Vanderbilt might benefit from having a mostly young and inexperienced team for tonight’s women’s basketball showdown against Duke.
Junior forward Christina Wirth, VU’s most seasoned player, says her greenhorn teammates won’t get caught up in the hype.
“Most of our young players don’t even know and don’t care, which is a good thing,” Wirth said. “They don’t feel any pressure. They’re like ‘Duke who?’ They haven’t even played enough top teams like this to know what to expect.”
Nonetheless, tonight’s game is among the most anticipated in recent years at Memorial Gym. It’s the first time the Commodores will play host to a Top 10 non-conference opponent in regular season play in coach Melanie Balcomb’s six years in Nashville.
Duke is ranked 10th in the ESPN/USA Today poll this week and 11th in the Associated Press Top 25. Vanderbilt is No. 18 and No. 23.
Even while taking their familiar perch in the national rankings, the Commodores are still finding their way with a young roster that features only one senior and two juniors.
Tonight’s game will provide a prime opportunity for self-evaluation.
“Right night now it’s more about us than it is about them,” Wirth said. “It’s not like we’re some veteran team that has everything down. There’s not much pressure on us. They’re ranked higher. This is a game where we can come in relaxed and just go for it.”
Eager to compete against quality opponents outside of Southeastern Conference play, VU coach Melanie Balcomb scheduled a home-and-home series with Duke that began last season with a 69-48 Blue Devils victory.
Under more ideal circumstances, the Commodores would have rather played in Nashville with a more experienced squad.
“They wanted us to play out there first, so we did to get the series started,” Balcomb said. “Someone has to give in to get it started, so that’s what I did. We would have loved to have played them here last year, obviously, but they weren’t going to do that. I’m just looking forward to having a quality opponent like them on our floor.”
A win would give Vanderbilt a triumph over its highest-ranked opponent since toppling No. 7 LSU last season in Nashville.
“We’ve talked about it as an opportunity,” Balcomb said. “That’s the word that keeps coming up over and over. You want to make the most of opportunities. We might make mistakes, but we don’t want to leave anything on the floor. We want to make sure our attitude and effort are at the highest levels.”
Vanderbilt is coming off a 62-54 victory Sunday over Iowa State to win its own weekend Thanksgiving Tournament.
Duke was trounced 74-48 Sunday by Connecticut, ending the Blue Devils’ 57-game streak of holding opponents under 50-percent shooting from the field.