Tennessee seized a road win over Vanderbilt to sweep the regular season series against the in-state rival. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis.
Tennessee (15-9, 6-5) exorcised some late-game road demons with Thursday’s 69-51 win over Vanderbilt (15-9, 4-7) in Nashville.
Jaime Nared led the Lady Vols with 18 points; the sophomore started the game with the hot hand on offense and ended it the same way. She also added five boards, four assists and a steal.
“Jaime played one of her best games,” Coach Holly Warlick said.
Nared was joined in double-digit scoring by Diamond DeShields with 12 points, Bashaara Graves with 10 points and Te’a Cooper and Mercedes Russell with 11 each.
“Everybody contributed,” Warlick said. “I am really proud of them.”
Andraya Carter added seven points, all in the fourth quarter, and had a key steal with the Lady Vols leading 56-48 and the Commodores threatening to catch up – a familiar scenario and a nerve-wracking one for Tennessee fans.
Vanderbilt could have cut the lead to six points, but Carter stripped the ball loose and converted the layup for a 58-48 lead with 3:24 left in the game. The Lady Vols’ lead never dipped below double digits after the theft.
“That was a huge steal,” Warlick said.
Instead of folding as the Lady Vols did on the road at Mississippi State and Texas A&M, Tennessee buckled down on defense and got on the boards.
“I love our effort and how hard we played,” Warlick said.
The Lady Vols got off to a strong start on the road and staked a 20-7 lead in the first quarter. Vandy hit back-to-back three-pointers in the second quarter, but Tennessee still led 33-19 at halftime.
The Commodores lead the league in field goal percentage but shot 29.6 percent (8-27) in the first 20 minutes and turned loose of the ball eight time. The Lady Vols, meanwhile, had just four turnovers and connected at 41.9 percent (13-31).
Three players, DeShields, Nared and Cooper tallied eight points each. Russell added five points and six boards, while Carter grabbed four rebounds before halftime to help give the Lady Vols a 21-15 edge on the glass at the break.
Neither team shot well from the arc with the Lady Vols going 0-8 and the Commodores, 2-11, in the first 20 minutes. It didn’t get better by the end of the game.
Tennessee shot 0-12 from long range, while Vandy went 4-14. Rebekah Dahlman led Vanderbilt with 13 points and accounted for two made threes. Minta Spears connected on the other two from long range and notched 11 points for Vandy.
Warlick wasn’t upset by the Lady Vols’ three-ball looks – for the most part, they were wide-open shots – but she noted when that shot is not falling, the players had to get to the paint or pull up. Nared executed that strategy to perfection, especially in the fourth quarter to keep Tennessee ahead 54-46 and then 62-48.
Nared credited her teammates for helping her get loose for the shots.
“We cut so hard and set such good screens,” Nared said.
The Lady Vols put on an offensive clinic in the first quarter, but Vanderbilt, which has been a second-half team all season, switched up some of its defenses. Still, the Lady Vols would shoot 46.3 percent (25-54) for the game. Tennessee also hit its free throws down the stretch and shot 79.2 percent overall (19-24) from the line.
“It was a good win for us,” Warlick said. “We didn’t give in to their runs. We stayed the course.”
Vanderbilt plays in an antiquated and bastardized gym with benches on the baselines, an elevated court and basket supports that look like, in the words of the SEC Network commentators, “stick insects.”
Cooper, a Lady Vol freshman, didn’t seem bothered by the odd configuration. She did have to leave the game within 10 seconds of the third quarter after a Vandy player rolled over and nearly sat on her ankle during a loose ball scramble. Cooper would later return and finished the game with three assists and two steals.
Diamond shot 4-10 from the field but got to the paint and added nine boards. She punctuated the win with a defensive rebound, sprint to the other end and reverse layup for a 67-51 lead with 37 seconds left.
“She shot on balance,” Warlick said. “I love that she rebounded. She is getting into the flow a little bit. I will take it.”
Russell grabbed eight boards while Nared notched five, and Graves added four. Tennessee won the board battle, 36-24, overall and 12-7 on the offensive glass. The Lady Vols had just 11 turnovers for the game.
The players needed the win as much for the standings and seeding as to show themselves they could close out a tough game on the road. Vanderbilt typically is a tough out at home.
“We have been so close,” Nared said. “We haven’t finished the game. That is what we really wanted to do tonight.”
Tennessee will next take on South Carolina, which is undefeated in SEC play, on Monday in Knoxville. Warlick and the players are looking forward to the matchup, and the head coach noted her team had a lot of respect for the Gamecocks.
“This gives us an opportunity to show what Tennessee basketball is really all about,” Warlick said.