Memorial Minutes: Outside looking in

Vanderbilt has its next two games and the SEC Tournament to prove that they deserve a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Head coach Shea Ralph looks on her team as a play progresses on Monday Feb. 5, 2024 at Memorial Gymnasium. (Hustler Multimedia/Michael Tung)
Head coach Shea Ralph looks on her team as a play progresses on Monday Feb. 5, 2024 at Memorial Gymnasium. (Hustler Multimedia/Michael Tung)
Michael Tung

“I want to keep everyone in my camp focused on what we did to get here because we’re not there yet,” Shea Ralph said. “The kids say to keep the main thing, the main thing.”

Ralph’s main priority this week will be getting the Vanderbilt Commodores geared up to have their best chance at winning their two remaining regular season games. While it may be hard to ignore the outside noise, Vanderbilt will need to focus on what its done well this season in its next few games ahead. 

In ESPN’s bracketology on Feb. 20, the Commodores were named as the last school a part of the “last four in” within the NCAA Tournament. 

One week later, though, Vanderbilt sits on the outside looking in instead. The Commodores are the top team in the “first four out” of the NCAA Tournament. 

During the one week when the Vanderbilt Commodores (20-8, 7-7) dropped out of the “first four in,” they played just one game. In that matchup, they defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks (18-11, 11-5) by nine points. The win marked Vanderbilt’s first 20-win campaign since the 2012-13 season

The Commodores did everything in their power to stay within the right side of the bubble but outside factors have now put Vanderbilt outside of the hypothetical bracket. Auburn and Texas A&M are both part of the “first four in” teams, even though they both lost to the Commodores this season. 

If the Commodores win their next two games and go into the SEC Tournament with 22 wins under their belt, the Black and Gold will likely be out of the “bubble” and cemented into the NCAA Tournament.

Ralph wants Vanderbilt to block out any distractions and remain focused on playing its best basketball yet with matchups against both Missouri and Georgia remaining. 

As the Commodores hope to win their next two games and punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years, let’s take a look at what will give Vanderbilt its best chance at dancing.

Every game is do-or-die at this point. Can Ralph’s team step up to the plate? 

Small on paper, big in heart 

Vanderbilt’s lack of size in the frontcourt was a curse in several SEC games. Against LSU, Vanderbilt was -22 in rebounding margin. The Commodores also were outrebounded a combined 86-65 in their two matchups against the Tennessee Volunteers. While Vanderbilt struggled against certain SEC powerhouses at getting boards, it showed a newfound level of physicality and toughness last Sunday against Arkansas.

Against the Razorbacks, a team whose tallest player is the same height as Vanderbilt’s tallest player (6’4”), Vanderbilt dominated several 50-50 opportunities and posed problems in the frontcourt. The Commodores outrebounded the Razorbacks 48-37. Junior Sacha Washington led Vanderbilt with eight rebounds in its 62-53 win. 

Despite being undersized, Ralph has coached her team to play a disciplined brand of basketball. Vanderbilt has still shot 41.1% from the field, which is good for eighth-best in the SEC. While the Commodores may not get the type of looks at the rim as the bigger teams in the SEC, Vanderbilt has done a good job at making its open-shot opportunities. 

The Cambridge privilege

Jordyn Cambridge holds the ball, as photographed on Feb. 8, 2024. (Multimedia/Miguel Beristain) (Miguel Beristain)

The Commodores are privileged to have point guard Jordyn Cambridge donning the black and gold. The sixth-year guard’s collegiate playing days may be waning but she still has a lot to accomplish before the conclusion of the 2023-24 season.

Cambridge has been a nightmare defensively for teams throughout her college career. Through 115 games played, she has notched an impressive 332 steals. If the Nashville, Tenn. native gets seven more steals this season, she will pass Deborah Denton and become Vanderbilt’s all-time leader in steals. This season, Cambridge has 98 steals, which is good for the best in the SEC and third in all of D1 women’s basketball. 


Cambridge is also a force on the offensive end, as she averages 12.5 points per game this season. She has scored 991 points in her collegiate career and will look to eclipse the 1,000-point mark when Vanderbilt plays Missouri on Feb. 29. She also notched the top-10 list of Vanderbilt’s all-time assist list when Vanderbilt played Arkansas.

While Cambridge may be chasing personal records, she cares most about punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in her career. She is the ultimate leader and has been crucial in the team’s transition from an SEC bottom feeder to a competitor in the conference.

“I just hope that I leave a legacy for younger people after me,” Cambridge said in November. “[So] they know what it takes to work really hard and what you will get if you work really hard.” 

The path ahead

For Vanderbilt, everything is a must-win at this point. Vanderbilt will play the Missouri Tigers and then the Georgia Bulldogs to conclude the season. Sitting at 2-12 in the conference, the Tigers are on a nine-game losing streak and rank dead last in the SEC. In January, the Tigers narrowly beat the Commodores. While Vanderbilt outrebounded Missouri 44-28, it shot just 37.9% from the field. Vanderbilt has won 7 of 13 SEC games since that point.

After the road matchup against Missouri, the Commodores will return to Nashville to face Georgia. Vanderbilt beat Georgia when the SEC foes faced off on Feb. 11. The Commodores were just 2-of-14 from deep that night and will look to improve that statistic this Sunday.

Whether Vanderbilt makes it to the NCAA Tournament or not, it has exceeded any national expectations. According to a select panel of SEC and national media outlets, Vanderbilt was predicted to finish last in the SEC this season. The Commodores currently sit in sixth place in their conference.   

The Commodores also started the season 15-1, which was the second-best start of any Vanderbilt Women’s Basketball team.

Beyond exceeding national expectations, the Commodores have been led by a coach who is the right person to change the culture around. After the 2020-21 season, Vanderbilt hired Ralph to replace Stephanie White. While the Commodores went 28-38 in Ralph’s first two seasons as head coach (2021-22, 2022-23), the tide has turned. Culture change takes time and patience, and this season has proven to be the fruit of Ralph and Vanderbilt’s labor.

“I came here to win. I hate losing more than anyone,” Ralph said at the 2024 SEC Tipoff. “The process of becoming a winner and knowing what it takes to be great. It takes patience to do that and a big part of that is learning to overcome adversity.”

Vanderbilt may be on the “bubble”. Vanderbilt may have faced adversity such as going on a five-game losing streak during conference play. Vanderbilt may be on the outside looking in.

For Ralph though, staying focused on the games ahead and the players in her locker room remain the main priority.

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About the Contributors
Andrew Wilf
Andrew Wilf, Sports Editor
Andrew Wilf (’24) is Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He is from Livingston, N.J., and is majoring in history and minoring in business. He joined the sports staff his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Assistant Sports Editor and Deputy Sports Editor. Beyond writing for The Hustler, he is also the host of Anchor Analysis, Commodore Clash and Live From West End. In his free time, Andrew enjoys watching the NFL and playing golf. He can be reached at [email protected].
Miguel Beristain
Miguel Beristain, Senior Staff Photographer
Miguel Beristain (’24) is a philosophy and cellular and molecular biology double major in the College of Arts and Science from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When not shooting for The Hustler, he can usually be found playing Magic the Gathering, exploring new restaurants or practicing guitar. He can be reached at .
Michael Tung
Michael Tung, Staff Photographer
Michael Tung ('26) is majoring in computer science. He is currently a staff photographer and is originally from Dublin, Ohio. His interests are photography, engineering, all things aerospace and music. He can be reached at [email protected]
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