VU falls 80-71 in sweep to No. 19 Kentucky

In a sweep that made Vanderbilt blue for the program's annual Pink Out game, No. 19 Kentucky (20-7, 9-5) used dominating pressure to upend the upset-minded 'Dores 80-71. Without senior scoring leader and point guard Jence Rhoads, who sprained her ankle at Mississippi State and further injured it in practice Saturday, the ‘Dores and Wildcats scrambled in a fast-paced, foul-plagued free-for-all.

Alluding to the youth and inexperience of her team, Head Coach Melanie Balcomb recalled she had four players on the court at one point who did not see action last year – transfer Angela Puleo, redshirt freshman Stephanie Holzer, and freshmen Christina Foggie and Jasmine Lister. The steady direction and experience of All-SEC First Team Jence Rhoads was missed, but Balcomb said it would be no excuse for her team, who by now, should know how to play one down – or two down, or three down – with Foggie, Holzer and Rhoads sidelined at various times this season.

"At key times down the stretch we had three freshmen, a sophomore [Tiffany Clarke] and a transfer on the floor. We had four first-year players and a sophomore on the floor and pressure is going to affect them. That's what Kentucky does and they do it well," she said.

Christina Foggie, the freshman guard who missed 11 games due to multiple concussions and a sprained calf, returned to action last Thursday, scoring 11 points at Mississippi State. Against Kentucky, the SEC's No. 2 team, she led all scorers with 23 points on 4 of 11 three-point shooting. Tiffany Clarke recorded her fourth double-double of the season with 22 points and 10 boards – she had 15 points in the first half. With 13:51 to go in the second half, Tiffany was called for a fourth foul and sat with 19 points until she re-entered the game at 9:04, and eluded the final foul to the end.

"It's hard playing with that many fouls. Sometimes you back off because you don't know which way a ref's going to call it. It gets you out of how you usually play your game," Tiffany said, adding, "We let Kentucky dictate to us and we played their game instead of playing our game."

Jasmine Lister directed Vandy traffic in Jence's absence, playing 37 minutes at full tilt and scoring 9 points with 5 assists. Stephanie Holzer had 6 points and 8 rebounds.

Following the break, Kentucky wasted no time erasing Vandy's 35-32 lead with a 3-point bucket by Wildcat Keyla Snowden and a jumper Victoria Dunlap to pull ahead 37-35. Tiffany Clarke tied it 39-all with a layup, and again at 41-all with 15:59 remaining. In all, 11 ties would be recorded until Kentucky extended the margin by 10 with 8:23 remaining. Vanderbilt trimmed the margin to 5 on a jumper and free throws by Foggie and a layup by Clarke before Kentucky pulled away again. In the final 18 seconds, a three-pointer by Foggie pulled the 'Dores to 76-71 but no closer.

Coach Balcomb said Kentucky's full court pressure put her squad on their heels. "They can't press unless they score and they started scoring a lot, so they pressed a lot. We didn't get the job done on the defensive end. We're not going to use Jence as an excuse, if we defend them they can't press all night and put the pressure on Jasmine and our guards."

Fouling was heavy on both ends of the court, and included a technical on the Vanderbilt bench following doubt expressed over foul called on Hannah Tuomi. Vandy was tagged with 31 personal fouls to Kentucky's 28 – Stephanie Holzer fouled out with 6:05 remaining and Kentucky lost two starters to fouls as well.

"I can't comment on the fouls, but Kentucky plays a real physical game, and in their style, they can afford to foul because they rotate so many players," Balcomb said. "We played into their style tonight, so you saw both teams go to the free throw line a lot. That's not how we play – that's their tempo and what they created. And we let that happen by not getting stops where they can't play that full court press and attack." Both teams tied in their foul shots – Kentucky hit 24 of 38 and Vandy 24 of 35.

"It wore us down and we couldn't defend," Balcomb added. "They were getting layups and pressing more. We didn't get the job done in our zones, we left shooters open, we tried two different zones and tried man but you don't want to play man-to-man against a driving, athletic team like them all night."

"It's frustrating to lose that way. We didn't play our game. A good team steps up and is focused on their job for the team and we know our roles, we have our job, we're committed to doing those things and our players didn't do that tonight. If they would have played our tempo, you wouldn't have seen all those fouls. We didn't do our jobs and that's what's frustrating – to lose not playing your way. I have to give Kentucky credit – they took us out of our way and enforced their way on us."

The loss puts Vanderbilt (18-9, 9-5) in fourth place in the SEC with an 8 p.m. CST home game against Florida (Senior Night) on Thursday and the final season game at South Carolina. The top four teams earn a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament, scheduled March 3-6 in Nashville.

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