FAYETTEVILLE – Junior Ruby Vaden scored a game and career high 29 points to lead the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback basketball team to another heartbreaking loss against the 24th-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores at Bud Walton Arena on Thursday night, 74-69.
The loss drops the Lady Razorbacks to 13-6 on the season and 2-4 in Southeastern Conference play. Vanderbilt improves to 16-3 overall and 4-2 in the SEC.
“This shows that the game is never over,” Arkansas head coach Susie Gardner said. “We have to play 40 minutes. I know that I’m abnormal, but I’d rather lose to Vanderbilt playing the way we did, than to lose like we did against Auburn. If you’re gonna go down, you gotta go down fighting cause anything can happen.”
“Everytime they made a run, we made a run,” Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb said. “Both teams played in spurts. We had good leadership. It is very hard to play in this environment.”
Tied at the half, the Lady Razorbacks came out with renewed intensity in the second period and went on a 10-2 run over the first five minutes. Not letting the Lady Razorbacks get too far out in front, Vanderbilt came storming back with seven unanswered points to make it a three-point contest.
The Lady Razorbacks would go on another run that culminated with a Vaden layup to gather a three-point lead, but three consecutive turnovers allowed the Commodores to knot the game at 50 with 10:09 to play. Vanderbilt took their first lead since late in the first half on an Ashley Early free throw.
Arkansas’ turnover dilema continued as they kept making bad passes out of bounds. With only six miscues at the half, the Lady’Backs finished the contest with 20 allowing Vanderbilt to take full advantage. A three-pointer by Erica Grimaldi from the left corner gave the Commodores their largest lead of the contest to that point at 64-58 with 5:08 to play prompting Gardner to call timeout to regroup.
Following the break, the Lady Razorbacks outscored their opposition 11-3 to take a two-point lead on a Kristin Peoples three from the corner. Vanderbilt tied the game once more on a pair of free throws by Jenni Benningfield who came off the bench to score a game-high 16 points for Vanderbilt.
A three by Hillary Hager appeared to seal Arkansas’ fate with 24 seconds to play as Vanderbilt capitalized on Arkansas’ inability to get a shot off with the game tied and the clock ticking under one minute, leading to a shot clock violation. Following the Vanderbilt bucket, Peoples hit the front rim on a contested three-pointer and the rebound went to the Commodores forcing Arkansas to foul.
The Lady Razorbacks picked up early points to grab the advantage, but were not able to build any more than a three-point lead through the opening half of the first period. The Commodores used crisp passing and several back-door cuts to score easy baskets, while the Lady Razorbacks had early success from the three-point line hitting four in the first eight minutes.
Stuck at 16-15 for four minutes, both teams turned the ball over a combined eight times and missed eight shots during the run. The Lady Razorback scoring drought lasted even longer as they went 0-6 over five-plus minutes with four turnovers, but still managed to keep themselves in the contest thanks to solid defense.
Behind Vaden’s 29, Peoples tallied 18, with Christon bucketing 13. Vanderbilt was led by Benningfield’s 16 with Hager netting 14, Carla Thomas 12 and Early 11.
“I just wanted to do something to help the team,” Vaden said. “Tonight it was scoring. In the SEC you have to have all five people scoring, not just one or two.”
Arkansas goes on the road for their next contest another tough SEC match against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., on Sunday, Feb. 1 at 2:00 p.m.