No. 1-ranked Clayton State women to battle Vanderbilt in high-anticipated preseason exhibition
MORROW, Ga. – November 4, 2011 – Clayton State women's basketball coach Dennis Cox has never shied away from a challenge. He didn't a couple of years ago when his Lakers faced off against Georgia in a preseason exhibition, and the same is true this season when Clayton State squares off Saturday against another Southeastern Conference power – Vanderbilt.
The Lakers and Commodores will tip it off on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. (central time) at Vanderbilt's venerable Memorial Gymnasium.
"This is a really neat thing for us to play in an environment like that with Vanderbilt," said Cox. "The setting will different and it will be a neat experience. It's going to be good for us because we will be challenged more than this team has ever been challenged. I just hope at the end of the day that Vanderbilt will feel like they benefited from this as much as us."
The setting along will be unique for Clayton State as is pretty much any opposing team playing at Memorial Gymnasium. It's the only Division I venue where the team's benches are in the end zone of court next to the basket instead of on the sidelines. In addition, the court is elevated and Memorial Gymnasium seats roughly 15,000.
With Clayton State entering the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in Division II, this is the second straight season that Vanderbilt has played an exhibition against a top-level Division II program. Last year, the Commodores played Delta State, which was preseason No. 2 in Division II.
The Lakers will face a Vanderbilt team that has been a model for consistency and excellence in the SEC. While Vanderbilt may not get the notoriety because of its neighbors to the east (Tennessee), the Commodores have averaged roughly 22 victories a season under head coach Melanie Balcomb. That includes nine straight NCAA Division I National Tournament appearances and NCAA "Sweet 16" appearances in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009.
Last season, Vanderbilt finished 20-12 overall and is comprised mostly of sophomores and juniors this year. Sophomore guard Jasmine Lister was an SEC All-Freshman selection, leading the Commodores in scoring at 12 points a game and shooting 37 percent from 3-point range with 103 assists.
Another SEC All-Freshman selection from last season is sophomore center Tiffany Holzer. At 6-foot-4, Holzer averaged 11 points and six rebounds a game last season, and will create some match-up issues for the Lakers in the paint. The other post is 6-0 junior Tiffany Clarke, who prepped in the Atlanta area at Norcross High School. She averaged eight points and five rebounds a game last season while shooting 56 percent from the field.
"They (Vanderbilt) have been the model of consistency, being a Top Five team in the Southeastern Conference," Cox said. "Year in and year out, Vanderbilt is finishing in the upper tier of the SEC and making the NCAA Tournament on a consistent basis.
"Holzer will be tough for us to handle with that size. They run a lot of stuff around her and run a post-oriented offense, but Lister can really extend the defense with her shooting. We need for it to be more of an up-tempo type of game."
The Lakers will counter with four returning starters from last season's 35-1 team that won the NCAA Division II National Championship. The most notable is senior forward Tanisha Woodard, who was both an All-Peach Belt Conference and Division II All-Southeast Region selection as well as Peach Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Last season, she led the Peach Belt in steals and was ranked seventh in the nation in steals.
Another returning starter is senior guard Brittany Hall, who led the PBC in 3 point shooting percentage, as well as much-improved sophomore center Shacamra Jackson. In addition, senior point guard Genesis Kelly, who started much of the 2009-10 season, is back after missing much of last season with an injury. Off the bench, junior point guard Drameka Griggs gives the Lakers plenty of explosiveness on both ends of the court.