NASHVILLE (AP) — Melanie Balcomb reminded herself to breathe. She was already looking ahead to the final two games of the regular season but the Vanderbilt coach tried her best to soak in a huge win.
It was one worth celebrating.
Without their second leading-scorer for the fourth straight game, the Commodores received a career-high 30 points from Tiffany Clarke and upset No. 10 Texas A&M 61-51 on Sunday. It was Vanderbilt’s first win against a Top 10 team since knocking off No. 6 Georgia on Jan. 14, 2010.
“I just want to enjoy it for a minute and that is hard for me to do,” Balcomb said. “My wheels are already turning but for this team to do that after so many injuries and illnesses . to just fight through and get better, I’m proud of them — really proud of them.”
Vanderbilt (18-9, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) won consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 6. Clarke paved the way with 22 points after halftime. The senior made 12 shots out of 25 attempts – the most shots taken by a Vanderbilt player in eight years.
She carried the injured Commodores. Reigning SEC scoring champ Christina Foggie has missed the last four games and is one of four Vanderbilt players currently hurt.
“I just saw open looks,” Clarke said. “It was executing our offense and getting the best shot, the open shot. Sometimes I guess that was me.”
Most of the time it was her, especially late.
Texas A&M (21-7, 11-3) trailed by 12 twice early in the second half but pulled within 47-44 with 6:53 left. After a free throw by Clarke, Jasmine Lister pushed the lead back to seven with a 3-pointer. Lister later found Clarke for an open layup. Clarke followed with a turnaround jumper for a commanding 55-47 lead with 1:58 to go.
“She is tough when it is the toughest opponents,” Balcomb said. “Down the stretch in the SEC, she’s done that now every season. And now she is just turning it up.”
She also turned up the defense. Along with Elan Brown, who scored 12 points, Clarke helped contain the SEC’s third-leading scorer, Kelsey Bone.
The 6-foot-4 center finished with 17 points but was just 6-of-18 from the field. The junior entered as the second-best shooter in the country, shooting at a 59-percent clip.
As a team, Texas A&M made just 30.9 percent of its shots (17 of 55) for its second-worst shooting performance of the season, behind only a loss to Connecticut in November. Texas A&M entered ranked fifth in Division I in field-goal percentage, making 47 percent of its shots. But the Aggies missed eight straight shots early and sputtered in their first trip to Memorial Gymnasium since 1996.
“We had wide-open shots in the first half but we all became jump-shot judies in the first half,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. “Bone was making every hard shot she possibly could take instead of trying to score easy like Clarke does. As a result, that is how you shoot 6-for-18.”
Karla Gilbert’s layup with 8:58 left in the half gave the Aggies their last lead, 13-12. Clarke quickly responded with a turnaround jumper and the Commodores never trailed after that. Adrienne Pratcher’s 3-pointer tied it at 16 but Brown responded with a 3 on the left wing to propel Vanderbilt in front for the last time. It was the beginning of seven straight points and a 13-2 run that spilled over into the second half.
Vanderbilt led 25-20 at halftime but Texas A&M had a chance to cut into it before the break. Lister, however, forced Pratcher into a turnover with 7 seconds left to maintain the five-point advantage.
The Commodores made their first five shots out of the break, including four from Clarke. Lister’s 3-pointer off an offensive rebound lifted Vanderbilt to a 38-26 lead with 15:44 left.
“We take it by four minutes at a time and that gave us a big momentum shift going into the half,” Brown said. “(Lister) had really good lockdown D and everyone was there to help her. We really stressed team defense and I think we did a great job.”
The Aggies, who had won nine of 10, answered back though. Kristi Bellock led the charge, scoring all 12 of her points in the second half. She also grabbed eight of her 10 rebounds after halftime. Her two free throws with 6:53 to go cut the deficit to 47-44.
Lister then drained her third and final 3-pointer and Vanderbilt responded with eight straight points. Lister scored 11 points and freshman Morgan Batey set a career-high with 11 rebounds.
In the process, Vanderbilt strengthened its NCAA tournament resume. The Commodores were 1-5 against ranked teams. Their lone win over a ranked opponent came in December against then-No. 12 Oklahoma. Vanderbilt is just one of eight programs in the country to make the NCAA Tournament each of the last 13 years.
“I thought if we could get a win at Florida (on Thursday) it would make all the difference on whether we could win this game or not,” Balcomb said. “We’re really doing a good at focusing on just getting better each game. Each game is our biggest game. We’re not looking past anything or anybody.”
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