Who says Vanderbilt is having a sub-par season?
With a 78-48 victory over South Carolina on Thursday at Memorial Gym, the Commodores are off to a 6-2 start in Southeastern Conference play, their best since 1998 and the best under seventh-year coach Melanie Balcomb.
With a revamped starting lineup featuring two freshmen, VU has won four straight games and figures to make it five Sunday at lowly Alabama.
Earlier this season, Vanderbilt lost three of five games and dropped out of the national Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in two years.
Suddenly, the Commodores of old have emerged.
“We’re under the radar,” Balcomb said. “Nobody is talking about us. With a young team, that’s a good thing.”
In recent seasons, VU won games with efficient offensive play and lethal 3-point shooting.
When it became apparent that those qualities would be in short supply this season, the Commodores searched for other ways to win.
“I thought this could be the best defensive team we’ve had,” Balcomb said. “We can really play a high level of defense. Our teams in the past were known to out-score people. We’ve changed. We’re just different.”
Even while being unaccustomed to not being in the national rankings, the Commodores are embracing their underdog status.
“I think that’s a good thing,” guard Merideth Marsh said. “If nobody knows about us, we have nothing to lose. We can go out there and go after it.”
Vanderbilt pulled away quickly Thursday as South Carolina (12-11, 1-6) made only four of their first 21 shots and six of 26 in the first half.
The Commodores made 10 of their first 18 attempts and raced to a 27-8 lead with 8:38 left in the first half on a basket and free throw by Liz Sherwood, capping a 13-0 run.
VU closed the first half on a 23-6 spurt and led by 34 points in the second half.
Marsh scored 12 points to lead Vanderbilt, while Lauren Lueders, Jessica Mooney and Jennifer Risper each added 11.
Ilona Burgrova led the Gamecocks with 11 points.
If defense will remain Vanderbilt’s calling card for the rest of the season, Balcomb has no problem with it.
“I just like to win,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how.”