Tennessee holds a 54-7 advantage in the home and home series. This was the first Memorial Gym win for the Lady Vols' sophomore class, which lost to the ‘Dores last year 74-58. The difference, 6-6 center Kelly Cain said, is what a year makes – her teammates are now stronger physically and tougher mentally. And she said, "You don't want to lose to anyone, but especially to Vanderbilt."
Fierce play and aggressive rebounding from seniors Merideth Marsh (19 points, 5 rebounds) and Lauren Lueders (12 points, 5 rebounds), at 5-6 and 5-8 the two shortest players on a short-by-SEC-standards team, could not quell the momentum Tennessee gained from a Kelly Cain block and a successive layup by Alicia Manning with 5:36 left to go. The Lady Vols led 52-51 at that point and held on to the lead for the remainder of the game after trailing the ‘Dores or tying them since 14-12 in the first half.
Televised by ESPN2 with analysis from UConn and the New York Liberty alum Rebecca Lobo, this second round rivalry between Vandy and Tennessee was not short on thrills. Snowy weather and a late Monday night tipoff reduced the crowd to 6,005, but those who braved the conditions saw some intense action with the score tied six times and three lead changes.
Coming up short in the final minutes after Merideth, Lauren and Jence hustled with such intensity was heartbreaking, but Jence said the motivation was just not there down the stretch.
"How I look at is that we didn't do enough. We weren't able to motivate our teammates. I missed a couple of checkouts and we weren't perfect. I don't know that there was much more we could have done, or our teammates could have done. It just got away from us at the end."
The Lady Vols' All SEC guard Angie Bjorklund nailed UT's only two threes in the final 10 minutes. She missed a 3-point attempt that would have broken the 28-all tie at the half. Vandy's defense kept pressure on the shooter.
"Face guarding Bjorkland and pressuring the basketball were two things we did well. If we don't pressure the passer, they're going to cram it down our throats," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb. "We picked up the pressure, but Bjorkland had wide-open looks. We've got to figure out if it's mental or physical in key situations. There were mental lapses."
Jence added, ""I think we kind of gave it to them. Bjorkland hit some big shots in the end, but what we didn't do gave them the game. We had a bit of miscommunication which gave them easy points and they were able to get ahead."
Rebounding, which has been a thorn in Vandy's side all season, was somewhat improved but too sporadic to be effective. Vandy grabbed 11 offensive boards to Tennessee's 15 and pulled down 30 to UT's 41 for a game total.
"When there were key situations, we didn't execute on either end," Balcomb said. "If your job defensively is to do X, Y, and Z… you have to do it. We didn't do those things and we just didn't do a good job with that and it's tough to swallow. They're a good team. They're good at rebounding. They brought their strength and we didn't stop them. I thought their offensive rebounding was what hurt us. We had good stops and good possessions, but when you shoot and miss and don't pick up the ball, it hurts you."
Vandy's free throw shooting was hot, hitting 10 of 12 in the second half for a total of 81.3% for the game compared to UT's 73.9%. Merideth Marsh was 5 of 6 in free throws, including two drilled in on a technical against UT's Shekinna Stricklen for hip-checking Jessica Mooney on an inbounds pass attempt.
Jence finished with 15 points while Tennessee's Angie Bjorklund, Alyssia Brewer and Glory Johnson hit 10 points each.
Vanderbilt's next game is Sunday's Pink Out to raise awareness of breast cancer on February 14. The rematch against Kentucky, winner over Vandy 63-53 in Lexington, is a 5 p.m. television game.