Melanie Balcomb wants her team to get a true “tournament experience.”
Even though the Southeastern Conference women’s basketball tournament takes place this week just up the road from campus at Bridgestone Arena, the Vanderbilt coach will take her players to a hotel for the duration of their participation.
“I don’t want them to have the distractions of staying on campus, with school, with family in town, which they’re not used to, during a tournament,” Balcomb said. “We’ll put them in a hotel so they can experience and feel like they’re in a tournament away.
“At the same time, you want that home element of their friends, family, fellow students and our fans being able to come see us play.”
VU earned the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye for this year’s event, which kicks off Thursday. That landed it in the 9 p.m. (CST) slot Friday against the Auburn-Mississippi State winner.
In order to claim the title, Vanderbilt must win three games in three days. Those teams that play on Thursday must win four in four.
“It’s exhausting by then, but you run on adrenaline, you run on excitement — things like that,” senior guard Jence Rhoads said. “If you lose, you’re done. So you just want to keep playing until the end. Then after, that’s when you get to rest.”
Given the Commodores’ history when the event has been held in downtown Nashville, there’s reason to think they will have an extended stay.
This is the fourth time Bridgestone has hosted the event. Vanderbilt won the first two.
In fact, the championship has not left the state when it has been contested here. The last time Bridgestone hosted the event, 2008, the University of Tennessee won.
Vanderbilt won in 2002 in Jim Foster’s final season as coach with a team that featured the inside-outside combo of Chantelle Anderson and Ashley McElhiney.
Two years later, Balcomb claimed the first of her three tournament titles — and did so despite having had to play in the first round, which meant it won four games in four days. The Commodores are 17-5 overall in this event under Balcomb, 5-1 at Bridgestone Arena.
“We have a crowd because everyone gets to go downtown, only a few miles from the home floor,” Rhoads said. “[Balcomb] likes to make it feel different than a regular home game.
“The SEC tournament is motivation in and of itself. I don’t think it matters that it’s in Nashville. Of course, we’re happy about that, though.”