Sunday, March 3, 2024

What Shea Ralph sees in common between Vanderbilt basketball, UConn Final Four teams

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After three straight nail-biting wins for the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team, head coach Shea Ralph sees a quality in common with the great UConn teams she helped coach as an assistant.

The Huskies went to 14 straight Final Fours from 2008 to 2022 (the 2020 tournament was canceled because of the pandemic), and Ralph was part of 12 of those. The thing that set those teams apart, she said, wasn’t the X’s and O’s.

“We went to 12 straight Final Fours and hopefully that will be what we do here at Vanderbilt,” Ralph said after the team’s 77-74 win Wednesday over Western Kentucky at Memorial Gymnasium. “You need the players that have the confidence, competitiveness, will and desire to win and, in those moments, to want to make those plays to win. That’s grit. And you can’t coach that.

“So what I’ve learned from the last three games is that my team has it. The other stuff we can work with. But we have that and that is so valuable. And I’m really, really, really excited about that. Because I don’t know that we’ve had it . . . on this team since I’ve been here.”

After a season-opening 98-51 win over Kennesaw State, the Commodores (4-0) won games 70-68 over UT Martin and 73-70 over Fairfield.

On Wednesday, Vanderbilt needed double-doubles from three players as well as a team-high 18 points from freshman Aga Makurat. Sacha Washington put up 16 points and 10 rebounds, Jordyn Cambridge had 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists and Duke transfer Jordyn Oliver had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

After a home game against Alabama State at 1 p.m. Monday, the Commodores will face Iowa State and Northern Iowa in the South Point Shootout tournament in Las Vegas before taking on NC State in the ACC/SEC Challenge.

Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at agerson@gannett.com or on Twitter @aria_gerson.

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