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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 looks to make a run in SEC tournament as 12 seed

The 2023 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament is set. Can the Commodores make some noise?
Yaubryon+Chambers+keeps+the+ball+in+bounds%2C+as+photographed+on+Feb.+19%2C+2023.
Barrie Barto
Yaubryon Chambers keeps the ball in bounds, as photographed on Feb. 19, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)

The Vanderbilt Commodores (12-18, 3-13) will take a trip to Greenville, South Carolina, this week to play in the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament. 

Vanderbilt’s loss to Auburn in its final game of the season locked it into the No. 12 spot in the final SEC regular season standings. This slates the Commodores to play in the first game of the tournament against the No. 13 Texas A&M Aggies.

This matchup is familiar, as the two teams faced off just over a month ago in Memorial Gymnasium. The Jan. 29 matchup saw Ciaja Harbison go for 41 points and tie the school record for points in a game en route to a Vanderbilt victory. The win — the first of the SEC season for the Commodores — helped serve as a building block for the program, which would then go on to nab two more home wins against Arkansas and Kentucky

It would be unreasonable to expect Harbison to replicate this 41-point performance, so it’s key that everyone on the team plays their part without letting too much fall on the shoulders of one player. 

The Commodores were able to pull away from the Aggies in the fourth quarter of their last matchup, but that performance was largely a result of Harbison’s historic day. In the team’s other two SEC victories, all-around contributions from players like Sacha Washington and Marnelle Garraud have fueled the team. 

In the Arkansas victory, which was the Commodores’ best of the season (the Razorbacks are ranked No. 50 in the NET), four players — Harbison, Gaurrad, Washington and Ryanne Allen —- scored in double figures. Through contributions from the entire team, Vanderbilt had more rebounds, assists, blocks and steals than Arkansas. Head coach Shea Ralph had her team controlling both the paint and beyond the arc in what was an excellent team win.

Washington was the Commodores’ best post player on the season, averaging 10.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. She’ll face the tough task of slowing down the Aggies’ leading scorer, Janiah Barker. The freshman out of Marietta, Georgia, is averaging a stellar 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, all while shooting 41.7% from 3-point range. This matchup will be key for Vanderbilt, and, if the team can limit Barker’s effectiveness, it should be in a good position to advance. 

The Commodores should have some wiggle room against Texas A&M (7-19, 2-14), as they are the stronger team on paper and have produced the results that prove that. The Aggies have struggled with scoring all season, averaging an SEC-low 55.2 points per game while holding the lowest field goal percentage in the league as well (37.8%). 

The problem for the Commodores?  They allow the most points in the league, at 70.9 per game. 

The two teams have differing identities. Vanderbilt has a strong offense with a weaker defense, while Texas A&M sports a shaky offense with a better defense. It will be a battle of which team can elevate its play in a win-or-go-home situation.

If the Commodores can advance, they’ll have a much tougher task ahead of them, as past that first round, the conference is very strong. They would take on the No. 5 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs (20-9, 9-7) the next day. 

These two sides faced off earlier this season in Memorial Gymnasium for their SEC openers on December 29, 2022. The Bulldogs bested the Commodores by a score of 72-44 behind a 21-point, 10-rebound performance from star forward Jessika Carter. Similar to Barker, Carter is a force in the paint, and Washington would likely be tasked with matching up with her as well. 

The matchup certainly went Carter’s way, as Washington scored just 11 points on 2-of-9 shooting in a game where the entire Commodores squad struggled. The team shot just 24.6% from the field and was outrebounded 47-27. Harbison and Garraud shot a combined 6-for-31 from the field in one of the team’s worst collective outings of the season. 

For the Commodores to make it past Mississippi State, the guard duo of Harbison and Garruad will need to perform well, and Washington will need to impose her will under the rim and help her team control the paint. 

The winner of that game would go on to play No. 4 Ole Miss in the quarterfinals of the tournament, but it’s unlikely the Commodores are looking that far ahead. For now, Ralph and Co. are focused on Texas A&M. 

The Commodores and Aggies will kick off the SEC tournament on Wednesday, March 1 at 10 a.m. CST.

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About the Contributors
Aiden Rutman
Aiden Rutman, Sports Editor
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
Barrie Barto, Editor-in-Chief
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with neuroscience and communication of science & technology minors in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Photography Director. When she's not strolling around campus with her camera, 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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