Lady Vols scorched by Vandy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Lady Vols stumbled again in SEC play and fell 93-79 to in-state rival Vanderbilt. Go inside for the game story, video coverage and Inside Tennessee's Take.

The Tennessee players have been reading a business book this season called "Good to Great," that outlines how companies make the leap from adequate to successful.

Before Thursday's game, Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb was asked how her team could go from good to great. She didn't say what she thought out of superstition, but she revealed it after the game.

"Beat Tennessee," Balcomb said.

Vanderbilt (19-5, 7-4) did just that against Tennessee (17-7, 8-3).

The Commodores had been steadily improving and playing well, but Balcomb was waiting for the team to put together a whole game, especially on offense.

She got it Thursday night at Memorial Gymnasium with four players tallying double figures and one, Jasmine Lister, reaching a double-double with 19 points and 13 assists.

Vandy's Tiffany Clarke got one, too, in traditional fashion with 23 points and 12 rebounds.

Tennessee, meanwhile, was shredded at the rim with Vanderbilt getting 52 points in the paints compared to just 28 for the Lady Vols.

The Commodore posts got deep position, and the Vandy guards penetrated at will for much of the game.

"You have to give Vanderbilt a lot of credit," Tennessee Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "They're a very good offensive team. They execute extremely well.

"Still, to give up 93 points is very disappointing for our defense."

The Lady Vols delivered plenty of offense - Glory Johnson and Meighan Simmons carried Tennessee in the first half - but the team couldn't summon but a few defensive stops.

"We weren't communicating, hands weren't high, we weren't contesting shots," Johnson said. "A lot of wide open three-pointers that went in, and there was no one around.

"At a game like this, you've got to forget about the offense and focus on playing defense."

The Lady Vols trailed by just eight at halftime, 42-34, thanks to Johnson starting the game 6-9 from the field and Simmons connecting on three of five shots, including 2-3 marksmanship from long range. The two also were a combined 8-10 from the line and accounted for all of the Lady Vols' trips to the stripe in the first half.

But the Commodores shot 52.8 percent in the first half and didn't rely on the long ball. They instead repeatedly scored in the paint.

"I don't know if it surprised me," DeMoss said. "I've seen some other post players manhandle our posts in there. They just kept getting deep buries.

"They had us pinned up under the rim, and they were just turning and shooting a layup on us."

Tennessee also was finding the net and managed to wipe out a 10-point deficit in the second half with a collection of starters and bench players. Cierra Burdick tied the game at 52 with 12:33 to play and then Johnson gave Tennessee the lead, 54-52 on a turn-around in the paint with 11:42 left.

It was the first time the Lady Vols led in the game since it was 6-5 at the 17:24 mark of the first half.

The lead didn't last long as Christina Foggie drained a three off the in-bounds play and then nailed another one to put the Commodores ahead, 58-54, with 10:35 left.

Tennessee hung around in the second half - the Lady Vols scored 45 points after the break - but Vanderbilt, which added 51 points after halftime, continued to get the shots it wanted out of its offense with the bulk of them coming close to the rim.

"Obviously, we are very disappointed and rightfully so," Coach Pat Summitt said. "I didn't think we brought the energy early on. We didn't sustain runs and we didn't have a whole lot of runs to sustain.

"It's really just a big disappointment."

It was the exact opposite for Vanderbilt with Balcomb sending water into the student section and offering high fives before the team departed for the locker room.

"It's a rival game, it's Vanderbilt against Tennessee," Balcomb said. "And it's about school pride, and you're still playing the orange."

Balcomb thanked the students for creating a true home court advantage - Tennessee fans were definitely present, though they were not the majority among the 12,034 present in Memorial Gymnasium - and said if the students did that every game, the Commodores would be undefeated at home.

"There was more black and gold than there's ever been," Balcomb said. "Marketing did a great job, and the students coming out means everything to this program and to the environment and the atmosphere."

Vanderbilt was led by Clarke with 23 points followed by Foggie with 22. Holzer and Lister added 19 each.

The Commodores shot 55.7 percent (39-70) overall, 46.2 percent (6-13) from long range and 56.3 percent (9-16) from the line.

Vanderbilt had 22 assists, 15 turnovers and five steals. The Commodores dominated the boards, 41-27. Vandy had 14 offensive boards to nine for the Lady Vols and prevailed on second-chance points, 16-9.

Tennessee was led by Simmons with 20 points. Johnson added 19 while Shekinna Stricklen, who had two points at halftime, finished with 17. Burdick had seven points and nine boards.

The Lady Vols shot 45.9 percent (28-61) overall, 36.8 percent (7-19) from long range and 69.6 percent (16-23) from the line.

Tennessee had 18 assists, 16 turnovers, six blocks and six steals.

The Lady Vols left Nashville with the season's seventh loss and the vexing problem of a still-porous defense.

"We saw a lot of lack of effort on the court tonight," Summitt said. "You have to give Vanderbilt all the credit. They came ready to play Melanie Balcomb does a great job.

"We just have to go back and figure out ways we can improve. We have a lot to improve on."

INSIDE TENNESSEE'S TAKE

Perhaps Meighan Simmons said it best.

"This game is history," the sophomore said afterwards.

The Lady Vols have had seven of those to date - losses they have to move past and focus on the next game.

If not for Simmons and Glory Johnson, the game would have been essentially over at halftime. They accounted for 28 of Tennessee's 34 points and had reached their scoring average before the break.

Both got a brief rest before halftime and were effective on both ends of the floor in a game in which too few of their teammates were offering help on offense or defense.

Kamiko Williams was expected to provide a jolt off the bench on defense and instead the player she was guarding went around her three consecutive times with little resistance. That parked the junior on the bench for most of the game.

Vicki Baugh was needed inside to counter the size of Vandy, but she was visibly uncomfortable each time she took the floor, and went once to the locker room during the game to get treatment for what appeared to be a sore hip.

That left Johnson to handle the duties inside and once she left the game with foul trouble - she was whistled for two fouls in two seconds in the second half - and then fouled out with 5:59 left in the game, the Lady Vols were essentially done.

Thanks to treys from Shekinna Stricklen and Simmons, the Lady Vols hovered, but a lead that grew to double digits after Johnson left with four fouls stayed there until the scoreboard hit zero.

That touched off a raucous celebration with the players and Coach Melanie Balcomb in front of the student section - the male practice players for Vandy were the ones who painted their chests "B E A T U T" with one chest even sporting the Twitter # hash tag.

Balcomb and her players were quite gracious in the post-game press conference. When Vanderbilt beat Tennessee in the same building in 2009 - this was the first win for the Commodores since then - the celebration continued into the interview room.

This time, they expressed excitement, but also continued to compliment the Lady Vols.

In some ways that is understandable because this game won't be used by either staff as a defensive tutorial.

Vandy's four and five players, Tiffany Clarke and Stephanie Holzer, combined to shoot 19-26 for 42 points. Tennessee's inside counterparts, Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen, were a combined 15-25 for 36 points.

Tennessee didn't lose the game on offense - 79 points should be enough to beat anyone in the SEC. The Lady Vols lost the game because their board play and defense went AWOL.

The defense has been an ongoing concern, but the Lady Vols glass work has been relatively consistent. The leading rebounder Thursday for Tennessee was freshman Cierra Burdick with nine boards. No player in orange reached double digits on the glass.

Tennessee's issues don't need to be overanalyzed. There should be no wringing of the hands or gnashing of the teeth about what is wrong with the Lady Vols. It is quite simple: They can't consistently stop teams. And teams know this and go right at them.

Tennessee managed to take the lead in the game, 54-52, with 11:42 to play, but Christina Foggie, a player of primary concern on the scouting report, hit back-to-back threes, and Vandy never trailed again.

Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick looked weary when she entered the interview view, as well she should. She was on her feet for most of the game. She still has all of her assistant duties that include recruiting travel and hours of film study to prepare scouting reports, and she has added post-game media responsibilities while Pat Summitt handles her radio show.

And she had just watched a team violate the tenets of Summitt's program over and over with the lack of board play and defense.

On top of that, a local TV reporter asked Warlick if Summitt had been on the sideline in Memorial Gymnasium for the last time. Warlick seemed momentarily startled - that is the furthest thing from the staff's mind right now and Summitt has publicly said she wants to continue - but she handled the question well.

"I don't think so," Warlick said. "I mean Pat is coaching, she's still coaching and she's going to continue to coach. So I hope it's not the last time, and I have not heard if it is or isn't. She's still the head coach of this basketball team."

If Tennessee doesn't find some defensive resolve this season, it doesn't matter who is on the bench. For the past four seasons - even when Summitt was spewing fire on the sideline - this collection of uber-talented players has struggled to stop teams.

Consider Simmons' answer when asked about the defense.

"To be honest, I don't even know where it was tonight," Simmons said. "We just weren't disciplined enough to play defense.

"We played defense against Auburn, we have to bring that intensity each and every night. We can't bring it one game and then not bring it at all in the next."

A team that lacks discipline on defense doesn't cut down nets. Summitt has drilled that into her teams for nearly four decades, but it has never really sunk in with her squads of the past four seasons.

There were positives from the game, though Lady Vol fans are likely grasping to find any.

For one, they didn't fold. Tennessee crumpled in a hostile environment at Notre Dame, but they fought in this game.

Also, Simmons seems to have found some confidence on offense. A team that can at times lack for passion needs a fiery personality on the court, and Simmons can bring that.

She sat for a long stretch in the second half, but that was more personnel-driven it would seem. Stricklen was playing inside with Johnson, while Ariel Massengale or Briana Bass and Burdick and Taber Spani handled the perimeter and were instrumental in leading Tennessee back in the second half.

The Lady Vols wiped out a 10-point deficit with the offense of Johnson, Stricklen and Burdick with Alicia Manning also nailing a jumper.

Still, going forward, the sophomore Simmons will need to be on the court in critical stretches of the second half, and she has used this season to bolster her overall basketball resume on both ends.

Johnson was dynamic on offense, made her layups, was 3-4 from the line and stuck some tough turn-around jumpers - even fading back on two of them to ensure Holzer didn't swat the ball away.

Bass continues to give the team the jolt it needs off the bench. Massengale was in early foul trouble and Bass was on the floor for the rally that put Tennessee ahead nearly midway through the second half.

But a team playing for Summitt that has said it has her back will have to summon whatever inner-Summitt they can muster if the Lady Vols intend to have any significant success going forward.

"Personally, we have to get back in the gym and get better," Simmons said. "From here on out we have to focus and learn from this game and make sure we get ready to play against Kentucky. We just have to come out ready.

"This game is history."

VIDEO COVERAGE

If you have trouble viewing the video, right click on the video and turn off HD. This should allow the video to load and play.

Holly Warlick, Meighan Simmons, Glory Johnson

Coach Melanie Balcomb via Vandy's YouTube channel

Jasmine Lister, Stephanie Holzer via Vandy's YouTube channel


Inside Tennessee Top Stories