Reserve role, albeit unfamiliar, has Vanderbilt's Clarke feeling energized

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 10:20pm

Tiffany Clarke doesn’t look at it as a demotion.

The junior forward approaches her new role as a reserve for the Vanderbilt women's basketball team as a way to utilize her potential better.

“I bring more energy as the sixth player off the bench so I don’t mind it at all,” Clarke said. “My role is still the same. I still play. I actually have more energy coming off the bench than starting.”

Lately, Clarke has been a sparkplug for the No. 25 Commodores (13-2, 1-1 SEC), who host Auburn on Thursday (8:05 p.m., CSS).

In the last three games, the 6-footer has averaged 14.6 points and eight rebounds — all off the bench. She tied season-highs against Ole Miss on Sunday, scoring 19 points – on 8-of-10 shooting — while hauling down 10 rebounds.

“I’m excited about what she is doing right now for us,” coach Melanie Balcomb said. “She is so physically strong and athletic that when we are in the SEC and we’re playing those types of teams she can dominate. She can absolutely thrive. You saw how low she can get [against Ole Miss] and play underneath other athletes that some of our other players are going to have a tough time doing.”

Clarke, a native of Duluth, Ga., came on strong as a freshman. She started 15 of the 34 games, averaging 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds on her way to SEC All-Freshman honors.

Last winter, her play fluctuated as she averaged nearly identical numbers (7.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) with 17 starts. She ended the season on a tear, earning All-SEC Tournament honors.

That momentum carried into this season as she expected to be the most experienced player in a sophomore- and freshman-laden starting lineup. But an offseason concussion kept her from playing in the team’s lone exhibition game. So the coaching staff eased her into regular-season play and decided to bring her off the bench.

She has spelled 6-foot-4 center Stephanie Holzer in all 15 games, averaging 17.3 minutes, 10.6 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds.

“She is very, very unselfish. It doesn’t bother her,” sophomore guard Christina Foggie said. “She comes in, does what she needs to in the minutes played. She just does her job when she is asked to do it.”