A lot has been made of Vanderbilt’s newcomers, especially its freshman class.
Rightfully so, too, because this season's additions have accounted for 54 percent of the Commodores' scoring, and the freshman trio of Jasmine Lister, Christina Foggie and Stephanie Holzer average a combined 34.3 points a game.
Sunday, they were reminded how valuable their seniors are. With 22 points from Hannah Tuomi and 16 points and eight rebounds from Jence Rhoads, VU edged visiting Auburn 67-59 in front of 4,146 at Memorial Gymnasium.
“I think both seniors realize they have to close it. They have to step up and they have to put people away,” coach Melanie Balcomb said. “They understand that and we really don’t have anybody else on the floor that does, that has that experience. They have to be willing to do that and what was fun [Sunday] was seeing both Hannah and Jence having that success.”
Tuomi continued a strong senior season. She was perfect from the field in the first half (she made her first six shots) on the way to her second 20-point performance of the season.
After Auburn tied it 33-33 with 15:56 to go in the game on six straight points by Blanche Alverson, Tuomi scored six points in a 10-0 Commodores' spurt, which made it 43-33 with 12:49 remaining.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for her as a player. She is just a tough, crafty player and just finds way to score,” Auburn coach Nell Fortner said. “It is hard to shut her down. It is really hard to guard her. She is just always fighting for position and always just challenging in every way on both ends of the floor. She just had a really good day [Sunday].”
That run was part of a 24-7 stretch by the Commodores (11-5, 2-1 Southeastern Conference), who also forced eight turnovers in that span and built a 57-40 advantage with 9:07 left.
Still, Auburn (9-7, 2-1) kept chipping away, and trailed just 64-59 with 1:02 to go. Vanderbilt missed a couple free throws but Auburn had two 3-pointers go awry.
Tuomi then sank two free throws with 19 seconds left and gave her team an eight-point lead, which sealed the victory.
Though Rhoads finished with six turnovers, her eight rebounds matched a career-high, and the point guard brought a calm leadership when the double-digit lead started to wither.
“I think we realize that we are the ones that are going to be the experienced ones,” Rhoads said. “We have to try to settle everyone down. We got kind of in a hurry, kind of a little flustered, when Auburn was making their run. But I thought we did a good job of handling it. We had a few too many turnovers . But other than that, we did a good job of keeping the lead and keeping them down.”
• For the second straight game, Vanderbilt’s opponent attacked the glass hard, especially on the offensive end. Auburn had 20 offensive rebounds, the most by a Commodores’ opponent this season and one more than Mississippi State had Thursday.
Balcomb said she is concerned by that statistic but said part of that can be attributed to the fact there are more opportunities for rebounds. Mississippi State shot just 27.6 percent from the field and Auburn was held to 36.5 percent, including 25 percent in the first half.
“I think we have to do a better job of checking out when we are in our zone [defense],” she said. "I think that was one of things down the stretch — we made sure we went man.”
• Vanderbilt has won 17 straight against Auburn. The last time the Commodores lost to the Tigers was on Jan. 16, 2000, at Memorial Gymnasium. Twelve of those games have been decided by five points or fewer.
Balcomb is 14-0 against Auburn in her nine years as Vanderbilt’s coach.
• The Commodores are 9-0 at home this season.
• Tuomi is now 26th all-time in Vanderbilt scoring history with 1,063 points. She passed Abi Ramsey (1,049 points, 2002-05 seasons) and Liz Sherwood (1,056 points, 2006-08 seasons) on Sunday. The 6-foot forward out of Thornton, Colo., came into the game third in the nation in field goal percentage (62.8 percent). She was 8-of-14 against Auburn.
• Junior forward Jordan Coleman sprained her ankle in pregame warm-ups but still started. Balcomb said she was just a little stiff and would play Thursday at Alabama.