Less is more. These days, Melanie Balcomb is milking that mantra for all its worth.
The Vanderbilt women’s basketball coach entered the season with just 10 scholarship players and one walk-on. Junior guard Gabby Smith has played in only one game due to post-concussion symptoms and freshman guard Maggie Morrison’s season ended last month when she injured her knee during practice.
Yet, Balcomb maintains her team is stronger despite the smaller numbers.
“It sounds weird but because we have less people we’ve been deeper,” she said. “Everybody is into it. It is like the first two weeks of practice and everybody thinks they are going to play — cause they are. So they have stayed into it and you see the attitude determines their altitude so they are all playing at a high level, which has made us play at a high level.”
The No. 24 Commodores wrapped up non-conference play with a 12-1 mark, including wins over then-ranked Oklahoma and Florida State. Their only loss was on the road to North Carolina State.
They now turn their attention to Southeastern Conference action, which begins 6 p.m. Thursday at South Carolina (12-2).
Vanderbilt could be at nearly full strength.
Smith is hopeful she’ll be in the lineup for the first time since Nov. 14. Leading scorer Christina Foggie (17.7 ppg) expects to start after bruising her collarbone while battling for a rebound in Vanderbilt’s game against Western Carolina last week.
The nicks and scratches most likely will continue to grow in SEC play. For a team that regularly uses eight players, having a short bench could be more of a factor come late February and early March.
“It is very, very physical,” Foggie said. “Every team is there to bump you off cuts, make sure you are not getting the shot you want to take. ... We’re preparing for a lot of physicality, and you’ve got to be tough to play in this league.”
Added guard Jasmine Lister: “We’re cautious, but we’re not worried. We’re in shape. We’re strong. So I don’t think it should be too much of an issue.”
If the fouls mount, though, it could be an issue.
Thirty-seven percent of Vanderbilt’s scoring comes from the sophomore backcourt duo of Foggie and Lister. Keeping 6-foot-4 center Stephanie Holzer (12.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg) on the floor is also a must for the Commodores.
Balcomb, however, prefers to shy away from addressing foul trouble with her team.
“I try not to bring it up. I don’t know if that is the psychology that works or I should go with,” Balcomb said. “They know they shouldn’t foul. They know they have to play a large amount of minutes and it has been pretty much that way all season. I do think we’re playing smart, and we’re not making silly fouls and silly mistakes.”