Despite letting a 20-point, second-half lead nearly slip away, Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb wasn’t upset with her team.
No, her beef was with Kentucky.
Shortly after the 25th-ranked Commodores hung on for a 66-58 victory over Auburn on Thursday night, Balcomb turned her attention to the Wildcats. No. 9 Kentucky did Balcomb and her squad no favors by knocking off No. 6 Tennessee a few hours earlier.
Why does that matter?
Because the Lady Vols are Vanderbilt’s next opponent. The two square off Sunday (1 p.m., SEC Network) in Knoxville, where the Commodores are winless in 26 tries.
“They just lost. That never helps us. Thanks Kentucky,” Balcomb quipped. “That seems to happen a lot. I would just like to take a team up there that is young and goes for it. I think we have always felt a lot of pressure playing Tennessee, like that is something we really need to do and take care of.”
It was Auburn that turned up the pressure late on Thursday.
Twice Vanderbilt (14-2, 2-1 SEC) had 20-point leads in the second half but the Tigers (9-8, 1-3) did not relent.
A full-court press forced the Commodores into ill-timed turnovers – they committed 21 on the night – and Auburn drained two big 3-pointers. The second, by Blanche Alverson, cut the lead to five with 16 seconds left.
Vanderbilt escaped with three free throws (on four attempts) in the final 15 seconds.
“It wasn’t pretty,” guard Jasmine Lister said. “I feel like we weren’t as focused as we should have been. But we were smart, pulled the win out.”
Christina Foggie led the way, tying career-highs with 27 points and six 3-pointers. She scored 22 after halftime.
Tiffany Clarke made her first start in place of Kady Schrann, who injured her ankle in practice Wednesday and played 22 off the bench. Clarke finished with 12 points – all but two in the first half. Lister added 11 points and five assists.
Vanderbilt will have to avoid the lapses if it wants to end its Knoxville skid and beat Tennessee (12-4, 3-1) anywhere for the first time in three years.
“There is not anybody in the state of Tennessee or in the nation that is going to expect us to win that game,” Balcomb said. “Those are the games you come to play. Those are the games you go to play college basketball for – to play the big games, on the road, in front of a big crowd. I just hope our kids go there with the attitude that it is possible.”