The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Memorial Minutes: Life in the SEC

The Commodores haven’t gotten off to the start they hoped for in conference play, but there’s still time to turn things around.
Marnelle+Garraud+drives+to+the+rim+against+UT+Martin+on+December+4%2C+2022+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FYifei+Lu%29
Ophelia Lu
Marnelle Garraud drives to the rim against UT Martin on December 4, 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/Yifei Lu)

Life in the SEC hasn’t been easy for Vanderbilt women’s basketball in recent years. The Commodores haven’t posted a winning record in SEC play since the 2012-13 season when Melanie Balcomb’s squad went 9-7 en route to an NCAA tournament appearance. Shea Ralph has injected hope into the program that Vanderbilt can return to its status as a perennial SEC contender, but it doesn’t look like 2023 will be that year. 

The Commodores’ non-conference schedule was a roller-coaster experience on and off the court. Before the season even began, three starters (Iyana Moore, Kaylon Smith and Jordan Cambridge) went down with season-ending injuries. That didn’t stop Vanderbilt from racing out to a 5-0 start, however. Through that stretch, the team boasted an average margin of victory of 19.4 points. Unfortunately, injuries chipped away at the team’s depth, as key contributors Ciaja Harbison and Amauri Williams missed time during Vanderbilt’s 4-5 finish to non-conference play. With a 9-5 non-conference record that ranked 11th in the SEC, the Commodores recognized that they needed to come out firing to climb back into SEC contention. That hasn’t happened yet. 

Now four games into conference play, the Commodores are 0-4 against SEC opponents while being outscored by 21.8 points per game. While injuries have left the roster depleted, the team has still fallen short of expectations. Losing against LSU, Tennessee and Ole Miss was expected given the quality of those opponents (combined 12-0 in SEC), but a 28-point home loss to Mississippi State reflects the dysfunction that has characterized the team’s play of late. 

The team’s non-basketball news this winter hasn’t been any rosier. Freshman center Amauri Williams was dismissed from the team last Sunday after an undisclosed violation of team rules. Williams, a former 4-star recruit and the No. 9 ranked post player in the class of 2022, showed great promise as a scorer and rebounder down low. Now, the Commodores will be forced to rely even more on Sacha Washington to hold down the frontcourt and generate offense in the post. 

“We love Amauri and we want nothing but the best for her. We will always be in her corner,” Ralph said in an official statement. “I’m grateful our paths crossed and will be supportive of her as she seeks out her new home.

Hanging with the Vols

Vanderbilt’s best showing in their opening slate of SEC games came against their cross-state rival Tennessee. The Commodores hung on against the Volunteers, displaying legitimate offensive firepower and moments of defensive cohesiveness. 

Vanderbilt put up a fight in the fourth quarter but ultimately fell short at Memorial Gymnasium. Despite being shorthanded, the Commodores displayed impressive shooting efficiency from beyond the arc and at the free throw line, with Ciaja Harbison scoring 27 points and Marnelle Garraud adding 19. A 12-2 run in the fourth quarter narrowed Tennessee’s lead to single digits after Vanderbilt had trailed by as many as 21.  

Sacha Washington recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, leading the Commodores in rebounds for the game. Without Williams’s depth, Vanderbilt struggled on the glass, leading to a significant deficit on the boards against Tennessee. The Commodores only had three players over 6’0″ tall compared to the Lady Vols’ 11, and accordingly were outrebounded 42-28. Vanderbilt also had 18 turnovers to Tennessee’s 13. Despite the loss, veteran guards Harbison and Garraud demonstrated that they can generate consistent offense against SEC-caliber defenses, with Harbison leading all scorers and Garraud providing a boost from long range. Foul trouble also plagued the Commodores, with Garraud picking up four fouls and fellow guard Ryanne Allen fouling out with 43 seconds left on the clock.

The Road Ahead

If the Commodores want to get their season back on track, they’ll need to steal a few victories during an exceptionally difficult series of games. First, Vanderbilt will travel to Fayetteville to take on 16-3 Arkansas (3-1 SEC). The Commodores will then host undefeated South Carolina, the No. 1 team in the country. Vanderbilt will need to lean into their next-man-up mentality and outwork their opponent for 40 minutes if they want a chance in either of those games. 

Beating powerhouse Arkansas, who have rattled off 20-point victories against Florida and Kentucky, will require a nearly perfect effort from the Commodores. But, as the men’s basketball team just demonstrated in their shocking upset of No. 15 Arkansas, anything is possible. The Razorbacks are averaging 76.9 points per game (fourth in the SEC) and 42.7 rebounds per game (fourth in SEC). That second figure poses a greater threat to the Commodores, who rank last in the SEC in rebounds per game with 32.9. Slowing down 6’2 senior Erynn Barnum, who has been one of the conference’s best players this season, will be the key to a Vanderbilt victory. Barnum is averaging 15.6 ppg with a league-best field goal percentage of 62.7%. Vanderbilt will need senior wing Yaubryon Chambers to play a pivotal role on defense in the wake of Williams’ departure from the team. 

In spite of all the team’s strengths, Arkansas still doesn’t hold a candle to the Commodores’ next opponent, No. 1 South Carolina. The reigning national champions are riding a 22-game win streak dating back to last March, and they don’t look like they intend on breaking it anytime soon. The Gamecocks are nearly flawless on both sides of the ball, averaging 81.7 ppg on offense (second in SEC) and holding opponents to just 45.3 ppg as the stingiest defense in Division I women’s basketball. Last year’s national player of the year, Aliyah Boston, returned for her senior season and remains the most imposing post player in basketball, averaging 9.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. The Commodores will likely rely on Sacha Washington to match up with the 6’5″ senior, but the issue of rebounding help will remain a major challenge in this game. 

The Commodores will seek to pick up their first SEC win of the season on Monday night against Arkansas at 6 p.m. CST in Fayetteville.

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About the Contributors
Brandon Karp
Brandon Karp, Senior Staff Writer
Brandon Karp ('25) is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is studying human and organizational development and political science in Peabody College. You can reach him at [email protected].
Ophelia Lu
Ophelia Lu, Deputy Photography Editor
Ophelia Lu (’26) is from Los Angeles and is double majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering in the School of Engineering. She previously served as a staff photographer. When not covering events and sports games for The Hustler, you can find her listening to a lot of music, studying at Starbucks or lying on Alumni lawn. She can be reached at [email protected].
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