This time out, the Lady Vols stumbled through a lethargic half, the third worst in program history as they hit just 5 of 25 shots for 15 points and 20 percent from the field.
Tennessee Head Coach Pat Summit gave credit to Vanderbilt for coming out of the starting gate with the energy that shut down her team - at least for a half. As Vandy players anticipated, their opponents rallied and eventually erased a 13-point lead. UT scored 50 points in the second half to Vandy's 29.
Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb, proud of her team's effort against a top team, noted that the second half came down to losing confidence when Tennessee began their run.
"Once they got more aggressive and came after us, we got on our heels defensively and didn't do the job that we did in the first half. The frustrating piece is until the last eight minutes we were beating them and they're the number four team in the country and there's a lot to be said for that."
Inexperience, or trust among the younger players to continue making the shots and defensive stops, was evident as the game wore on, the coach added. The Commodores had 22 turnovers to Tennessee's 17. "We went away from what we do and what we were doing. It takes a whole season to build trust and with a lot of young players, it takes longer."
Seniors Jence Rhoads and Hannah Tuomi battled Tennessee for the last time in Memorial Gym, but not for the last time in their careers, they hope.
"We're looking forward to that," Jence said, expecting another Vandy-UT game in the March 3-6 SEC Tournament. "One of the first things we said in the locker room was that we would probably get another chance in the tournament. I think that personally that we love that challenge and we believe we can beat them."
Jence led Vandy scorers with 15 and Stephanie Holzer added 10 and 6 rebounds, but Hannah Tuomi's effort in the post amazed the coaching staff and her teammates, Balcomb said. In very physical play, the gritty 6-1 forward held position and snagged 12 rebounds against the taller Lady Vols and also contributed 7 points.
Sophomore Tiffany Clarke also contributed key minutes, hitting 7 points and grabbing 5 rebounds.
Vandy led 39-28 until Tennessee sprinted to a 16-3 run during a six-minute span. Tennessee guard Lauren Avant hit a 3-pointer to close within 42-41 with 7:33 left. The score was tied twice at 45-all and 49-all before Tennessee stretched the margin to eight on three occasions.
Vanderbilt recognized numerous former Commodore players at halftime, including Chantelle Anderson (2000-2003), whose jersey was retired during a halftime ceremony.
The Commodores fall to fourth place in the SEC after wins Sunday by Kentucky and Georgia. Next up is a road game at Mississippi State on Thursday.