'Dores Mentally Prepared for Bowling Green
NCAA Second Round Tonight at 8:30 p.m. CT
Vanderbilt vs. Bowling Green - ESPN2

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March 20, 2007

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NCAA SECOND ROUND
Tuesday, March 20 at 8:30 PM CT (ESPN2)
[2] Vanderbilt vs. [7] Bowling Green

It's All in Their Heads: Commodores Mentally Prepared for Bowling Green
By Will Matthews

EAST LANSING, Mich. - When the Vanderbilt women's basketball team found itself in a dogfight during Sunday's opening round of the NCAA Tournament and unable to get into any kind of offensive rhythm, it was clear the time off the team had since winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament earlier this month had taken its toll.

"We talked about it after the game yesterday, that we all had a different feeling going into the game [Sunday]," said Vanderbilt's senior guard Caroline Williams. "It was hard coming off fifteen days being off. You almost forget that this is a huge time of the year and that you have got to get yourself going again and make sure that you don't get complacent."

As the Commodores approach tonight's second round match-up with a talented and experienced Bowling Green team that has lost just six times during the past two seasons, then, they are focusing primarily on maintaining the kind of mental focus they say they will need in order to keep their season alive into April.

"It is different, it is a different mentality," Williams said. "You have got to really focus at this time of year and understand that this is the big time of the year. You've had some time off but you've got to re-focus mentally."

Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb says she has tried to instill her players with her belief that postseason basketball is as much as 75 percent mental and what she believes is the key to remaining mentally sound.

"Stay focused on what got you here, and what got us here is execution," Balcomb said. "Making execution matter more than what time the game is or whether you are a senior or whether you are this style of play. There are so many things that are going to try and keep you away from your focus. And our focus has been execution, execution, execution. If we execute we'll be fine."

Execution will indeed be key tonight for Vanderbilt against Bowling Green, which returned all five starters from a squad that lost only twice last year before falling to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and which came into the tournament as the mid-major team many pundits said could cause the most trouble.

The Falcons are the three-time defending Mid-American Conference Champions, are making their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance and, with the city of Bowling Green just 136 miles Southeast of East Lansing, will have a boisterous contingent of supporters on hand. More than 2,000 fans made the trip Sunday for seventh-seeded Bowling Green's 70-66 first round win over Oklahoma State.

"We can't listen to outside people talk or watch other people talk about Bowling Green and what they are going to do to us," Williams said. "Those are the kinds of things that we can't focus on. We have to think about what we have done for 33 games now and really be prepared just by looking at us and not being worried about everybody else and what Bowling Green is going to do and what everybody else is going to play."

Williams said Monday that an essential part of her pregame routine is finding some quiet time alone where she can go through mentally each of the things that both she and her team will need to do to be successful.

"I heard someone say that you prepare yourself to win before the game and then you just go out there and do it," Williams said. "It is a mentality thing that all of us have to believe in our hearts that we are about to win this ballgame and then you go out there and you just do it."

After somewhat of a lackadaisical performance in their first round victory over Delaware State, Williams said the Commodores had a strong practice Monday during which they were able to regroup a bit mentally.

"We are where we should be," Williams said. "I think we are in a good place. I think we are all confident. We have gotten one game under our belt so we can kind of relax after that and realize that now we can get back to Vanderbilt basketball."

For Bowling Green, a defeat tonight of second-seeded and seventh-ranked Vanderbilt would perhaps be the biggest win in the school's history. The Falcons surely will not be at a loss for energy and motivation.

"But we talk about this all the time, about having the kind of swagger that you see teams like Tennessee have and North Carolina have," Williams said. "It is a swagger. They are on a winning streak, they are on a winning streak and you have to have that confidence and I think certainly have that right now."

Will Matthews spent three years as an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Newspaper Group in Southern California. He is currently in his third year at Vanderbilt Divinity School.