"People don't expect it," Cain said. "That's what I like about it."
Anyone who saw Cain walking before or after the game would be forgiven that conclusion, as she is dealing with chronic pain in her lower back and hip. During her first year on campus the redshirt junior had her right kneecap realigned, only to have the screws migrate out of the bone, causing her to need another operation to remove them.
It is not unusual for Cain to get treatment during the game at timeouts or when she comes to the bench for a break to address tightness in her hip and lower back. She stretches behind the bench and either stands or sits on the floor at the end of the bench so that she can extend her legs.
"I just keep telling myself that I am good, as long as I can get through this game," Cain said. "I worry about what I need to worry about after the game is over. Get treatments. But during the game I just have to keep myself positive. It seems to be working."
It does indeed. With her improved physical state – or state of mind, at least – Cain moved back into the starting lineup against Rutgers after the Christmas break and for the first four SEC games of 2011. Her stats speak for themselves in league play – 67.9 percent shooting percentage, 10.0 points and 8.0 rebounds a game and 12 blocks while playing an average of 22.8 minutes.
No. 5/6 Tennessee (16-2, 4-0) is back in SEC action against Vanderbilt (12-5, 3-1) tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern (ESPN, Lady Vol Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena as part of a double-header ESPN GameDay promotion with the Vols, who play Vandy at noon Eastern, also on ESPN.
The arena on Friday was a bustle of activity as the ESPN GameDay stage was constructed in one corner and semi-trucks lined up inside the arena behind the scenes for production purposes, giving the venue a Final Four vibe.
"We've been talking about that," junior forward Shekinna Stricklen said. "Everybody is excited. We're playing Vanderbilt, and that's a rivalry. We're going to be ready to play."
Cain also noted that it could not be a distraction to the team. Saturday will be the first time GameDay has originated from the same site on the same day for men's and women's college basketball games.
"All the publicity, all of things that are going on, this is for the fans," Cain said a few minutes before the team took the practice court Friday afternoon amid arena and crew workers setting up for the GameDay event on the sideline. "We just go out there and play the game."
One fan traveled 1,500 miles to see the game. Cheryl Bartmanovich hails from Woodlands in the province of Manitoba in Canada, and flew to Knoxville on Friday to see the Lady Vols live for the first time.
"First time to Knoxville, first time for a college basketball event," Bartmanovich said. "I came specifically to come watch the Lady Vols play. The fact that the men play was a bonus. It's the whole program, Coach Summit, she's legendary. I think perhaps sometimes people in Knoxville don't know what they have right under their thumb here. She's known around the world.
"I have followed her program and the Lady Vols for years. It's hard up in Canada. There are not a lot of college basketball fans around where I am so I have to either listen to it over the Internet or catch it on satellite TV. We're lucky the Lady Vols are always up there in the standings that the major networks tend to play them a little bit more, which is great for us fans."
Cain said the fan support the team receives is not taken for granted.
"We definitely appreciate that," Cain said. "We look at other teams' games and it's like nobody's there compared to what we're used to having. Our fan support base is just phenomenal. Everywhere we go there is always a large group of people there just to support us, and that is what we love about Tennessee and Lady Vols and the tradition of this program.
"It keeps you humble at the same time and it makes every place we go to feel like it's home because we have so many fans."
Saturday is at home and as of Thursday there were more than 16,000 pre-sales in tickets. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. to accommodate the large crowd.
"I'll be sweating all day waiting for the game to start," Coach Pat Summitt said in her weekly teleconference. "It'll be a tremendous environment and game. Vanderbilt has always competed well against us. We have had some great games. We are looking forward to it. …
"It's going to be a great environment. My phone is blowing up for tickets. I know that people are very excited about it. Certainly our staff is, and I know our team will be."
Vanderbilt has never won in Knoxville, but several games have come down to the final minute, and the last two games at the arena were decided by single digits. Vandy connected on 10 three-pointers a year ago in a 64-57 loss.
Tennessee heads into Saturday's game with momentum from an undefeated start in SEC play enhanced by how the Lady Vols are beating opponents – multiple scorers and domination on the boards.
"Very difficult (to guard)," Cain said as she rattled off a list of teammates. "That is one thing I really like about this team. It's not just one person. You have to guard all of us in order to stop us."
In SEC games, Tennessee holds a +14.5 margin on the glass – 51.5 rebounds to 37.0. Glory Johnson mentioned after the Ole Miss game that she had a crowd of Tennessee jerseys around her now when she went to the boards.
"Finally," Cain said. "Like Coach says, in order to win games we have to play defense and rebound. That's the thing people are concentrating on, and our offense will come. As long as we control the boards, we control the game."
Johnson has averaged 9.0 rebounds off the bench while Cain has grabbed 8.0 a game while starting. Summitt attributes Cain's improved numbers – she averaged 5.0 boards in 13 non-conference games – to her improved physical state and frame of mind.
"I think Kelley, right now, I just think she feels a lot better," Summitt said. "She is playing with a lot of confidence. She wants to help this team win. Just really stepped up her intensity in all aspects of the game."
Cain's defensive presence was key in Thursday's 83-40 win over Florida as she rebuffed the Gators in the paint. Cain, who was out for much of the second half with such a large lead, saluted the two-handed stuff by Johnson later in the game.
"It was efficient, and it got everybody hyped," Cain said. "Everybody on the bench was pumped and ready to get back out there and kick more butt."
Cain, who has been on campus since the summer of 2007 and watched Tennessee win a national title from the sideline in 2008 while rehabbing from knee surgery – a comeback that exceeds an ACL recovery in duration – has seen signs that the 2010-11 team is learning what it takes to compete at that same level.
"Just because we are up by 20 or 30 we're not going to stop," Cain said. "We want to keep pushing it. We want to send a message out and that's how we go in and look at it."
The offensive consistency has helped the team – and the coaches – relax a little, too.
"We are starting to get some production from people that we can rely on consistently and man does that ever feel like you're breathing fresh air," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "We're a little bit better. I wouldn't say we're a different team, but we're a little bit better."
Cain was 3-3 from the field in the Florida win in her 22 minutes of play and she just smiled when asked if perhaps the ball should find her hands more often.
"It doesn't matter to me who's scoring, as long as somebody is doing it," Cain said.
But Cain also indicated that a team that has sometimes appeared to be too nice on the court has found its voice when it needs to to hold teammates accountable.
"We've always said stuff to each other," Cain said. "It just hasn't been in front of people. But now, forget everything else, we're in the middle of a game, we get in the heat of the moment, and we're going to say what we've got to say."
Needless to say Summitt applauds that development.
"Definitely," Summitt said. "When you get your players holding other people accountable, when you get your players really invested, it tends to become their team and their game.
"When that happens it can be very, very powerful. Not that the coaches can't dial it up at any time but I think it has a significant impact."
Tennessee also is getting a show of emotion from Shekinna Stricklen, who has played two inspired games since Summitt demanded she perform like the player she was recruited to become for the Lady Vols. Stricklen has tallied 25 rebounds in the last two games.
After dominating Florida by a score of 47-15 in the first half Thursday in Gainesville, Stricklen and some other players erupted as they left the court.
"For the most part we're not that much of an emotional team," Cain said. "To be honest I think that's the best half that we've played in a long time. I think we just got excited. We know we can do it. It's just we actually showed it, and now we just have to bring that consistently."
Tennessee still has some vulnerable spots with the overall health of Cain – fellow bigs Vicki Baugh is still ailing with her knee and Alyssia Brewer is trying to accelerate her conditioning and get back after missing more than three months because of Achilles tendon surgery – and having to play a freshman, Meighan Simmons, at point and out of position, to boot.
"We didn't recruit her to play point guard," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said of the scorer/slasher/shooter. "She is doing a heck of a job. When you have a scoring mentality like Meighan maybe they're not always the right shots at the time, but she's going to learn time and possession."
Simmons took 15 shots against Florida and made five of them, though she was a sparkling 4-7 from behind the arc. At times the ball may need to move a little more before a shot or should get inside first, but her teammates recognize both the youth and the talent of Simmons.
"We just keep talking to her," Cain said. "She knows that we have her best interests at hand, and she's willing to listen. We need her. We need everybody on this team, but we need her and her speed and quickness and her beautiful jump shot.
"She'll get right back into it (the flow of the offense) and it's just a matter of pulling her back in. She's a freshman. She's going to do stuff like that, but I think she's pretty grown up for a freshman."
As far as team improvements, Cain cited Summitt's staples.
"Defense and boxing out," said Cain, the memory of missed opportunities at Florida still on her mind. "There was one segment it was three or four (offensive boards for the Gators) in the second half. I was like, ‘We can't slip up like that.' We're not complacent and we know we have to get better at these things."
Lockwood agreed with the center's assessment and noted Florida got five offensive boards within the first eight minutes of the second half after Tennessee surrendered just four offensive boards in the first half.
"That bothers us," Lockwood said. "I think we're further along defensively than we were back then (in December). I think we're rebounding the ball a little bit better. We can get better as a team."
The team's improved play has coincided with the coaches increasing their daily demands on the players at practice. "Get better" has become the team's theme.
"We only take it one game at a time," Cain said. "We look at it as every team has its strengths and its weaknesses. We're always going to have something to work on, and we're never satisfied. You can't be satisfied in this game because this game is growing and changing constantly.
"As long as we come into practice each and every day ready to get better and ready to look at film and decipher what we've done right, which we can continue to do right, and the things that we messed up on, we can work and build on that."
Cain being able to be on the court for extended minutes has helped the team get better. Cain has decided she will play and practice to the fullest extent her body will allow and repair it at the end of the day.
"I just give it my all the time that I'm out there and just get treatment and whatever I need afterwards," Cain said.
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (16.1 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 senior guard, No. 5 (11.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.4 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 sophomore guard/forward, No. 13 (8.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (10.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.1 apg); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt junior center, No. 52 (8.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.0 blocks per game).
Glory Johnson, a 6'3 forward who is the first player off the bench in relief of the post, is averaging 10.4 ppg overall and 15.0 ppg in SEC play while connecting on 55.0 percent of her shots in league games.
Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb is expected to start: Jasmine Lister, 5'4 freshman guard, No. 11 (12.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.4 apg), hails from Corona, Calif., has started all 17 games this season, leads Vandy with 39 made treys and has connected at 36.8 percent, tallied career-high 29 points against Duquesne, career-high six assists against Quinnipiac, tallied 17 points against Florida State, scored school-record 2,265 points for Santiago High School, twin sister Cinnamon plays basketball for Boise State; Jence Rhoads, 5'11 senior guard, No. 22 (13.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.7 apg), hails from Slippery Rock, Pa., missed last season's game in Knoxville because of injury, needs seven points for 1,000 in her career, missed two games this season with a hamstring injury, preseason All-SEC First Team selection, scored 2,170 points in high school and also played soccer, father Robert Rhoads played basketball at Wake Forest, mother Melinda played at Slippery Rock; Gabby Smith, 5'10 sophomore guard, No. 32 (5.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg), hails from Cincinnati, Ohio, tallied career-high 18 points this season against Tennessee-Martin, made the SEC Freshman Academic Honor Roll, got first career starts at SEC tourney last season, father James Smith played football at Ball State, brother Zachary played football at Purdue, brother Shane plays lacrosse at West Point, sister Julianne plays basketball at the University of Charleston in West Virginia; Hannah Tuomi, 6'1 senior forward, No. 15 (14.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg), hails from Thornton, Colo., has started all 17 games this season, ranks fourth in the country in field goal percentage at 62.2 percent, selected preseason All-SEC Second Team, only Commodore that started every game last season, career high is 29 points against Southern Illinois in 2010, named Colorado Miss Basketball in 2006, also played volleyball, soccer and tennis in high school, father David played football for Minnesota State; and Stephanie Holzer, 6'4 redshirt freshman center, No. 21 (10.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg), hails from Newton Square, Pa., missed four games this season because of back issues, missed last season to recover from ankle injury, has tallied four double-doubles this season, with 17 points, 10 rebounds against Alabama in last outing, scored career-high 26 points against Samford, McDonald's and WBCA All-American after standout career at Cardinal O'Hara High School, the alma mater of former Lady Vol Kristen "Ace" Clement, Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Pennsylvania, sister Katie played basketball at Richmond.
Jordan Coleman, a 5'11 junior forward from Lake Mary, Fla., has started the last four games this season, and could get the nod Saturday if Holzer is not inserted to counter Tennessee's size inside.
Christina Foggie, a 5'9 freshman guard from Mount Laurel, N.J., has started six games this season and is averaging 10.1 points and 2.5 rebounds a game. Her 23 made threes are second on the team. She missed two SEC games because of post-concussion syndrome, stemming from a concussion she suffered Dec. 1.
Tiffany Clarke, a 6'0 sophomore forward from Duluth, Ga., has started five games this season and got the nod in the last game against Tennessee in the 2010 SEC tourney. Clarke is averaging 4.7 points and 3.5 boards a game.
Angela Puleo, a 5'9 redshirt junior guard from Maryville, Tenn., has started one game this season and played in all four SEC contests. Puleo is averaging 4.3 points and 2.8 rebounds and has hit five 3-pointers in SEC games and 20 for the season, third best on the team.
Eleven Commodores have gotten at least one start this season. Balcomb noted on the SEC coaches' media teleconference this week that the team has been injury-riddled to start the season with players getting hurt in games, practice and even in shoot-around.
Vandy was excited about the opportunity to be part of ESPN GameDay.
"I think it is a special event and we are proud to have our program represent Vanderbilt on a national stage and in one of the best environments that you could possibly play women's basketball in," Balcomb said.
Rhoads said, "It is really a breakthrough for the women's game in general. Last year UConn had it against Notre Dame and now we get to play in it against Tennessee. It is going to be a great atmosphere. It gives us a chance to get in front of people who don't get to see us play."
Tuomi said, "It is pretty special, especially for all of our friends and family who don't usually get to see us play. This will give them that chance and it will give our program great exposure."
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. Here is her assessment.
When Vanderbilt has the ball: The Commodores run an array of offensive sets under Coach Melanie Balcomb.
"They run I want to say 100 sets but it's probably only about 30," Coach Pat Summitt joked.
Warlick said the Lady Vols have to be prepared to defend against concepts.
"She's a great offensive coach," Warlick said. "She is going to do what she does. She's a very good offensive teacher. She has her concepts, and she works them into her offense."
Jasmine Lister has played point guard this season, allowing Jence Rhoads to move off the ball.
"Lister is outstanding," Warlick said.
Hannah Tuomi is just 6'1 but gets excellent position inside to score.
"She gets early position," Warlick said. "She is one of those kids that works hard before she gets the ball and when you do that you're going to get easy looks, and it's going to make it look like it's easy. And it's not. She works. She works hard to get the ball. Watch her play before she gets the ball and when she gets it she's right at the basket and just lays it in."
Defensively, the Lady Vols have seen an assortment of looks from teams this season. Warlick expects variety from Balcomb.
"She'll mix it up," Warlick said. "She runs a matchup. She runs a man. Our preparation is to go against both. She's going to press. She wants to have a little bit of control over the tempo."
When Tennessee has the ball: The coaches want the Lady Vols to strike a balance inside and out, and a hot start from the perimeter is always welcome.
"I want us to shoot the ball as well as we did (Thursday) night," Warlick said. "We always play inside-out. If they're going to collapse on Kelley (Cain), we've got to hit outside shots. Our threes (against Florida) were a little bit like a snowball. We hit and then everybody just starting hitting, snowball effect."
The Lady Vols also have scorers at all five spots on the floor, making it difficult to account for everyone on every possession.
"It's hard to scout when everybody is shooting the ball well," Warlick said. "When we got open shots against Florida, we knocked them down."
Defensively, the Lady Vols must be ready to guard multiple looks.
"Our communication has to be huge," Warlick said, "A great offensive team counters what you do defensively and then a great defensive team counters what you do offensively. It's a little cat and mouse. We have to be communicating and constantly be ready for anything. Anything goes."
Tennessee played mostly man in its first three SEC games and then showed quite a bit of zone against Florida.
"We're going to do whatever works for us at the time," Warlick said. "That is why we work on everything. We're going to play Tennessee basketball, and we have lot of weapons in our bag. We're going to use them. If something is not going right, we're going to change.
"Are we a man-to-man defensive team? Absolutely. But if it's not working the bottom line is we want to win the basketball game."
Summitt said the Lady Vols must be disciplined on defense.
"They play so well together," Summitt said. "We're going to be challenged defensively, particularly when we are in our man to man, to defend them. There is a lot of screening, a lot of flares, dribble drive, kick-out, very well coached.
"Melanie does a tremendous job with her team, and while they are undersized they are as tough as any team in our league."
Warlick also noted the positive effect of the "Sixth Man" – the fans in the stands.
"They always make a difference for us," Warlick said. "It's great for our kids having confidence and playing. This is an unbelievable place to play. We are very fortunate. We understand that and we appreciate that."
GAMEDAY VISITORS: Diamond DeShields, a 6'2 wing and top recruiting target, was at practice Friday with her mother, Tisha (Milligan) DeShields, an All-American track athlete at Tennessee. DeShields, along with Tennessee commit Kaela Davis, are considered the top two players in the class of 2013. DeShields is from Norcross, Ga.
Also expected Saturday is Ariel Butts, a 6'3 post in the class of 2012 – a tremendous position of need for the Lady Vols going forward – and also from the talent-rich state of Georgia. Butts is from Columbus.
A signee from the class of 2011, Cierra Burdick, a 6'2 forward from Matthews, N.C., also is expected to attend the game.
BOUNCE BACK: The Lady Vols have improved in nearly every phase of the game as detailed in the A HREF=http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/tennw/sports/w-baskbl/auto_pdf/Tennesseevs.pdf>Game Notes compiled by Debby Jennings, chief of media relations, and her staff on pages six and 17, since the 65-54 loss to Baylor.
The following stats represent the figure going into the Baylor game and the performance in the seven wins after that game:
Field goal percentage: 44.2 percent, 49.8 percent.
Opponents' FG percentage:, 35.7 percent, 29.3 percent
Three-point FG percentage: 35.0 percent, 38.1 percent
Opponents' three-point FG percentage: 28.1 percent, 25.4 percent
Free throw percentage: 62.1 percent, 72.8 percent
Opponents' FT percentage: 69.6 percent, 62.2 percent
Points per game: 77.8, 89.0
Opponents' ppg: 56.9, 53.1
Rebounds 44.4, 49.7
Opponents' rebounds: 35.0, 35.3
Three Lady Vols were scoring in double figures entering that game, and that has doubled since: Meighan Simmons, 14.1 ppg; Glory Johnson, 12.6; Angie Bjorklund, 12.0; Taber Spani, 11.4; Shekinna Stricklen, 10.9; and Kelley Cain, 10.3. Prior to the Baylor game, Simmons, Bjorklund and Stricklen were in double figures.
The Lady Vols assists in that seven-game span total 107 to just 89 turnovers.
Pat Summitt said the loss led to the coaches reviewing their preparation in the time leading up to the Baylor game.
"I think it's probably had a greater impact on our coaching staff, because I don't think we were ready to do what we needed to do," Summitt said. "I am not so sure that our team was ready. We just stuck the ball up in the air, and we didn't have good feel and strategy for being able to go at (Brittney Griner). We just tried to stick it right up on the rim and she's going to block your shot every time unless you can be more creative, and we were not creative.
"I am constantly telling Dean (Lockwood), ‘We're going to see Griner again, and we've got to practice every day, and we've got to stimulate that, and we've got practice guys that will allow us to do that.' "
Several drills have become staples for the Lady Vols of late, rebounding and passing ones being among them. Lockwood is also assembling the posts on one end and having them attack the basket against a taller and more physical opponent.
"Using shot fakes, using crossover, going up opposite," Summitt said. "There is really only one Brittney Griner in the women's game. What we have to do as a coaching staff is we've got to make sure that our preparation day in and day out is going to allow us to be successful the next time around."
Lockwood also had to address a general observation he discovered about female players that is much different in males. Women recoil after getting their shots swatted; men take it as a challenge.
"One of things I've found, the psyche of women's players, they get freaked out when their shot is blocked," Lockwood said. "Now, men, when you first start playing against older guys you're getting your shot smacked into the nickel seats all the time. You just know that's part of the growth and part of the game playing against great players.
"In the women's game there are not as many shot blockers and it tends to freak them out … as opposed to going right at them. When you get a shot blocked you go right back up. When you shot fake, you go right into her. If a shot gets blocked, you're going to do it again.
"Women think, ‘Oh, I can't do that again. I've got to figure out something different.' "
In the drill if the shot is blocked Lockwood exhorts the player to retrieve the ball and attack again.
The drill is not just helpful against shot blockers because the posts are also working on assorted moves, counter-moves and using the glass.
The perimeter players are on the other end going through shooting drills because the coaches also know one simple fact.
"At the end of the day in order to beat Baylor, you've got to make a certain amount of jump shots," Lockwood said.
Cain smiled when it was pointed out that Summitt is always capable of raising her voice but has done so even more since that defeat, even after landslide wins to start 2011.
"That is just keeping our head straight so we can't get arrogant or get complacent," Cain said. "We know that we have a lot of stuff to work on and she just emphasizes it."
The Lady Vols got some traction with the overtime win over Stanford immediately after the loss to Baylor.
"I think so," Lockwood said. "Here recently Stanford has been going to Final Fours, playing for national championships. That game was a little bit of a barometer for us. Every conversation that people have about the Final Four, Stanford is in it right now.
"When we beat a team like that I think that was kind of an affirmation that we belong in that conversation, too. It did kind of lead into the next couple of games. I think that has given us a good springboard."
Cain summed up the team's play since the loss in one word.
"Confidence," Cain said. "I think we're a lot more dominant on the boards. We actually focus on getting rebounds and stopping people on defense rather than just going out there, ‘Oh, maybe we can grab this board every now and then or take a break on this defensive play.'
"Now, we're concentrating on both of those things, and I think that's been key in a lot of our victories."
Summitt has noticed a difference in her team over the seven-game span and said it coincided with players talking on the court, something she has reminded them to do at practice. The win over Stanford set it in motion.
"I think it gave them confidence and gave them momentum. I think they pulled together. They started communicating better. That is where I saw a commitment and better communication."
Summitt expects her team to be inspired Saturday because of the opponent – a bitter in-state rival – and the ESPN GameDay hoopla.
"I think so and the reason I think so is because I've seen signs of it already," Summitt said. "I've seen us building and getting better, not just because of one game but because of what they've done over the course of the last probably six or seven games."
The uptick in performance also has accompanied the coaches' daily declaration of expectations at Tennessee.
"We've been a lot more demanding as a coaching staff," Summitt said. "I was sick and tired of losing and sick and tired of people not being in the gym working. I (told them), ‘Y'all don't get it, and you're not going to win anything unless you do get it.' I think Angie and Strick, in particular, they've taken that leadership role on."
Lockwood hopes the message to get better has gotten through to the entire team.
I don't know definitively what the answer to that is," Lockwood said. "I would like to say yes. I would like to say that they have looked at a national level and seen the caliber of play and say, ‘We can be there. We certainly have the talent to be in that group of people. But if we want to be at the head of the class, we've got some work to do.' I hope they say that. I hope they are doing that every day.
"I do see that there is a hunger to work on things and be a little bit more diligent where there hasn't been. Our staff has demanded their attention, demanded their focus and energy. But I think it goes back to players. There is a point where it becomes important to them.
"And you can't value something, you can't want something more for me than I want it for myself. I think that process is starting to happen a little bit."
ON TAP: Tennessee and Vanderbilt are the only SEC teams in action Saturday. The other 10 play Sunday in the following matchups: Arkansas at Alabama; LSU at Auburn; Florida at Georgia; Mississippi State at Kentucky; and South Carolina at Ole Miss.
ODDS AND ENDS
Tennessee leads the series with Vanderbilt, 56-7. The Lady Vols record in Knoxville is 25-0. The Commodores last win in the series, 74-58, came in Nashville on Dec. 11, 2009. … Tennessee is 10-0 in games played on January 15. The last win on this date was against Mississippi State, 63-56, in 2009. The first win on this date was against Middle Tennessee State University, but the score was unrecorded, in 1971. … When Tennessee and Vanderbilt take the court, the fans fill the stands.In 20 games in Knoxville, 316,933 fans have watched for an average of 15,847 per game. In 22 games in Nashville, 248,604 fans have attended for an average of 11,300. In 10 games at neutral sites, 79,213 fans have been present for an average of 7,921. The largest-ever crowd in Knoxville was 24,251 in 2007 in the old configuration at Thompson-Boling Arena, the capacity of which is now 21,678. The largest crowd in Nashville was 15,317 in 1993. … Tennessee has a 28-game winning streak at home and a 9-0 slate this season. The Lady Vols have scored at least 80 points in every home game this season – the fans get free chicken tenders at Hardees when that happens – and are averaging 92.7 points per game in Knoxville. Vanderbilt is 12-0 this season when holding its opponent to 70 points or less and 0-5 when the opposition tallies more than 70 points.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Tennessee is averaging 82.2 points a game while allowing opponents to score 55.4. Vanderbilt averages 74.2 points a game while allowing 62.2.
The Lady Vols are shooting 46.3 percent overall, 36.0 percent behind the arc and 66.9 percent from the free throw line. The Commodores are shooting 45.9 percent overall, 35.1 percent from long range and 71.6 percent from the line.
Tennessee makes an average of 6.9 three-pointers a game while allowing 4.9. Vanderbilt makes 6.1 threes a game while allowing 5.0.
Tennessee averages 46.4 rebounds a game for a +11.6 margin. Vanderbilt averages 37.1 boards for a +2.4 margin.
The Lady Vols average 14.7 assists and 15.2 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 19.1 times a game. The Commodores average 16.4 assists and 15.8 turnovers with foes losing the ball 17.9 times a game.
Tennessee averages 8.8 steals and 5.3 blocks a game. Vanderbilt averages 7.2 steals and 4.8 blocks.
Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb at SEC Media Days last October
The media picked Vanderbilt to finish third in the league while the coaches voted for the Commodores to be tied for fourth.
Senior guard Jence Rhoads said Balcomb added high-low offensive action in preseason to take advantage of Vandy's height.
"We're going to look different this year," Rhoads said. "We call her the Mad Scientist. She's really good at finding pieces that go together."
Rhoads has started all 15 games she has played in this season – she missed two because of a hamstring injury – and Balcomb said during SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., last October that Rhoads would be busy.
"The kid will have the ball in her hands 90 percent of the time if I have my way," Balcomb said. "The kid is a player. She's not a position. She's a player. That's the biggest compliment I can give."
SEC coaches talk a lot about Vandy's offensive sets, but the Commodores mix it up defensively, too.
"Everybody wants to talk about our offense, but we're just as multiple defensively," said Balcomb, whose father was a high school coach in New Jersey.
Balcomb was excited last fall about being part of ESPN GameDay.
"When I got that call I was very pleased," Balcomb said. "It's great exposure for women's basketball. To compete against Tennessee I'm honored to do so."