UT free throws beat Vandy, 70-67

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt's four-game winning streak came to a heart-breaking end in Knoxville on Sunday afternoon with a 70-67 loss to the Tennessee Lady Vols. Four Commodores scored in double figures, led by sophomore center Liz Sherwood with 20 points. Nicole Jules added 12 points, followed by Cherish Stringfield with 11, and Carla Thomas with 10.

Despite the fact that both point guard Dee Davis and Thomas picked up two quick fouls in the first five minutes of the game and subsequently went to the bench with Vanderbilt trailing 9-5, the Commodores were able to build a double-digit lead midway through the first half.

"I think we're starting to get into a rotation of seven or eight players that are gaining confidence because we're working extremely hard in practice," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game.

"Our confidence is building, so the kids coming off the bench did a great job in maintaining the level of play that we had with the starting lineup," she said.

The big first half lead was eerily similar to the first game between the two teams in Memorial Gym last month. In both games, Vanderbilt led by 14 points with about five minutes to go in the half. In Sunday's game, however, much of Vanderbilt's scoring came from the post, whereas in the earlier game, the points came from the outside.

"I think it was very obvious in the last game that we relied too much on perimeter shooting and guards driving so we tried to add more balance and work really hard at being more balance," said Balcomb. "Liz Sherwood really stepped up and did a great job for us inside, and that was much needed."

The similarity between the scores in the two games continued as the first half drew to a close. The Lady Vols trimmed the Vanderbilt lead to five points at 37-32 at halftime, just as they had cut the lead to five points at 36-31 at halftime in Nashville.

In the first five minutes of the second half, the Lady Vols continued their comeback, tying the game at 43-43 on a basket by Candace Parker. Once again, there was an uncanny resemblance to the earlier game when Tennessee tied the score 41-41 early in the second half.

But after that, the similarity came to an end.

In Nashville, after the teams grappled for the lead for several minutes, a 19-2 Tennessee run gave the Lady Vols a 16-point lead with five minutes left, and the Commodores were never able to cut the lead to single digits after that.

On Sunday afternoon, Vanderbilt was able to stop the Tennessee run and to stretch the lead back out to nine points at 52-61 with 7:49 remaining in the game.

"I think we're a much different team than we were at Vanderbilt. In that game, they came back and made a run, and we did not fight back," Balcomb said. "And tonight every time they made runs, we made runs, and we fought back all game."

In the end, however, the foul trouble for Vanderbilt took its toll. Sherwood had picked up her fourth foul with 13 minutes left in the game. Thomas was tagged with her fourth foul with four minutes left. Stringfield picked up her fourth foul with 3:35 left in the game, and soon afterwards, Tennessee tied the game at 67-67.

The foul trouble for Vanderbilt continued to go from bad to worse. With the score tied, Davis was whistled for her fourth foul, and the Lady Vols took the lead at 69-67 for the first time since early in the first half on a pair of free throws by Alexis Hornbuckle with 2:22 left. Then Sherwood fouled out.

Then after Vanderbilt forced a Tenneseee shot clock violation with 48 seconds left, Thomas was whistled for an offensive foul with 18 seconds remaining. Trailing by two points, the Commodores were forced to foul. Sidney Spencer missed the first free throw, but made the second making it a 3-point game at 70-67.

With 18 seconds to go, the Commodores still had a chance to tie the game. But Caroline Williams' 3-point attempt was partially blocked, and the Lady Vols escaped the near-upset and emerged with the victory.

"It's frustrating, but I can't be upset at my teammates' efforts," said Vanderbilt point guard Dee Davis. "Everybody put 110 percent out there, and we gave it our best effort. Unfortunately, we didn't come out with the W, but there's nothing to hang our heads about."

With the loss, Vanderbilt falls to 17-8 overall, 6-5 in the SEC. This game was the last road game of the regular season for the Commodores. After a bye night on Thursday, they will host the Georgia Lady Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon, February 19, at noon Central Time.

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