The game began as a defensive struggle. It took more than two minutes for either team to score, and at the first media timeout, Tennessee led only 4-2.
After the timeout, the Lady Vols threatened to break the game wide open with an 18-6 run that opened up a 22-8 lead ten minutes into the first half. But after a Carla Thomas layup, Dee Davis dove for a loose ball on the floor and flipped it to Abi Ramsey in the corner, who sank a 3-pointer. A pair of free throws from Ramsey cut the lead back to 7 points at 22-15 with six minutes left in the half.
But the Commodore run ended there. For the rest of the half, Tennessee maintained a 10-point margin Tennessee held on for a 33-22 halftime lead.
For the first part of the second half, the teams were at a stalemate. The Lady Vols weren't able to pull away, but Vanderbilt wasn't able to cut into the lead. Seven minutes into the second half, the Lady Vols still held an 11-point lead.
The Commodores fashioned an 8-0 run, which included a 3-pointer and an old-fashioned 3-point play from Ramsey and a basket by Jenni Benningfield, to cut the Tennessee lead to 6 points at 44-38 with 12:49 left.
But that turned out to be as close as Vanderbilt would get. Tennessee racheted up its defensive intensity and spurted to a 10-0 run to stretch the lead out to 18 points with 9:42 left.
The Commodores kept fighting, however, and staged one last run to cut the lead back to 11 points with 6:10 remaining. All the points during that final run were scored by freshmen, with guard Cherish Stringfield scoring 8 points (including two 3-pointers) and Davis adding two.
After that, the Lady Vols began to put the game away. Their 11-point lead at the 6:10 mark grew to 18 points at 71-53 over the next two minutes. In the game's final minutes, the Tennessee lead ballooned to 26 points before a free throw by Nicole Jules made the final score 79-54.
Abi Ramsey's 13 points were tops for Vanderbilt, followed by Carla Thomas' 10. No other Commodores scored in double figures. Point guard Dee Davis, starting for the first time since Dec. 13, was leading rebounder with 5, and also had 5 assists to lead the team.
Ely led Tennessee with 22 points and 8 boards.
For the game, Vanderbilt shot 43.5% from the field, compared to 49.2% for Tennessee. Neither team shot well from long range, with the Commodores shooting 33.3% from 3-point range, while the Lady Vols managed only 28.6%. From the line both teams shot a cold 62.5%.
The big differences in the game were in rebounding and in turnovers. Vanderbilt turned the ball over 26 times, while Tennessee only committed 14 turnovers. The Lady Vols out-rebounded the Commodores 41-28.
With the loss, Vanderbilt falls to 14-3 overall, 2-2 in the SEC, while Tennessee improves to 15-1 overall, 5-0 in the SEC. Next action for Vanderbilt is Sunday afternoon, when the Ole Miss Lady Rebels visit Memorial Gym for a 2 p.m. game.
POST GAME COMMENTS
Coach Balcomb: I think the biggest thing is rebounding. Coming in, we knew we had to rebound with 'em, and they out-rebounded us, killed us on the glass. We knew that would be the number one as always, and we didn't checkout, and we didn't rebound. So it was tough being in the game. I think we were beaten in every area of the game -- turnovers, free throws, and rebounds. To still get within six with about twelve minutes to go, I'm surprised. That's the positive.
The Press: You had a fair number of players play a significant number of minutes. Can you talk about the reasons behind the substitutions and who was in the game when?
Coach Balcomb: It was inconsistent play. I was just looking for who showed up tonight. It wasn't a positive. It was people not doing what they needed to be doing and inconsistent and trying to look for another young player. We've been very inconsistent. We're very young. Most of the time we had three freshmen on the floor at a time. In fact, I think that was when we made one of our runs, when we were really young on the floor. Just looking for combinations that would work.
The Press: Talk about getting it down to six with twelve minutes left, and you had the ball and turned it over, and that started a run for them.
Coach Balcomb: I think that was exactly what happened. We came down, and we stopped executing. I also think we took some bad shots, but we had executed well to get it within six, then all of a sudden we started taking bad shots and weren't disciplined, and turned the ball over, and then they got some easy baskets. I tried to call a quick timeout, but then they had the tempo again.
The Press: Can you talk about why it's difficult to win here?
Coach Balcomb: Because they're a great team. They're No. 2 in the country. The crowd is awesome. I have to give credit to the crowd here, the fans. They do a great job. They heckle the coaches really well. (Laughter.) That's a joke. But they're a great team with a great history. Kids come in here, especially young players like I have right now, and it's tough to win at a place like this.
The Press: You all had 26 turnovers. Did you feel like most of those were forced turnovers, or how would you categorize them?
Coach Balcomb: I'll give them the credit. That'd be a good thing to do. Yeah. I think they forced a lot of those turnovers. I'd like to say that none of them were unforced, but we've got a lot of young guards out there. All of our point guards are freshmen. Our backup point guard is a walk-on. We're playing very very young guards who have not seen that pressure before, ever. Not in practice, and until you're out there. I told them at halftime, you know what we've been talking about. Now you need to do a better job with it. We did a decent job with it in spurts in the second half. We made that run, and then we got back and turned it over again.
Coach Balcomb left, then junior guard Abi Ramsey and freshman point guard Dee Davis entered the room for questions.
The Press: Dee, y'all had 26 turnovers. Would you say that those turnovers were forced, or was that just lack of execution on your part?
Dee: I'd say a little of both. We weren't executing as well as we usually do, but I don't know-- it's hard to say on that. Yes, we weren't executing like we should have been, so they were kind of forced.
The Press:: Dee, you played 26 minutes tonight, the longest you've played in quite a while. How does your foot feel?
Dee: It feels fine. When you're in a game, you really don't feel an injury so much. Your adrenalin is pumping. I can't be on the bench when my team needs me; I need to be out there contributing. I really didn't feel it so much today; it felt fine.
The Press: Abi, talk about what you did to get back into it-- you had it down to 44-38 at one point.
Abi: Well, we did what we've been doing best lately, picking up our defense. We knew pressuring the ball, that would be one of their weaknesses, and we got a few steals and just kind of took them out of their comfort zone, and then, I don't know if we got tired-- they took a run right after we made ours, and I don't think we ever came back from it. We let them set the tone of the game in both halves tonight, and that hurt us.