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March 15, 2007

Commodores crush the Colonials, 77-44

Total domination. That's the best way to describe the utter carnage that was inflicted on the A-10 tournament champions this afternoon.

Vanderbilt used a complete game from its interior and wings to run away from the Colonials 77-44 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in Sacramento Thursday afternoon.

The Colonials' zone trap defense was expected to smother Vanderbilt's guard-oriented offense into submission. But the story of the first half was the degree to which the Commodores' defense dominated and discouraged the Colonials' dynamic guard duo of Maureece Rice and Carl Elliott from start to ugly finish.

"Our players felt like all they had heard about was (George Washington's) defensive pressure," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. "I think it was important to them to play a good defensive game themselves. It paid dividends, because they were very sharp, especially in the first half."

Rice, who averages over 16 points per game, was held scoreless until long after the game had been decided. VU's longer, taller guards forced George Washington to miss 15 of its first 17 shots from the field.

On Vandy's second possession, Shan Foster drained a wide open 3-pointer, setting the table for transition defense with 18:37 remaining in the half. After a Jermaine Beal free throw, Foster drained his second three -- and Vanderbilt's rout was on.

With the smaller lineup forced into action by Derrick Byars' cold shooting touch, redshirt freshman George Drake drained two 3-pointers from either side of the corner, followed by a layup off a give-and-go.

While Foster and Drake were lighting up the scoreboard, Vandy's defense flustered GW into badly missing its first six shots. GW didn't score its first field goal for nearly 6 1/2 minutes, and then endured another 11 1/2-minute stretch without a basket.

Byars didn't sink his first basket of the game at the 9:09 mark -- finally forcing GW to abandon the utterly ineffective zone trap. But by that time, the book had been effectively written on what was the biggest blowout of tournament's first day.

With Byars shutting down Elliott, and Foster nixing Rice, George Washington found themselves down an insurmountable 25 points at the half with nowhere to turn for any semblance of offensive spark.

At the half, a beat writer for George Washington questioned if Vanderbilt shoots this well all the time. I certainly couldn't answer yes. But the Commodore passing, which led to the many easy scoring opportunities, simply placed the Colonial pressure defense out of synch for the entire game.

The second half was more of the same, with Byars, Foster and Alex Gordon draining a series of wide open 3-pointers, some beyond the NBA 3-point arc. With VU continuing to pressure Rice and Elliot from just over the half court line, Ted Skuchas successfully disrupted Regis Koundia's frequent attacks on the basket.

With 11 minutes left, Vanderbilt's interior players had doubled GW's second chance points, while the Commodore bench held a 17-10 advantage. At the 3:51 mark, both coaches issued wholesale substitutions, with Stallings putting in rarely used walk-ons Aubrey Hammond and David Rodriguez.

Perhaps most telling was the fact that, in an NCAA Tournament contest, the game's most invigorating moment came when Rodriquez was fouled on the last shot of the game. The Vandy student rec league participant sent both the VU and GW fans into a wild ovation when he sank one of his two free throw shots.

"They knocked down all of their shots, moved the ball well, and we weren't reacting quick enough," said Elliott, who led the Colonials with just eight points.

"Everybody knows if we play our game we'll be fine," said Byars.

For the Colonials, who had just one assist in the entire first half, there was absolutely no doubt about whether they had seen Vandy's "A" game today.

"From the first five minutes in the game, it was just a matter of trying to survive," said discouraged George Washington coach Karl Hobbs said. "We fell behind quickly, and that pretty much put us on our heels."

On Saturday, Vanderbilt advances to the round of 32 to face No. 3 seed Washington State, which defeated No. 14 seed Oral Roberts in the day's first game.

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