No. 23 Florida rallies, edges Vandy women at SEC tourney

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nina Rickards hit two free throws with 8.2 seconds left, and No. 23 Florida rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat Vanderbilt 53-52 Thursday afternoon in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

The Gators (21-9) snapped a three-game skid and now will play No. 4 seed Mississippi on Friday in the quarterfinals.

Florida came in seeded fifth, its highest since 2016. The Gators seemed headed for a quick exit until the fourth quarter when they turned in a furious 20-8 rally. Their one and only lead of the game came on Rickards’ first trip to the line.

Vanderbilt (14-18) scored the first 12 points of the game and led by as much as 14 late in the third quarter looking for a second straight victory at a tournament where they hadn’t won even once since 2016.

Sacha Washington missed both free throws with a chance to pad Vanderbilt’s lead with 11.9 seconds remaining. After Rickards’ free throws, Jordyn Merritt blocked Vanderbilt guard Iyana Moore’s layup. The Gators started celebrating before officials sent them to the bench for a review.

The officials added 0.4 to the clock, and Florida guard Jeriah Warren got a hand on the inbound pass to seal the Gators’ comeback.

Rickards finished with 15 points for Florida, and Zippy Broughton added 14.

Brinae Alexander led Vanderbilt with 18 points. Moore added with 16. Jordyn Cambridge went 1-of-11 and finished with four points after turning in the first triple-double in program history in Wednesday’s tourney opener.

Vanderbilt led 16-12 at the end of the first quarter. Florida tied it only once at 18 on a layup by Merritt with 5:44 left in the second quarter, but the Commodores led 31-22 at halftime. The Commodores led 44-33 after the third quarter.

Quinerly leads No. 24 Alabama to 74-72 win over Vanderbilt

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jahvon Quinerly got the message Alabama coach Nate Oats sent by bringing the junior guard off the bench.

Quinerly responded, scoring 17 of his 19 points after halftime to help the 24th-ranked Crimson Tide rally from a nine-point deficit in the first half and hold off Vanderbilt 74-72 Tuesday night.

“I was just trying to be aggressive even though shots aren’t really falling for me,” Quinerly said. “I was just trying to stay aggressive and be engaged and bring as much positive energy to the team as I could.”

Oats said the team challenged Quinerly to be better on defense and play harder, knowing the Tide won’t win big games without that.

“He definitely answered the challenge,” Oats said.

Alabama (18-10, 8-7 Southeastern Conference) has won four of five, and the Crimson Tide had to shake off a cold-shooting first half in which they trailed 37-28 with 90 seconds left. They also had to hold on at the free-throw line late after missing seven of their final eight shots from the field.

Quinerly got the Tide going with his big second-half performance and hit two free throws with 28.4 seconds left for a 73-70 lead.

Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse noted Quinerly made some big shots, including some 3s a couple of feet beyond the 3-point line.

“He’s a very capable shooter, a shooter who hadn’t been shooting that well, but what’s new?” Stackhouse said. “Guys that hadn’t been shooting that well find a way to shoot it a little bit better than they normally do against us.”

Scotty Pippen Jr., the SEC’s leading scorer, made 10 of 12 at the foul line in the final 3:49 to help pull Vanderbilt to 71-70. But his second attempt missed with a chance to tie it with 46.1 seconds left. Vanderbilt also had a final opportunity to tie or win, but Jordan Wright’s layup rolled over the rim with 4.8 seconds to go.

“They just played harder than us,” Pippen said.

Vanderbilt (14-13, 6-9) had its four-game winning streak at Memorial Gym snapped and has lost three of the last four – all to Top 25 teams.

Pippen finished with 26 points despite not scoring in the second half until a free throw with 3:49 left. Liam Robbins had 16 points.

Noah Gurley added 11 points for Alabama, and JD Davison and Keon Ellis each had 10.

Quinerly keyed an 11-3 run with a pair of 3-pointers, and Gurley’s three-point play with 12:53 left gave Alabama a 46-45 lead that was its first since 5-4 in the opening minutes. After Robbins’ back-to-back jumpers pulled Vandy to 55-53, Quinerly hit a driving layup, a deep 3 and another layup for Alabama’s biggest lead at 64-53.

Vanderbilt led 37-32 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama: The Tide outrebounded Vanderbilt 41-37. Their big boost came at the free-throw line, even though Vandy made more trips. A team that normally shoots 72.1% at the line made 88% (22 of 25).

“Everybody wants to complain about Alabama free-throw shooting,” Oats said. “But shoot, we don’t win this game without every last free throw. We needed them tonight.”

Vanderbilt: The Commodores’ sticky defense paid off with a 32-18 scoring edge off turnovers, with 12 of Alabama’s turnovers coming on steals. … Vanderbilt went 27 of 36 at the foul line. Pippen was 14 for 18.

“We gave ourselves a chance to win the game,” Stackhouse said. “In the end, we need to execute a little bit better.”

NIP AND TUCK

The series has been very tight no matter the rankings or records. This was the 18th of the last 19 games decided by 10 or fewer points and 11th decided by five or less. Alabama has won 10 during that stretch.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Alabama has played one of the toughest schedules in the nation, with a 5-4 record against Top 25 teams.

UP NEXT

Alabama starts a two-game homestand Saturday against South Carolina.

Vanderbilt visits Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon.

Scotty Pippen Jr. withdraws from draft, returning to Vandy

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Scotty Pippen Jr. has decided to return to Vanderbilt for his junior season after testing his options for the NBA draft.

Vanderbilt announced Wednesday night that Pippen will return for the upcoming season. Pippen announced in April he would test his draft status and not sign with an agent.

Pippen, who started 53 of his first 54 games played, was All-Southeastern Conference and ranked second in the league scoring an average of 20.8 points a game. That set a school scoring record for sophomores and also ranked as the seventh-highest scoring season in program history.

He also had the ninth-most assists per game in school history last season averaging 4.9 per game. Pippen was third in the SEC and ninth nationally making 142 free throws and second in t he SEC averaging 1.77 steals a game. He set an SEC Tournament record for most made free throws without a miss in a single tournament making all 25 over two games.

Pippen will join graduate transfers Liam Robbins from Minnesota and Dayton’s Rodney Chatman along with four-star recruits Gabe Dorsey and Peyton Daniels.

Vanderbilt hires Shea Ralph from UConn as new women’s coach

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt has hired Shea Ralph away from UConn to help revive the Commodores’ struggling women’s basketball program, which hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2014.

Athletic director Candice Lee announced the hiring a week after firing Stephanie White following five seasons. Ralph will be introduced at a news conference Wednesday.

“Coach Ralph has earned the opportunity to take the reins of our women’s basketball program and transform it into what we all know is possible,” Lee said. “She knows what winning looks like, and she has the background and experience, as both a player and a coach, to develop our student-athletes into champions.”

Ralph has been an assistant with the Huskies since 2008, and she helped lead UConn to 13 consecutive Final Fours and six NCAA championships. She aided in recruiting and player development. She spent five seasons as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, which won at least 22 games in each of her last three seasons.

She said she’s always been motivated and inspired by people passionately pursuing excellence.

“Vanderbilt’s rich, storied tradition of excellence speaks for itself, but I believe what sets us apart is the people,” Ralph said. “I am so excited to work alongside our amazing community in elevating our women’s basketball program back to an elite level.”

Ralph, who graduated from Connecticut in 2001, was captain of the Huskies’ 2000 national championship team and was named MVP of that Final Four. She also was an All-American and the 2000 Big East Player of the Year.

A knee injury kept her from playing in the WNBA after she was drafted by the Utah Starzz in 2001.

“The West End just got another dose of eastern NC’s finest! Let’s give a big Commodore Welcome to Shea Ralph-Garrick and family!” Vanderbilt men’s coach Jerry Stackhouse wrote on Twitter of the coach who grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Ralph will leave a big void in the Huskies’ program but deserves a shot at what he called a big job.

“Her drive as a student, as a player as a coach, her intensity level in how she played and coached and recruited, those are staples of who Shea is and I know that’s what she will bring to Vanderbilt” he said.

Ralph takes over a program that hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament in seven years despite a history featuring 26 berths, 15 trips to the Sweet 16, five Elite Eights and a Final Four in 1993.

Vanderbilt opted out of the season in January with a roster thinned because of COVID-19 issues, injuries, one player with myocarditis and another recovering from an ACL injury. Three starters transferred after the season, two of them graduates.

Auriemma said it will take time for Ralph to turn around the program, but he believes she can do it without sacrificing the school’s high academic standards.

“Stanford just won a national championship with that kind of kid that is looking for that kind of experience,” he said. “So those kids are out there. It’s not easy, but they’re out there and Shea knows where to look. She’s been recruiting at that level for a long, long time now.”

Lee, who had the interim tag taken off last May as athletic director, played basketball for Vanderbilt from 1998-2002, when the Commodores made back-to-back Elite Eights.

Vanderbilt recently announced a $300 million project to improve football and basketball facilities and a new Vandy United Fund to raise money for athletics programs. Women’s basketball is slated to get its own dedicated practice court along with improvements to the locker room and offices.

Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr. declares for draft with no agent

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt guard Scotty Pippen Jr. has declared for the NBA draft without signing with an agent to keep his options open.

Pippen announced his intentions Saturday morning with a social media post. He said he was blessed to come to Vanderbilt.

“We all have dreams and I am ready to pursue mine,” Pippen said.

The son of six-time NBA champ and one of the league’s 50 greatest players Scottie Pippen, he ranked second in the Southeastern Conference both in scoring at 20.8 points and with 4.8 assists a game. He ranked 16th nationally in scoring per game.

Coach Jerry Stackhouse said Pippen earned the right to check out his draft status and has Vanderbilt’s full support.

“He has shown tremendous growth in his time here at Vanderbilt, and his record-setting sophomore season was just a peek at his potential,” Stackhouse said in a statement. “We want Scotty to make the best decision for him and his family and we will help any way we can while he explores his options.”

Mann scores 22 points, Florida holds off Vandy 69-63 at SEC

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tre Mann scored 22 points, and Florida held off Vanderbilt 69-63 Thursday to advance to the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals.

The fifth-seeded Gators (14-8) snapped a two-game skid coming into the tournament, and they will play No. 4 seed Tennessee on Friday for the second game between the teams in six days.

Noah Locke scored 13 points for Florida, and Tyree Appleby added 12 off the bench.

Vanderbilt (9-16) lost to Florida for the third time this season and sixth straight in this series.

Scotty Pippen Jr. led the Commodores with 23 points, making all 10 free throws. D.J. Harvey and Trey Thomas each had 12 points.

The Commodores, who won only three league games in the regular season, had their chances for a second SEC win within 24 hours.

Pippen pulled Vanderbilt within 64-63 with a pair of free throws with 1:40 left. But Mann hit a jumper with 53 seconds to go, and Thomas missed a 3 for Vandy with 31 seconds remaining as the Gators held on.

Florida appeared ready to cruise to a sixth straight win in this series up 34-22 at halftime after the Gators scored the final eight of the half.

Thomas keyed an 11-0 spurt with three consecutive 3s for Vanderbilt, the last giving the Commodores their first lead since the opening minutes at 55-54 with 8:39 remaining.

Appleby put Florida ahead to stay with two free throws with 7:13 left at 58-57.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The SEC’s best shooting team made this game closer than it needed to be. The Gators went cold from the floor in the second half, missing five straight and going more than five minutes without a field goal. They did hold Vanderbilt without a field goal the final 4:05.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores missed Dylan Disu, the SEC’s leading rebounder. He averaged 9.2 rebounds per game before having season-ending knee surgery on Feb. 26. They were outscored 34-18 in the paint and outrebounded 38-29.

LATE GATORS

Appleby and Scottie Lewis both were late to Florida’s shootaround Thursday morning, according to the SEC Network, and both wound up on the bench to start the game. Appleby played seven minutes in the first half and Lewis just six.

UP NEXT

Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse can get some more help for Pippen and Disu for his third season.