Commodore women's comeback nips Georgia

Monday, February 26, 2001 at 1:00am

There was more to Hillary Hager's 3-point shot than the fact that it gave the Vanderbilt Commodores a lead they would not relinquish in the final minute against Georgia.

"There is something real special about it ... she took it," said Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster. "We have a lot of confidence in Hillary."

Hager's 3-pointer, her third in as many tries, gave the No. 18-ranked Commodores a 65-62 lead and set the stage for a 71-65 come-from-behind victory over the No. 4-rated Georgia Lady Bulldogs Sunday afternoon in front of 4,817 fans at Memorial Gym.

Hager, a freshman guard, finished with 11 points. Despite her reluctance to shoot at times this season, she had no doubt that she was going to take the shot.

"We had a little discussion two days ago in our circle," Foster said. "We think Hillary is a real good player when she is aggressive. And she has gotten back to being aggressive in practice. The last couple of days she has been very aggressive in practice. When she makes up her mind to get something done, she is going to get it done."

The victory gives the Commodores a first round bye as the No. 4-seed in the SEC Tournament scheduled for Thursday-Sunday at The Pyramid in Memphis. Vanderbilt, 19-7 overall, tied with Louisiana State in the SEC with an 8-6 record. An 86-75 victory over LSU Feb. 15 gave the Commodores the tie-breaker. Georgia, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, dropped to 23-5, 11-3.

Foster didn't place any significance on the first round bye. "That's more of an issue for people to debate and discuss," Foster said. "We have a bunch of young players who are going to be involved in their first SEC tournament experience. The fact we have finished in the top four in the league and that we have earned something has much greater significance than not playing the extra game."

Junior guard/forward Jillian Danker scored 16 points for the Commodores. She thinks this team is playing better than any of the previous Vanderbilt teams she has played on as they head into tournament week with victories in four of their last five games.

"We are going into the SEC tournament with a lot more wins," Danker said. "That makes a lot of difference. There have been a lot of different keys that have helped us get those victories.

"We're playing like the best team I've ever been on here. That's what's important."

The Commodores greatly benefited from Georgia losing its big inside players, 6 feet 4 inch Tawana McDonald and 6 feet five inch Christi Thomas, to foul trouble. Thomas got her fifth foul at 10:09 of the second half and McDonald picked up her fifth at 9:29. The loss of both players forced Georgia to go to a zone defense.

"I thought they made a good move going to zone," Foster said. "The matchup problems would have been significant. We had to be patient and learn zone offense. We had the tendency in our last couple of games not to be patient, but I thought in this game we did a much better job of executing in the framework of what it is we do.

"We just played our game. When we are disciplined and do the things that we're really good at we're pretty good and hard to guard. I thought we did a much better job of executing and getting into our offense in the second half."

Vanderbilt center Chantelle Anderson, who scored a game-leading 24 points including 5-for-5 from the field in the second half, managed to stay in the game despite having two first half fouls. She finished with three.

"Chantelle is a disciplined person," Foster said. "You grow as a player and she, along with some other players on this team, are growing. Experiences teach you lessons in life and basketball. Chantelle has experience playing with a lot of fouls. She has gotten good at that."

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