VU Women Fall to Lady Vols 63-48

Vanderbilt's quest to defend their SEC Tournament crown came to an end on Saturday night when they fell to the Tennessee Lady Vols 73-48 in the Sommet Center in downtown Nashville. Jen Risper led the Dores with 14 points and nine rebounds. Candace Parker led all scorers with 25 points.

When the Lady Vols visited Memorial Gym three weeks ago, they jumped out to a 15-point lead less than six minutes into the game. Coming into Saturday night's game, Vanderbilt was determined to keep that from happening.

" When we played them at home, they came out and jumped on us early, and so I think we had a real focus on coming out and attacking them," said Tina Wirth after the game. "We had nothing lose; they're a higher seed, a higher ranking if that means anything."

And when the game began, the Dores did just that. Vanderbilt scored first on a layup by Hannah Tuomi, then raced ahead to a ten point lead at 14-4 in the first five minutes of the game.

Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, that was as good as it got. Capitalizing on rebounding and turnovers by the Dores, the Lady Vols chipped away and eventually took the lead for the first time in the game at 21-20 on a 3-pointer by Shannon Bobbitt with 9:09 left in the first half.

Then, led by All-American Candace Parker, who scored 17 points in the first half, the Tennessee surge continued to give the Lady Vols a 37-28 halftime lead.

In the first few minutes of the second half, Vanderbilt kept the game within single digits, cutting the Tennessee lead down to six points on a 3-pointer by Wirth at the 17:13 mark and to seven points on a pair of made free throws by Jessica Mooney at the 15:44 mark.

But that was as close as the Dores would get the rest of the game. An offensive rebound and putback by Alberta Auguste and a 3-pointer by Alex Fuller pushed the Tennessee lead to double-digits at 47-35 with 13:33 left in the game.

After that, the game became a tightly contested defensive struggle. Vanderbilt was unable to make a run to get back into the game, and Tennessee was unable to make a run to blow the game wide open. In the final 13 minutes of the game, numerous possessions on both ends of the court went deep into the shot clock. During that span, the two teams scored only a combined 29 points, with the Tennessee lead see-sawing between 13 and 18 points.

"I think both teams were playing very hard defense," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game. "We've played each other three times. We know each other very well. It's like an NCAA game. Both teams are really prepared. They're both very successful, and you're going to see great defensive effort and people being taken away from things, and it's going to be hard to get shots, so you're not going to be able to take one pass and score.

"It's not going to be easy, so that slowed the tempo down," she continued. "Obviously, [Tennessee] is very, very good in transition, and that was one our goals, to slow them down and to stop them – we held them to 26 points in the second half, a team that scores 80-90 a night, so that was definitely a big part of our game plan, and it was successful."

One of the bright spots for Vanderbilt in the tournament has been the play of junior guard Jen Risper. Risper followed up a 9-point, 15-rebound performance against Auburn on Friday night by leading Vanderbilt with 14 points and 9 rebounds against Tennessee on Saturday to average a double double of 11.5 points and 12 rebounds for the tournament.

"I just want to get it," said Risper of her impressive performance on the glass. "We do a lot of drills in practice, where we're fighting hard and competing a lot, so I think it's just carrying over to the game."

Balcomb put it differently. "We call it a 'want to,'" she said. "Jen has a lot of 'want to.'"

With the loss, Vanderbilt's resume for the NCAA tournament is now complete. With a 22-8 overall record, a third place finish in the SEC at 11-3, an appearance in the SEC semifinals, and an RPI of 19 (according to Jerry Palm), the Dores are considered to be a "lock" to make the NCAA field of 64. But answers to the question of "What seed?" and "Where will we go?" won't be answered until the NCAA announces the brackets on Selection Monday, March 17.

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