Eight years after Vanderbilt dropped a 69-61 first-round NCAA Tournament game to Arizona State, the Commodores are back in postseason action, as they were awarded an at-large bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). The squad will face Murray State at home this Thursday, March 17 in a win-or-go-home—or perhaps stay-at-home—game.
— Vanderbilt WBB (@VandyWBB) March 14, 2022
This news comes on the back of a strong finish to head coach Shea Ralph’s first season at the helm in Nashville, as the Commodores earned their first SEC Tournament victory since 2016, beating Texas A&M 85-69. And, though the team ultimately ended their regular season with a 14-18 record, they showed great promise and grit in each contest and, as a result, are one of two teams selected for the WNIT with a losing record—14-17 Minnesota also received an at-large bid.
Vanderbilt has not competed in the WNIT since 1984, but Ralph understands how important this tournament birth is for a program in repair.
“It’s obviously a huge step in the right direction,” Ralph said at Monday’s media session. “This is how we’re going to be in this program moving forward. This is what it feels like to play and prepare in March. I really wanted that for them this year.”
Unfortunately for the Commodores, offensive powerhouse Brinae Alexander will not be available for the postseason as she recently entered the transfer portal after four years on West End.
“We certainly are going to need some more contributions, especially from our younger guys, but really from everyone across the board,” Ralph said “And if we do that—if everyone does just a little bit more—we’re going to be absolutely fine. I’m excited for them to have that opportunity. I’m excited for them to play and I’m excited to see how and who will step up.”
All-SEC Freshman Team selections Iyana Moore and Sacha Washington appear to be positioned to take on a focal role in the offense this coming Thursday, but only time will tell if the young duo will rise to the occasion.
Equally important, senior guard Jordyn Cambridge must lead by example and rally her squad in a major way. If Vanderbilt is to win, they must take care of the ball offensively and maintain their outstanding defensive reputation—Cambridge will be a key factor in the success of both aspects. But, no matter what, this tournament selection shows the program’s growth and will provide young players with invaluable experience moving forward.
“It just speaks to what’s going on here at Vanderbilt,” Ralph said. “I’ve been telling you guys that this place is special—that things are really going in the right direction, and I’m just really proud and excited to be part of that.”
Murray State (22-9) is coming off an impressive regular season, averaging just under 74 points per game on 48% shooting from the field and 36% shooting from beyond the arc. Vanderbilt will look to slow this offensive unit down and make a deep run in the WNIT—an extraordinary opportunity given the program’s initial season outlook. The Commodores will face off against the Racers on Thursday, March 17 at 7 p.m. CDT in Memorial Gymnasium.