Balcomb, Dores home in Cincinnati
CINCINNATI -- Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb has fielded her fair share of questions about coming back to Xavier for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament, the same school she led to a regional final in 2001 and at which she won 135 games in seven seasons.
But she had a question of her own about her surroundings as she paused in the middle of a hallway in the Cintas Center after her not-so-new team's first-round win against DePaul on Sunday -- a question indicative of how times passes and just how much both programs involved have moved on.
Namely, Balcomb wanted to know, where the heck was the bathroom in this place?
Figuring out an answer for the quandary posed by twin towers Ta'Shia Phillips and Amber Harris won't be nearly as easy when sixth-seeded Vanderbilt faces the No. 3-seeded Xavier on Tuesday (ESPN2/ESPN360.com, 7:06 p.m. ET).
Balcomb has faced a lot of great one-two combinations over the course of her 16 seasons, including the last eight seasons in the SEC and five trips to the Sweet 16. Yet she hasn't faced many like 6-foot-6 Ta'Shia Phillips, a true back-to-the-basket post, and 6-5 Amber Harris, a unique mix of post size and wing skills. With Xavier in trouble thanks to a rain of 3-pointers from upset-minded East Tennessee State in the opening round, Phillips and Harris combined for 54 points and 29 rebounds and the Musketeers pulled away in the final minutes for a 94-82 victory.
"Our advantage was clearly around the basket today," Xavier coach Kevin McGuff said after the first-round win, "and I thought we did a good job getting them the ball, and they also got it themselves, especially Ta'Shia. She had 13 offensive rebounds, so that's what's supposed to happen this time of year. You got players like that, they should carry you."
The closest thing Vanderbilt has faced to Phillips and Harris, not to mention April Phillips, in terms of sheer physical presence is Tennessee, with Kelley Cain, Alyssia Brewer and Glory Johnson (the Lady Vols are also slightly bigger across the rest of the court). The Commodores actually held their own on the boards in the first of the three meetings between the two in-state rivals and lost by just seven points. But they were subsequently outrebounded by 11 and 15 in the next two games, respectively, not coincidentally losing by nine and then 19 points.
In other words, the Commodores are equipped to deal with being at a size disadvantage in most games, but even they have their limits.
Not that Balcomb won't use all of that to any advantage she can. This won't be "win one for coach" as she returns home; it will be "win one because nobody thinks you can" -- just like when the Commodores went to Knoxville and lost the close one.
"This is perfect for me as a coach," Balcomb told reporters during Monday's news conference. "I'm not like a lot of coaches; I like to be an underdog, on somebody else's floor and with a big crowd. As you start recruiting kids and coaching kids, they do reflect their coach, and for us this is a fun situation and all the pressure's off.
When you play at home, you're supposed to win, and we do that a lot at Vanderbilt. We're supposed to win all of our home games, and we win most of them, but that's a lot of pressure. Senior night, we had our worst game of the year; it was a lot of pressure for four seniors on their last home game because we've never lost that before. So to be able to go on someone else's court -- I mean, the best game we played all year was at Tennessee, and that to me is one of the neatest things about sports."