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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 surges late past Western Kentucky, 77-74

An all-around team effort gave Vanderbilt the edge over the Lady Toppers, improving to 4-0 on the year.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt women’s basketball won their fourth consecutive game on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

In a battle of 3-0 teams, Shea Ralph and the Vanderbilt Commodores were able to slip past the Western Kentucky Lady Toppers, 77-74, gathering their fourth win of the season. Aga Makurat led Vanderbilt with 18 points. Sacha Washington and Jordyn Oliver also had 16 and 15 points, respectively. Jordyn Cambridge had a great performance as well, notching 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. 

Starting off the game with a lineup of Cambridge, Oliver, Justine Pissott, Iyana Moore and Washington, the Commodores found themselves entrenched in a relatively back-and-forth battle with the formidable Lady Toppers. Western Kentucky challenged Vanderbilt with a strong squad down low alongside quick and crafty guards lining the perimeter to combat Ralph’s onset 2-3 zone.

“At the end of the day, the plays we needed to make down the line we made,” Ralph said in regard to the gritty game that unfolded.

Although the Lady Toppers struggled in most of their early season games with three-point shooting, they were able to go blow for blow with Vanderbilt by sinking three of their first four shots from behind the arc. The Commodores’ usual go-to option, standout forward Washington, was the subject of intense swarming by Western Kentucky, as any entry pass to her in the post was met by at least two or more Lady Toppers. However, this opened the door to other avenues of scoring, including Pissott, who after going scoreless in Vanderbilt’s last outing made an instant impact with eight points in the first quarter.

Starting the second quarter, the war of attrition continued until Vanderbilt broke out onto a 7-0 run, highlighted by dazzling play from Oliver and Cambridge, with the latter assisting Oliver before following up with a big jumpshot-and-one conversion. Overall, the Commodores showed more fluidity on the offensive end, getting in and out of their sets with pace to find open looks across the floor. Even then, Vanderbilt was plagued by the uncharacteristic turnover bug, as they had only averaged 11.3 turnovers per game coming in, but had 13 in the first half alone. Regardless of costly turnovers, they were able to keep the game level through stellar defensive play, holding Western Kentucky to no made field goals in the last 4:33 of the second quarter. This stalemate between the two sides was broken by an empathic 3-pointer by Makurat, giving the Commodores a three-point lead going into the halftime break.

“She [Aga Makurat] hit some really big shots for us. We know what Aga is capable of,” Cambridge said when asked about Makurat’s outing. 

Opening the second half of play, Western Kentucky switched into a 2-3 zone of their own, attempting to force the bigger Vanderbilt side to put the ball on the floor or take perimeter shots. Cambridge took advantage of the flowing zone and found Makurat cross-court on the weak side wing for a 3-point shot. This was followed by layups from Oliver and Washington to cap off an 11-0 run, giving Vanderbilt an 11-point lead. 

Western Kentucky roared back, making six of seven shots along a three-minute stretch on the backs of the guard duo Acacia Hayes and Alexis Mead, bringing themselves right back into striking distance before a Hayes 3-pointer assisted by Mead pushed the Lady Toppers ahead by one. Vanderbilt wasted no time to answer back, as two possessions later Washington would get her hands on the ball to disrupt a Western Kentucky play, giving Cambridge a free driving layup in which she earned a seventh career double-double.

Vanderbilt kept its foot on the gas in the final period, but with every statement moment, Western Kentucky followed it up with one of their own. A string of three fouls within three minutes gave Vanderbilt ample chances from the charity stripe to push their lead, only for another 3-point bomb by Mead to cut into it. After a layup on Western Kentucky’s next possession by Karris Allen, this game was tied with nearly five minutes to go. 

After a night that featured inconsistent shooting from deep, Vanderbilt finally delivered. First, the threat of a Makurat shot gave the chance to distribute an open pass to Moore, who sunk her first shot of the night after starting the game going 0-9. On the following Commodore possession, Makurat made her fourth 3-pointer of the night to stretch the lead to six points. 

The aforementioned duo of Hayes and Mead brought the Lady Toppers back once more as the pair both got steals en route to Mead scoring five straight points with time dwindling. Vanderbilt’s sloppy ball security translated into another basket from Allen and a massive post layup by Odeth Betancourt, turning a decent lead into a one-point margin favoring Vanderbilt with 38.2 seconds left in the game.

After a Madison Greene miss and rebound that deflected off a Western Kentucky player’s hand out of bounds, the Lady Toppers quickly fouled as the ball was put back into play. With 12.6 seconds left, Moore was put at the free throw line, making both of her attempts from the stripe. Eagerly, Mead attacked the Vanderbilt defense, dashing past the bigger Cambridge and sinking a floater. Another foul would put Makurat at the line, in which she sank both. It was simply too little, too late for Western Kentucky, who airballed its final attempt and fell to Vanderbilt. 

“I want us to learn what it’s like to have a killer instinct,” Ralph said. “To put our foot on their necks and win by 25 instead of win by three.” 

Following up this victory and a 4-0 start, the Vanderbilt Commodores will face off against Alabama State at home on Monday, Nov. 20 at Memorial Gymnasium.

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About the Contributor
David Hernandez
David Hernandez, Lead Sports Analyst
David Hernandez (‘26) is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences double majoring in political science and law, history and society with a minor in communication studies. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can find him playing basketball, catching up on his favorite shows and mourning the tragedy that is New York sports. He can be reached at [email protected].
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