Vandy drops loss to Tennessee, 79-63

With the SEC "murderer's row" of LSU, Georgia and UT behind them, Vanderbilt comes away with a positive take on the rest of the conference season.

With a starting five of two freshmen, two juniors and a sophomore tackling perennial national champions Tennessee, Vanderbilt hoped to build on momentum from last Thursday's win over No. 12/11 Georgia. Intensity and plucky play from freshmen Hannah Tuomi and Jence Rhodes, a record six 3-pointers in a tied career high of 24 points from Tina Worth, and a defensive whirlwind named Jen Risper kept the Commodores in the game for a loss by 16 points.

Forward Hannah Tuomi played with a maturity beyond her years as she earned her first career double-double on the heels of a career high 14 points against Georgia January 17. Posting up against the taller, heralded No. 2 Lady Vols with no visible signs of nerves, the youngster grabbed 11 rebounds and chipped in 10 points. Guard Jence Rhodes also earned the praise of Coach Melanie Balcomb with 6 assists and only four turnovers in 36 minutes of play. These stats from the freshmen's first visit to one of the most intimidating courts in the nation in front of the largest crowd in the nation this season.

"Hannah came to fight," Coach Balcomb said. "She comes to fight every single practice and that's why she's earned the starting spot. She's got a great attitude, a great work ethic and good things happen to people like that. I know what I'm gong to get from her, so I 'm not surprised. She was certainly undersized in a very tough atmosphere and she is not afraid."

Tina has faced the orange crush before, and knew how to put the game in perspective. "We just talked about this being about us. It's not about (Tennessee); it's not about the crowd. We just need to do what we need to do. I think that we believe that our youth is to our advantage because we don't know any better. We just don't care that they're the No. 2 team in the country. We just go out there and play hard. We're going to get after it like we normally do."

After a Lady Vol run of 8-0 at the game's start, Vanderbilt kept the game within striking distance in the first half, trimming the lead to 21-18 on a layup from Tina with 5:47 left. But a 16-3 spurt by the home team put enough distance in the game to keep the Commodores at bay.

Tina's perimeter shooting (6 of 10 from 3-point range) gave Vanderbilt hope down the stretch, but no other hot shooters materialized. Only she and Tuomi scored in double figures.

Regarding the consecutive trio or "murderer's row" of powerhouses LSU, Georgia and Tennessee now behind them, Coach Balcomb said she is proud of how the team has weathered the season, now 2-2 in the SEC, and with pre-conference wins over Duke and Iowa State.

"To be 2 and 2 out of that stretch and playing really well other than one half at LSU coming in here, I was a little disappointed by how flat we played coming out tonight. I have to give Tennessee credit for that. Knowing we're 2 and 2 and we have things to build up our confidence and not tear it down is a positive."

Vanderbilt (13-6) rests for a bye week before returning to Memorial Gym on Sunday, January 27, when Ole Miss visits for a 2 p.m. CT tip-off.

Photos copyright 2008 Sharon Harper for Top Stories