Dec. 30, 2013
By Steve Irvine, UABsports.com
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The step forward that the UAB women's basketball team took on Monday night didn't include a win over a quality program, but UAB head coach Randy Norton still found plenty of reasons to be encouraged following the 87-76 loss to NCAA Tournament fixture Vanderbilt at Bartow Arena.
"Vanderbilt is a team that's been in the NCAA Tournament 14 straight years, they're always at the top of the SEC and I just think a game like this is going to do wonders for us heading into the conference play," said Norton, whose team finished the non-conference slate with an 8-5 record.
Take away the first part of each half and it certainly could have been a different outcome on Monday. Vanderbilt (11-2) rarely missed in the early going - hitting 6-of-8 shots in the first four minutes - and used the hot start to eventually build a 26-13 lead with less than nine minutes elapsed from the clock. In the second half, Vanderbilt began with a 12-0 run.
"Against a team like that, you put yourself in a hole it makes it hard to dig out but we almost did," Norton said.
In the first half, the Blazers rode the hot hand of sophomore point guard Chelsee Black, who had a career-high 29 points, to claw back into the game. Black made 6-of-10 shots before halftime, including 4-of-6 from outside the 3-point stripe, to lead the comeback. By halftime, the Blazers had the deficit trimmed to 44-41 and took a lot of momentum into to the locker room.
"The biggest thing is we never get deflated," Black said. "You're going to take some punches as you play. I think we did show toughness tonight. We've been talking about that a lot during practice and I think we just stuck with what we knew."
However, Vanderbilt quickly stole back the momentum with forward Heather Bowe and guard Christina Foggie combining for all the points in the 12-0 run that came over the first four minutes of the half. UAB senior forward Karisma Chapman ended the run with a three-point play and Black followed with a bucket, but the tone had already been set in the second half.
"When you're down like that, there is no sense saving them," Norton said. "I thought she did an unbelievable job playing with four fouls. She stayed aggressive. She attacked the basket on offense, defensively, she was guarding hard. I'm really proud of the way she played."
Chapman finished with 27 points, on 8-of-16 shooting from the field and 11-of-14 from the free throw line, and seven rebounds.
"It was tough but I knew my team needed me," Chapman said of playing with four fouls. "My coach always tells me to stay aggressive, be smart and I pick and choose what to do."
UAB got back to within 10 points - at 85-75 - with just under two minutes remaining but couldn't get any closer.
"I'm really proud of my team and their effort tonight," said Norton, whose team lost for the first time this season at Bartow Arena. "I thought they battled and clawed for 40 minutes. You're never going to play the game perfect but the main thing is to just keep playing hard and battling and I thought our kids did that tonight. Take away some of our defensive breakdowns, maybe make some of those layups and post shots, we got an opportunity to beat an outstanding team and program."
Black, Chapman and senior guard Ashley Grimes shouldered the scoring load for the Blazers, combining for 72 of the team's 76 points. Grimes had 16 points to go along with five rebounds, four assists and two steals.
UAB will open Conference USA play next week when it hosts UTEP on Wednesday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. CT in Bartow Arena.
For the latest news on Blazer sports, follow the UAB Athletics Twitter account: @UABathletics. For women's basketball news, follow @UAB_WBB.