The Commodores, who entered the game No. 2 in SEC games in field goal percentage at 45.5 percent – just behind No. 1 Tennessee at 50.2 percent – were misfiring to the tune of 8 percent from the field with seven minutes to go before halftime. They managed to raise that to 18.9 percent by the break and trailed 29-17, a margin that was close only because Tennessee had taken half of its 32 field goal attempts from behind the arc and connected on just five of them.
"That is why I called a timeout, and said, ‘No more threes,' " Pat Summitt said. "I had seen enough and I hadn't seen any go through the net very frequently. I just said, ‘We've got to get paint points.' … I was not happy with the number of times we just jacked up threes."
The teams played an even second half – both scored 39 points – after Vandy shot 48.6 percent after the break and Tennessee hit at a clip of 46.7 percent.
"I think like always when we come here, we don't get off to a good start," Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb said. "I think we spent the first half looking at the height advantage, looking at the colors of the jersey and the big crowd.
"Second half, we usually come to play. We settled down, I thought we executed a lot better on offense, had more patience and executed our defensive plan a lot better. We had an opportunity at the end of the game and just didn't hit the shots. We had the shots we needed to come back but didn't do it."
The Commodores could not recover from the anemic start and Tennessee took advantage of it by scoring in transition and early offense to create a sufficient cushion.
"I thought our first half was pretty solid," Summitt said. "I thought our intensity and our effort was pretty strong. Obviously they shot 18 percent in the first half and they shot 48 percent in the second half.
"Are we pleased with the second half? Pleased that we won, but we didn't get much better. That's obviously something that we can build on. But I knew Vandy would come in and play us really tough. Melanie Balcomb is one of the best coaches in the game. Her team never had any quit and did a great job."
It took the Commodores until the second half to challenge Tennessee and when the Lady Vols got out to a 21-5 lead with 7:51 left until halftime it looked like another rout in league play was on the way, much to the delight of the 17,853 in attendance.
The Lady Vols got the margin to as much as 22 points in the second half, 50-28, with 11:27 left when Meighan Simmons found Angie Bjorklund in the corner, but the Commodores got their offense on track and managed to whittle the lead to single digits, 60-51, with 4:10 remaining.
"We're in the family so there's really no secrets, but I just thought they were tougher, they beat us to loose balls, defensively did a great job, and it posed some problems for us," Summitt said.
"I will tell you it was a long day today. I know it was a long day for Coach Summitt, so I'm sure it was for our players. That's no excuse, no excuse, because Vanderbilt I thought they had a lot more grit and toughness down the stretch. They got to the loose balls, especially in the second half. I thought that they were a better team than we were."
Summitt didn't want to use the long day as an excuse, but it appeared to be a factor as Tennessee's play resembled only in spurts the way it had started the conference season. Balcomb mentioned the short turn-around in her post-game remarks.
"We only had one day to prepare," Balcomb said. "We flew back from Alabama and then drove here the next day. We didn't have preparation time, but I felt like that this was a game we definitely had a chance at competing at if we could play relaxed. I just knew our young players might get a little anxious in the first half, which they did."
A freshman for Vanderbilt got the first points on the scoreboard with Jasmine Lister hit a layup for a 2-0 Commodore lead, and a freshman for Tennessee gave the Lady Vols their first points of the game and the lead when Meighan Simmons hit a three-pointer at the 17:58 mark of the first half.
On the next possession for Vandy, Jence Rhoads drove past Kelley Cain, who recovered and blocked the shot from behind, a sign of things to come as Cain essentially shut down the paint on defense during her 22 minutes on the court. Rhoads connected away from Cain on a 16-footer for a 4-3 lead for the Commodores, and that is where the score stood at the first media timeout at 15:10.
Vanderbilt made it 5-3 when Rhoads hit one of two free throws, and then Shekinna Stricklen tied it at 5-5 at the 14:34 mark on a feed from Simmons. The Lady Vols never trailed after that.
Glory Johnson entered the game at the 14:16 mark, and the Lady Vols were ready to run. Vanderbilt was either letting the shot clock click to low single digits or taking early shots that misfired, and the Lady Vols got their offense accelerated.
Angie Bjorklund scored in transition for a 7-5 lead and Simmons followed up her own missed trey, got the offensive board, split the 6'4 Stephanie Holzer and 6'0 Tiffany Clarke for a reverse layup and 9-5 lead at the 11:52 mark, and Vandy called timeout.
The Lady Vols brought some pressure after the timeout, Kamiko Williams got the steal, and Bjorklund hit from the left corner for a 12-5 lead at the 11:32 mark. Williams scored a layup for a 14-5 lead after bouncing the ball off a Vandy player on the in-bounds play and Stricklen posted up and then popped to the wing for a 16-5 lead after a shot clock violation for the Commodores midway through the second half.
Vandy kept misfiring and the Lady Vols took advantage during that spell to build the lead to 21-5 on Williams' trey and 10-foot baseline jumper from Johnson at the 7:51 mark.
"I think we were taking uncharacteristic quick shots and I think we gave them good shots in transition as well," Balcomb said. "At halftime that was one of our three focuses was our transition defense was really poor. Our quick shots led to their transition offense and they were only scoring in transition (before) halftime.
"If we could have gotten them to play more half court, we did take things away in half court defense."
Vandy was shooting an staggeringly low 8 percent from the field at that point but then the Lady Vols went nearly three minutes without scoring, and Hannah Tuomi and Rhoads hit layups and Gabby Smith hit a short jumper to trim the lead to 21-11 at the 4:46 mark.
Simmons got Tennessee back on the board with a trey and a 24-11 lead with 4:26 to go before halftime. After Stricklen got a defensive board, Simmons got the outlet and drove towards the paint, where she drew a crowd, and dished the ball to Bjorklund in the corner for a 27-14 lead at the 2:12 mark.
Johnson got fouled on a turn-around and hit both free throws for a 29-17 lead at halftime.
"I think we did a much better job in the first half than the second half of disrupting them and taking away some open looks," Summitt said. "But as the game wore on I thought they just got better and better and more efficient."
Lister scored the first four points of the second half with a midrange jumper and layup, and Tennessee's lead shrunk to eight points, 29-21, with 19:07 to play.
Stricklen picked up her third foul just 30 seconds into the half, and Vicki Baugh, a 6'4 power forward who last played against Rutgers on Dec. 30 because of knee/leg issues, entered the game, logged three minutes and affected play on the defensive end, getting a block and discouraging forays into the paint with her presence with Cain.
The bench slapped hands with Baugh as she walked to the scorer's table – that usually happens after a player comes out and returns to the sideline – because of their excitement for her.
"It's great. Although I didn't get the chance to play with her," said Johnson, who was on the bench for Baugh's stint, "I love Vicki's style of play, and I always have. I get so excited to see her on the floor, because I know how much she wants to be out there just like the rest of us. Anytime anyone has an injury, it's hard watching other people play the sport that you love and not being able to play.
"It hit everyone's heart on the bench when she finally got to go out there and do her thing."
The rest of the team did its thing, too, as Cain rebounded a missed trey for a stick-back for a 33-21 lead and after Baugh's block, Simmons got the ball in transition and scooted up the court for a layup and foul and the 36-21 lead with 17:52 left.
Cain got a block on Tuomi – her last offering at Cain was an air-ball – and Simmons connected on a three on an assist from Taber Spani for a 39-24 lead with 15:49 to play. Johnson replaced Baugh, who had a nice baseline drive but missed the reverse, and drove to the basket, hit the bank shot and was fouled for the three-point play and a 42-24 lead at the 15:10 mark.
Bjorklund was left alone in the corner in transition and nailed the three for a 45-26 lead at the 14:16 mark. The net got hung on the rim, and the crowd cheered Johnson as she jumped to the rim to untangle it.
After a Johnson turn-around shot on the baseline and a Bjorklund trey from the wing – the ball moved well from Alicia Manning to Simmons to Stricklen – Tennessee led by 22 points, 50-28, at the 11:27 mark.
After that point, Vanderbilt played better.
"I think we definitely had a chance and we had opportunities," Balcomb said. "We had layups, we had good shots, I thought we just didn't hit. Playing a lot of young players in an environment they've never played in before, they took shots, they were squeezing the ball and they weren't relaxed.
"One of our other keys was to be relaxed and once we got down 21, 22 points, all of a sudden we were relaxed and made shots that we normally make. When it got close again, within eight, we got tight and missed shots that we had. I think you saw two very different halves, but a lot depended on whether we were in the game or not and the pressure we were feeling."
Simmons connected on a three-pointer and Johnson hit a turn-around in the lane for a 55-36 lead at the 8:52 mark, but then a putback by Holzer, a trey from Lister and back-to-back turnovers resulted in layups by Lister and Foggie, and Tennessee's lead was just 10 points, 55-45, with 6:32 to play.
"I think when we go into any opponent, we have to know that they always have fight in the second half," Johnson said. "Our coach said that they were 18 percent shooting-wise (in the first half) and 48 percent in the second half. We always have to be ready for that no matter what, not letting up the whole 40 minutes of the game. When we can do that consistently, that shows that we've grown as a team."
Stricklen stepped in to hit a 17-footer, and Williams connected on a three-pointer on a pass from Stricklen for a 60-47 lead with 5:23 left, but Holzer and Rhoads made jumpers for Vandy to get the lead to single digits, 60-51, with 4:10 left.
Williams drove and hit a pull-up just inside the free throw line for a 62-51 lead and then went unimpeded on a drive to the rim for a 64-53 lead with 1:13 left. Vandy got the lead trimmed to eight points, 64-56, on a Lister trey with 1:03 left.
Stricklen was fouled and missed the front end of the one-and-one, but Johnson got the offensive board and the stick-back for a 66-56 lead with 46 seconds left. Johnson and Williams each made a free throw for the final 68-56 score.
"Give Vanderbilt some credit," Summitt said. "I thought they did a great job. We didn't always get the loose balls that we needed to get to. I thought they did. I thought they were very aggressive. Obviously, we did enough to win, but it wasn't our best performance by any means."
It was a stellar performance by Johnson, who was 5-7 from the field and 4-6 from the line for 14 points and nine boards.
"Glory, she understands now what her role really is," Summitt said. "She knows she has got to hunt for paint points. She knows that she's got to defend for us, rebound for us. When you have an athlete like that we just rely on her so much.
"I thought she had just great composure overall."
Tennessee was outscored in the paint by Vandy, 22-16, as the Lady Vols got away from their inside-out attack and didn't move the ball through the paint very often, either by entry passes or penetration.
"They were doing a great job of double-teaming down, but regardless, we need to play inside out," Bjorklund said. "I thought we kind of fell away from that, especially early on. That's one of our strengths. We just need to continue to pound it in and find a way to get it there."
Bjorklund was 4-12 from behind the arc while Simmons went 4-14 from long range. The two were a combined 11-31 overall, while Spani was 0-3, Manning was 0-2 and Cain was 1-5.
"It affected us a lot," Simmons said of shots not falling. "Like Pat was saying there were times when we jacked up shots. There were times when I jacked up some crazy shots, but I just think we've just got to get in the gym more.
"Angie was hitting a lot tonight, and she gets in the gym. Our managers help us out a lot. They try to encourage us to get in the gym and make sure that your shot is on. I think that really affected us tonight, especially on the perimeter."
The long wait for the game also could have affected the marksmanship.
"I have to admit I was kind of antsy," Simmons said. "Watching the boys play kind of got me excited. Waiting, I was like, ‘Man, can we have the early game and they have the late game?' I just think we just have to keep our composure even before a game. You can't be too antsy."
The shoot-around and scout session also was held in Pratt Pavilion, instead of the arena.
"Nothing was different, except that we did our shoot-around in Pratt instead of Thompson-Boling," Bjorklund said. "It was a little crowded, parking and traffic. We slept an extra hour. Overall, we try to keep things consistent no matter what time we play."
Summitt, who exhorted the crowd in the Vols' win over Vandy – the combined attendance of 39,051 is believed to be a record for an on-campus men's and women's college basketball doubleheader – was hoarse afterwards and coughing during her press conference.
"We don't typically play as late as we played," Summitt said. "I don't think they had the chance to rest as much as they do on a regular game day. But having GameDay here, trust me, that was great. It was great for both of our programs."
The freshman Jasmine Lister, who led Vanderbilt with 17 points, enjoyed the atmosphere.
"It was a great opportunity to be on the big stage and everything," Lister said. "I feel like I got a little too anxious in the beginning and I was rushing my shot. I was taking quick shots."
Balcomb smiled and nodded at Lister's remarks.
"I think what makes Jasmine good is that she is fearless and in the first half she was a little too fearless," Balcomb said. "Her trigger was a little quick. Once she calmed down and relaxed, she took her time. There are a lot of things Jas can do, offensively and defensively, and in the second half she made a change and settled down and played like the player she is."
The senior Jence Rhoads added 10 and helped her team restore order in the second half.
"I think it was a little hectic in the first half, trying to settle everyone down and run our offense," Rhoads said. "Like Coach said, we were a little trigger happy in the first half, which led to Tennessee transition offense, which is one of their strengths.
"The next time around I think we will have to focus on settling down and relaxing and actually running our offense that we work on every day in practice."
Foggie also was in double digits for Vandy with 13 points and was 3-6 from behind the arc. Holzer had eight points and Tuomi added six.
Vanderbilt shot 33.3 percent (24-72) overall, 28.6 percent (6-21) from behind the arc and 50.0 percent (2-4) from the line. The Commodores had 13 assists and just nine turnovers with 10 steals and three blocks and got 17 points off turnovers compared to just five for Tennessee.
The Commodores also outscored Tennessee in the paint, 22-16.
"We were just trying to be physical inside (on defense)," Balcomb said. "We tried to pressure the ball a little bit on the perimeter to get their timing off and we doubled in the post when it did go in."
Tennessee was led by Simmons with 17 points while Johnson and Bjorklund added 14 each. Williams was the fourth player in double figures with 13 points and also grabbed eight rebounds. Stricklen added six points and eight rebounds. Cain tallied just four points but snared 13 boards. Spani was scoreless but got five rebounds.
Tennessee shot 40.3 percent (25-62) overall, 31.3 percent (10-32) from long range and 66.7 percent (8-12) from the line. The Lady Vols had 15 turnovers – just six in the second half – to eight assists with seven blocks and three steals.
The Lady Vols dominated the boards, 52-39, but got just 15 on the offensive glass despite the substandard shooting performance.
"Rebounding could have been a whole lot better with the missed shots we had," Summitt said. "We just had to will our way in to doing what we needed to do defensively and ball security."
The crispness in Tennessee's offense to start SEC play only appeared in spurts Saturday, and the efficient passing, spacing and ball reversals were too often missing in action, too.
"Vandy is a great defensive team," Bjorklund said. "They're very disciplined, and I give them a lot of credit for their defensive game plan. They were doubling down, but at the same time we just need to be more efficient on offense. We need to execute a lot better.
"I thought we got lazy and made some turnovers we usually don't make. Regardless, I think when we're not scoring, we need to get back and make stops. We need to remember that no matter what game."
Johnson noted, "We just have to pick up our defense a lot. We have to talk a lot more. We weren't talking as much as we normally do, and that hurt us a lot on the defensive end."
Simmons added, "I admit there were so many things that I did wrong tonight, and I've just got to learn from it."
The prevailing attitude afterwards seemed to be one of acceptance of the win but with the knowledge that the Lady Vols played well below par. We'll take it," Summitt said. "It's a win, but we'll learn from it."
The Lady Vols will get a deserved off day on Sunday.
"We've had a tough week, but we'll be back in the gym Monday ready to go," Bjorklund said.
VIDEO COVERAGE: Post-game press conference videos.
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt
Lady Vol players Angie Bjorklund, Glory Johnson and Meighan Simmons
Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb and players Jasmine Lister and Jence Rhoads