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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.

Film Room: Built to Dance

The Vanderbilt Commodores secured their first NCAA Tournament win in eleven years against Columbia on Wednesday, winning 72-68.
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Josh Rehders
Iyana Moore brings the ball down court during Vanderbilt’s matchup against Columbia during the First Four of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship, as photographed on March 20, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

For the first time since the 2013-14 season, the Vanderbilt Commodores played in a NCAA Tournament game. On Wednesday night, the Commodores played in a First Four matchup against Ivy League runner-up Columbia, with the two teams battling for the No. 12 seed and a first-round contest against No. 5 seed Baylor. In an outstanding performance, the Commodores notched their first tournament win since 2013 by defeating the Lions 72-68.

Throughout the game against Columbia, Vanderbilt showed facets of its game that prove that it is a team built for the Big Dance. The ability to play intense, suffocating defense that causes turnovers and shutouts was highlighted alongside the constant grit the team plays with. On the offensive end, Vanderbilt again showed an ability to score at all three levels, with Khamil Pierre and Sacha Washington dominating the painted area, and Iyana Moore leading the charge from the midrange and deep. 

Another important trait Vanderbilt embodied was the ability to adapt. Vanderbilt’s win against Columbia was not a beginning-to-end masterclass. At times, it was a slugfest with the teams scrapping for any amount of momentum. The Commodores started the game off slow with Columbia certainly looking much more comfortable on the offensive end. However, Shea Ralph spurred changes in her players, ranging from a push to press higher up the floor to playing inside-out offensively by attacking the paint first. 

With that in mind, let’s get a closer look at how Vanderbilt performed so well against Columbia.

Mama, there goes that ‘Dore

In March, stars are born. A characteristic of the teams that go far is possessing a showstopping player that you can trust to go and get you a bucket when the going gets rough. For Vanderbilt, that’s none other than the All-SEC Second Team selection, Iyana Moore. If her 37-point outing against Kentucky or her 29-point game against Mississippi State didn’t make people take notice, her play in the postseason will. 

Averaging 14.2 points per game this season, Moore has games where she catches fire and explodes past her average scoring totals. Whether it be from behind the arc or putting the ball on the floor to drive, Moore can score from anywhere on the floor and is a consistent threat to any defense. That was especially evident against Columbia, as Moore helped break open the game for the Commodores by putting up 22 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists on 57.1% shooting from three. Of that 22, Moore scored 15 in the second half, including the presumptive dagger with 24 seconds left to finish off Columbia’s season. 

Moore excels in getting open across the floor and generating shots for herself without compromising the integrity of Vanderbilt’s offense. She plays extremely well in pick-and-rolls with Washington, allowing her to drive and get quality looks at the rim. She works well off the dribble in isolation or utilizing off-ball screens to zip around the court. What worked best in the Columbia matchup was Moore playing catch-and-shoot, where the ball would be in the post with Washington and, once the defense collapsed on her, it was kicked out to Moore for an open three. Most importantly, Moore plays with a distinct swagger and confidence to her game that’s a bonafide trademark of a star. If the Commodores want to advance in this tournament, Moore will be vital to the effort.

Locked Up Hsu

The largest threat to the Commodores coming into their game against the Lions was undoubtedly Columbia’s senior guard Abbey Hsu. A top-25 scorer in the country, Hsu averaged 20.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game on 45.7% shooting from the field and 41.1% from three. To put it simply, Hsu is lethal. Yet, she struggled against the Commodores, and the restraints put on Hsu helped ensure a Vanderbilt victory. In 38 minutes, Hsu only scored 13 points, had 4 personal fouls and shot 21.4% from the field and 18.2% from deep. All night, Hsu was facing a frustrating Commodores defense that pressured not only her but also her teammates into taking bad shots and making mistakes.

The first key to combating the quick trigger of Hsu was always having a hand in her face. Ralph opted to not have one person stick to Hsu but to keep the defense fluid and trust her players to continuously switch on picks to maintain coverage on Hsu. On most shots Hsu took, a Commodore was contesting her. Again and again, whether it be a quick shot coming around a pick or a pass into the corner for Hsu, the Commodores were battling to make her uncomfortable every step of the way. 

The second important key to Vanderbilt’s stalwart defense was forcing Columbia to move the ball away from her. It would start from intense perimeter defense on Hsu herself, causing her to have to pass the ball around the perimeter instead of getting in to make a move off the dribble. Even when the ball wasn’t in Hsu’s hands, Vanderbilt remained locked on her, cutting Hsu off from her teammates and perhaps causing a little bit of panic in players as they tried to locate Hsu, their primary scorer. 

Overall, that defensive aggressiveness is a signature of this Vanderbilt team, and it shows Ralph’s confidence in them. The ability to shut down stars and crank up the intensity on any team will keep Vanderbilt close in any matchup it has this postseason. This team will not go down without fighting. 

Dominance Down Low

If Moore’s offensive showing wasn’t enough buckets for you, then let’s look at the pure clinic Pierre and Washington had in the paint. Washington posted a double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds, with Pierre adding in 11 points and 3 rebounds of her own. Vanderbilt outmatched Columbia in terms of both size and strength, allowing Pierre and Washington to have their way all night with the Lions’ defenders. 

Vanderbilt’s next matchup, Baylor, is also a team that is smaller than the Commodores down low. For one, Baylor usually plays a starting lineup that comprises four guards and one forward. The Lady Bears’ rotation centers around seven players, the tallest of which is 6’1. Two guards in that starting lineup stand at 5’6 and 5’7 respectively, meaning across the board the Commodores are generally bigger than Baylor.

Additionally, Pierre and Washington displayed an eagerness for the ball alongside a brutish angry playstyle in the post, physically overpowering defenders while remaining level-headed and finding a good high-quality shot. In general, this Columbia game will bring great momentum for Pierre and Washington, meaning they can both start the game against Baylor trying to make a point down low. Even though Baylor is a great rebounding and physical team, Pierre and Washington are assertive. The duo have both played a gauntlet of large teams and towering stars like Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese, meaning they have the experience to take physicality and a battle in the post head-on.

Vanderbilt showed a lot of positives against Columbia. Most importantly, Vanderbilt showcased that it is a team built to dance. Ralph has done a tremendous job in building this team and now it’s paying dividends. With a win over Columbia, Vanderbilt will keep dancing. The next step on this journey will be against the No. 5 seed Baylor Lady Bears on Friday, Mar. 22 at 5 p.m. CDT.

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About the Contributors
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].
Josh Rehders
Josh Rehders, Former Photography Director
Josh Rehders ('24) is from Houston and is studying computer science in the School of Engineering. When he is not shooting for The Hustler, Vanderbilt Athletics or freelancing, he enjoys finding new music and good food. He can be reached at [email protected].
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