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.

Vanderbilt downs Kentucky 79-57 on senior day behind dominant second-half performance

The Commodores defeated the Wildcats in Memorial Gymnasium in a Sunday afternoon game on Feb. 19, 2023.
Ciaja+Harbison+sinks+a+mid-range+jumper+in+Vanderbilts+victory+over+Kentucky+on+Feb.+19%2C+2023.
Barrie Barto
Ciaja Harbison sinks a mid-range jumper in Vanderbilt’s victory over Kentucky, as photographed on Feb. 19, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto).

The Vanderbilt Commodores (12-16, 3-11) honored seniors Ciaja Harbison, Marnelle Garraud, Demi Washington and Yaubryon Chambers with a well-deserved 79-57 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats (10-16, 2-12) this afternoon. 

“We’re really excited to celebrate our seniors,” head coach Shea Ralph said. “They’ll be part of our lives forever, and I can’t say enough about the contributions they’ve made to this program.”

There was clearly some leftover Memorial Magic floating in the rafters of the gymnasium after the men’s improbable victory over the Auburn Tigers on Saturday night.

The game sprung right into action after Vanderbilt won the opening tip, as both teams hit the ground for a loose ball less than 10 seconds into the game. Kentucky came away with it, but the impressive defense led to an easy layup for Garruad to start the scoring off for the Commodores. After a Kentucky turnover, Harbison went to work and banked in a floater to give her team a 4-0 lead. Kentucky went on a run of its own, however, as Adebola Adeyeye snagged two offensive rebounds and made both follow-up baskets to give the Wildcats a 6-4 lead. Harbison responded with a crisp foul-line jumper to tie things up. 

Sacha Washington went to work down low before getting fouled, making one-of-two free throws. Ryanne Allen stripped the ball from Jada Walker and found Harbison in transition for an easy layup. Kentucky came back with a mini-run to take a 10-9 lead at the first media timeout. Both sides traded turnovers fresh out of the break before Harbison hit the ground diving for a loose ball. After the ball bounced into the Wildcats’ hands for a 3-pointer, Harbison remained on the ground with an apparent shoulder injury before ultimately standing up and walking to the locker room. 

Commodore supporters breathed a sigh of relief as Harbison returned to the game. Her return seemingly energized her teammates, as Washington stuffed two straight Kentucky shot attempts as the home crowd chanted “defense.” Harbison ended a 7-0 Kentucky run — and a nearly four-minute scoring drought — with an easy look at the rim. A sloppy first frame concluded with a pair of Kentucky free throws and some more turnovers. The first quarter buzzer rang with the scoreboard showing 15-11 in favor of the Wildcats. 

On theme for the contest, the second quarter started with each side trading multiple turnovers as Vanderbilt committed its seventh and eighth giveaways, and Kentucky committed its ninth and tenth. After over two minutes of scoreless basketball, Garraud found a seam in the Wildcat’s defense, finishing through a foul for a huge and-one finish. The free throw brought the Commodores within one point, trailing 15-14. 

After what seemed to be a jump ball in favor of Vanderbilt, the replay booth deemed the play a technical foul on Ryanne Allen, giving the Wildcats two free throws and the ball. After calmly making both free throws, Kentucky committed yet another turnover to give the Commodores the ball back. Garraud was unable to connect on an open deep ball, and Kentucky once again went to work on the offensive glass for a putback layup. 

Harbison entered double figures as she connected on another midrange jumper to end a three-minute Vanderbilt scoring drought and cut the lead to 20-16. Kentucky’s thirteenth turnover gave Washington a chance to work down low, as she found the bottom of the net to cut the lead down to two. Another turnover led to another Washington bucket to tie it at 20 apiece. After a missed shot from beyond the arc, a long offensive rebound by Garraud got Harbison a good look from mid-range to give the Commodores their first lead since the first quarter. Kentucky ended an 8-0 Vanderbilt run when Zennia Thomas sank a wide-open layup. A Walker foul put the Wildcats over the limit and sent Harbison to the line for another two points. Vanderbilt went into the locker room at half clinging to a 24-22 lead. 

It was a familiar first half for the Commodores on offense, as Harbison carried the scoring load once again. She led all scorers with 14 points in 19 minutes played. The biggest story, perhaps, was Vanderbilt’s stifling defense. Ralph’s squad has struggled with limiting opponents’ shooting effectiveness all season, as they allow an SEC-high 45.1% from the field. A clear emphasis on trapping the Wildcat’s guards at halfcourt and forcing dribble pick-ups helped Vanderbilt limit Kentucky’s offense. Yet, in this contest, the Commodores forced 15 first-half Kentucky turnovers and held their opponents to just 30.8% shooting.

Bella LaChance inbounded for the Commodores to start the half, and Garraud wasted no time, crossing up her defender and banking home a lefty layup. Some superb defense — and some more Kentucky turnovers — got Vanderbilt out in transition, and Garraud finished niftily at the rim two more times to enter double figures (11 points) to give Vanderbilt a 30-22 lead and force a Kentucky timeout. At this point, the Commodores were in complete control of the ball game, on a 16-2 run.

“[The] halftime speech I said in the locker room lit a fire under all of us,” Garruad said on coming out strong in the third quarter. “Coach Shea said we need to come out and impose our will. [We needed] to attack on offense, and I think that’s how we got open shots.”

Washington continued to impose her will in the post, this time dishing out an assist to Washington. Harbison stripped the ball from Robyn Benton and found Washington again in transition for an easy two. Another Wildcat turnover — and another easy bucket down low, this time for Chambers — gave the Commodores a 36-22 lead and forced Kentucky to take its third timeout.

With the crowd into the game, Vanderbilt felt unstoppable as Garruad took a Kentucky airball coast-to-coast for another layup. While she was fighting for a rebound, however, LaChance was forced to leave the game with what appeared to be a lower-body injury. The Wildcats were finally able to get on the board after making three-of-four free throws, but Garraud answered, drilling a 3-pointer for Vanderbilt’s first deep ball of the game. Jada Brown followed it up with a triple of her own before a few fouls gave Kentucky some free points at the line. A defensive lapse from the Commodores gave Thomas a free look from point-blank range, cutting the lead down. Vanderbilt entered the media timeout leading 44-31. 

Vanderbilt struggled to put the ball in the net coming out of the timeout, but multiple offensive rebounds from Chambers led to a wide-open look from downtown for Garraud, who found the bottom of the net with ease. Thomas responded for the Wildcats on the other end before Allen got in on the scoring action with a triple from the top of the key. Kentucky’s Blair Green connected on a short mid-range jumper with less than 30 seconds remaining, giving Vanderbilt a chance to bring the third frame to a close. Harbison crossed up her defender but was unable to finish the layup. Washington snagged her 13th rebound of the game before getting fouled and calmly making both. The buzzer sounded with the Commodores leading 52-35.

Things simply could not have started better for Vanderbilt as Harbison connected on a contested 3-pointer to start the fourth period. A technical foul was called on Kentucky’s Benton, which ejected her from the game and put Harbison at the line. Another technical was then called on Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy, so Harbison got four free throws, sinking three of them. At the 8:40 mark of the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt boasted a 60-35 lead. 

After a nice basket from the Wildcats, Sacha Washington entered double figures with a nice lefty finish in the post. After a Kentucky miss, Washington connected on a jumper, sending the game into a media timeout with Vanderbilt leading 66-40. The Commodores increased their lead to 30 after back-to-back buckets from down low from Washington. 

Kentucky added points here and there, but the game was simply too far out of reach with the deficit sitting at 28 with just over four minutes to go. Washington capped her senior day off with a 3-pointer for Vanderbilt’s final points of the game.

It was a massive game from Vanderbilt’s three leading scorers. Harbison (24 points, 5 assists, 4 steals), Garraud (23 points, 5 assists) and Washington (15 points, 15 rebounds) helped propel the Commodores to a well-earned 79-57 victory.

“[The team] wants to be great, and they want to have fun. We don’t really know what [being great] looks like yet,” Ralph said. “You’re gonna learn something about yourself every game. [The goal is to] continue to focus on what we need to bring as a team to play our best basketball.”

Vanderbilt will be back in action in Memorial Gymnasium this Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. CST.

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About the Contributors
Aiden Rutman, Senior Staff Writer
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
Barrie Barto, Senior Staff Photographer
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with minors in communication of science & technology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Photography Director. Outside of The Hustler, you can find Barrie cheering on the St. Louis Blues or tracking down the best gluten-free food in Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].
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