Vandy-Alabama State

The Vanderbilt women’s basketball team started off SEC play with a 54-51 win over Arkansas on Thursday night at Memorial Gymnasium.

A suffocating defense and some timely free throws helped head coach Shea Ralph earn her a victory in her first-ever conference outing. The former UConn legend and first-time head coach deflected the praise onto her team

“I don’t know if you have enough time for me to talk about how proud I am of my team right now,” Ralph said. “Just their resiliency and their belief and their commitment to how we’re going to play and who we are.”

The Commodores (10-5, 1-0) held the Razorbacks (10-5, 0-2) to their lowest point total of the season, with the team shooting just 28 percent from the field (19-67).

Vanderbilt didn’t exactly light the scoreboard up on offense either, but the ’Dores squeezed just enough scoring out of senior Brinae Alexander.

“I’m so proud of Brinae because she’s become so much more consistent on both ends of the floor,” Ralph said. “She is starting to understand the kind of powerful player that she is and how she can impact the game when the ball’s not even in her hands.”

The former Riverdale star and Murfreesboro native notched 16 points on 6-17 shooting, while juniors Kaylon Smith (10 points, nine rebounds) and Demi Washington (eight points, nine rebounds) each nearly collected a double-double.

The Commodores never trailed during the win, but Arkansas made them sweat down the stretch. A bucket from Makayla Daniels cut the deficit to two with 12 seconds left in the game, but Alexander buried a free throw to extend the lead to three. Vanderbilt forced a Daniels miss on the game’s final possession to secure the win.

Next up, the Commodores will travel south to take on Mississippi State at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The Bulldogs began SEC play with a narrow loss at No. 1 South Carolina and a win at Alabama.