Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb is pleased with her team's defense entering the NCAA tournament, but she's no doubt hoping for a better offensive performance than she's seen lately.
The 21st-ranked and fourth-seeded Commodores kick off their 21st trip to the tournament when they face 13th-seeded Montana in the first round of the Spokane Regional in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Saturday.Vanderbilt (23-8) won a school-record 11 games in the SEC, including nine of its last 10, to finish third in the conference behind LSU and Tennessee. The Commodores reached the semifinals of the SEC tournament before falling 63-48 to the Lady Vols on Saturday.Vanderbilt is making its eighth straight trip to the NCAAs. The Commodores have been knocked out in the second round the last two seasons."We have a lot of expectations for ourselves, so I don't think we're going to be just satisfied with getting to the second round," senior Liz Sherwood said. "We want to go farther. We're young and we're excited. It'll be interesting to see what happens."Vanderbilt ranks second to LSU in the SEC with just 56.5 points allowed per game and showed off its defensive ability against the Vols, who lead the conference in scoring."The fact that we held them to 63 points, I don't think that happens to them a lot," Balcomb said. "I think that that's something that's going to give us an opportunity to make a run in the NCAAs, and in the postseason, that's where we want to be defensively."However, the Commodores, who rank second to Tennessee in the SEC with 78.3 points per game, sputtered offensively in the conference tournament. Tennessee held Vanderbilt to its lowest point total of the season, a day after the Commodores beat Auburn 49-44 in the tournament quarterfinals.Christina Wirth, who leads the team with 12.9 points per game, managed only two points against the Tigers and seven against the Vols."Yeah, they had good defensive pressures, but shooters have to keep shooting, and that's what we're going to do," Wirth said after the loss to Tennessee.Vanderbilt has won both of its previous meetings with Montana (25-6), including a 67-44 victory in the first round of the 2005 NCAAs in the Grizzlies' last appearances in the tournament."The odds (of facing Vanderbilt again) have to be pretty slim," said Montana coach Robin Selvig, whose team hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1995.Montana earned its 17th NCAA bid on Saturday, beating Montana State 101-65 in the Big Sky Conference tournament title game. Mandy Morales scored 24 points and hit all six of her 3-point attempts after getting 30 points in the Grizzlies' semifinal win over Portland State -- all despite a nagging foot injury."Really, I didn't feel it that much this game," she said. "I'm just really thrilled and proud of our team."Sonya Rogers, who owns one of the nation's best 3-point percentages at 48.6, went 3-for-6 from beyond the arc in the conference title game. Montana has made 39.6 percent of its 3-point attempts, good for fifth in the country, while Vanderbilt ranks ninth at 38.8 percent.