is nice to have her in the game.”
• Sophomore guard Elan Brown also had a career day, with 11 rebounds off the bench. She added 11 points for her second career double-double.
Jence Rhoads also scored 11 points. Tiffany Clarke, in her first start in nearly two months, had 10 points and seven rebounds. Hannah Tuomi contributed 10 boards as Vanderbilt won the rebounding battle 49-29.
• Since losing 72-67 on the road to Ole Miss on Jan. 2, Vanderbilt is 5-2, with losses to ranked Tennessee and Kentucky. The loss to Mississippi was the second straight game that the Commodores had blown a double-digit lead. They held an 18-point advantage in Oxford, Miss., before losing.
“At some point, you have to get sick of it,” Brown said. “So we made up our minds to work harder in practice. Like [Puleo] said, that is where it starts. Building that trust in each other and toughness, I think, really helped.”
• Ole Miss went nearly nine minutes in the first half without scoring and opened the game 4-for-23 from the field. The Rebels shot just 25.4 percent — a season-low for a Vanderbilt opponent. Their 42 points scored was also the fewest against Vanderbilt since Tennessee-Martin scored 29 on Dec. 21, 2008. It was the lowest point total by an SEC opponent since Arkansas finished with 34 on Jan. 28, 2007.
• The Rebels have lost 14 straight at Vanderbilt. Their last win at Memorial Gymnasium came on Jan. 9, 1987.
• The Commodores used their ninth different starting lineup. Puleo got the nod over Gabby Smith and Clarke started for forward Jordan Coleman, who had started the last seven games. Clarke, who made the SEC All-Freshman team last year, had averaged just 4.3 points in only 10.8 minutes this season.
• Coleman was involved in a first-half collision with Mississippi’s Valencia McFarland and Courtney Marbra. The trio got tangled up underneath the basket during a fastbreak opportunity by Vanderbilt and all three left with leg injuries. McFarland, who was averaging a league-best 19.9 points in SEC action, returned to score 11 points and Marbra finished with four.
Coleman, however, did not come back. The 5-foot-11 forward appeared to hurt her left leg and Balcomb was uncertain about her status after the game.
• Vanderbilt freshman guard Christina Foggie sat out Sunday’s game after suffering a concussion during Tuesday’s practice. It was her second concussion of the season as she took a blow to the head against Bowling Green on Dec. 1. She has missed a total of seven games and is listed as day-to-day.