Vandy has familiar foe in Xavier; Lady Vols in Sweet Sixteen

Monday, March 22, 2010 at 10:24pm
Staff Reports

Melanie Balcomb has coached in games between Vanderbilt and Xavier — two of them, to be exact.

She’s just never done so as Vanderbilt’s head coach, which will be the case Tuesday when the teams meet in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament (6 p.m., ESPN2).

Balcomb, Xavier’s coach from 1995-2002, forged a matchup with her former school when the Commodores defeated DePaul in overtime in a first-round contest Sunday at the Cintas Center, Xavier’s home floor.

“It's been eight years, and (Sunday) once the game started, I didn't feel any differently than just coaching Vanderbilt at an away site on an away court with a crowd,” she said. “It has been a long time and I don't know any of the players I'm coaching against. It's not like these are the players I brought in or I coached, they're all gone.”

That is not to say that there is not some measure of familiarity between the current squads.

Vanderbilt senior Merideth Marsh, who became the school’s all-time leader in 3-point baskets Sunday, played AAU basketball with two of Xavier’s current players, including 6-foot-5 junior forward Amber Harris, the Musketeers’ leading scorer and the Atlantic 10 Conference player of the year.

“I've seen her dunk several times in AAU and she was probably the first girl that I actually could throw an alley-oop pass to and dunk,” Marsh said. “It was pretty cool.”

While Harris might be unique, in terms of her athletic ability, she does not stand out among her teammates due to her size. Xavier has five players at 6-foot-2 or bigger.

Vanderbilt, which has only one contributor who is taller than 6-foot-1, understands well what it’s like to play against that kind of size.

“They're big, which would remind us a little of Tennessee — big inside and their guards are also big,” VU junior post player Hannah Tuomi said. “We have to prepare our defense for that and be ready for their inside presence.”

The extent of the shared history between Vanderbilt (23-10) and Xavier (28-3) consists of just three games. The last two came in the final two seasons before Balcomb switched schools — Xavier won on its home floor (64-6) early in 2000-01, and Vanderbilt did the same (78-56) the following year.

Vanderbilt dominated the first meeting (100-55) in the 1985 Providence College Invitational.

“When you play at home, you're supposed to win, and we do that a lot at Vanderbilt,” Balcomb said. “We're supposed to win all of our home games, and we win most of them, but that's a lot of pressure.

“…I have great memories (of Xavier). But they are just memories. I have established a rapport at Vanderbilt that's the same and I'm excited for these players to have their friends and family here, I know it will be a small section. … I'm not like a lot of coaches, I like to be an underdog, on somebody else's floor and with a big crowd.”

At this particular place, that will be something completely different for her.


Lady Vols reach Sweet Sixteen

Alicia Manning scored a career-high 17 points and had 10 rebounds to help the No. 1-seeded Lady Vols earn a trip to the Sweet Sixteen by beating Dayton 92-64 in the second round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament on Monday night.

In the tournament's 29-year history, Tennessee (32-2) is making its 28th appearance in the regional semifinals Saturday, this time playing 350 miles from home in Memphis against either Georgetown or Baylor.

The Lady Vols' lone absence from the round of 16 came last year — a 71-55 loss to Ball State in the opening round.

The eighth-seeded Dayton (25-8), which managed to rally from an 18-point deficit in its 67-66 win over TCU in the first round, played just its second NCAA tournament game in its school's history in front of nearly 10,000 orange-clad fans in Knoxville.