Melanie Balcomb is quick to acknowledge that things don’t “get any easier” for her Vanderbilt women’s basketball team in the coming days.
The question is whether they can get much worse.
The Commodores dropped out of the Associated Press rankings  on Wednesday (they fell six spots 22nd in the coaches poll ) following consecutive road losses to Mississippi State and Kentucky, which left them with a 1-2 record in SEC play (12-4 overall). It was the first time in nearly four years they were below .500 at any point in the conference schedule.
Also, two key players were injured Sunday in the game at Kentucky, and their status for Thursday’s game against No. 6 Georgia, which is 16-0 (3-0 in the SEC) and one of three remaining unbeaten teams in the country (7 p.m., Memorial Gymnasium), is uncertain.
Guard Jence Rhoads played all 40 minutes on Sunday, the last eight with a hand injury, which has kept her out of practice this week. Lauren Lueders, also a guard, played the first seven minutes but then left with a high ankle sprain.
Following the game with Georgia, Vanderbilt plays on the road at No. 4 Tennessee on Sunday and at Auburn, the 2008-09 regular-season SEC champion, on Jan. 21.
“We need people to step up,” Balcomb said.
The Commodores have played all season without 6-foot-4 freshman Stephanie Holzer, a player coaches believed had a chance to be a starter. Then they lost starting forward Jordan Coleman to a season-ending knee injury after seven games.
Rhoads has started all 16 games this season and a total of 65 in her career. She is the team’s second leading scorer, assists leader and shares the lead in steals.
Lueders has started seven of nine since Coleman’s injury.
“If (Rhoads and Lueders) can’t go, that’s four starters, probably,” Balcomb said. “(They’re) questionable. … Of the returners from last year, (Lueders) is our toughest kid, and she was only able to play seven minutes.”
For those who have practiced in recent days, toughness has been the central theme.
The Commodores committed a whopping 26 turnovers in the loss to Kentucky three days after they were outrebounded 43-31 and allowed 23 second-chance points in the loss at Mississippi State .
“We feel like in these last two losses that we just got outworked, we didn’t have that second and third effort that we are usually known for,” senior guard Merideth Marsh said. “That’s what we’re getting back to.
“… Snap you’re fingers and we have to get it right now. We had a good practice (Tuesday). I hope some people’s eyes were opened to some things that need to get done, and hopefully people are willing to step up and do it.”
Those who are healthy enough to do so, that is.