It was about moments, not minutes.
Vanderbilt did many of the things it wanted for minutes at a time Monday against Tennessee. When the critical moments arose, though, it was the No. 5 Lady Vols who rose up and ultimately rallied to a 69-60 victory before 6,005 at Memorial Gymnasium.
“This Vanderbilt team, defensively, put a lot of pressure on us and disrupted us at times,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “I thought in the second half, and especially in the last 10-12 minutes our focus was where it needed to be.
“… We didn’t give up. We did step up.”
The Commodores (17-7, 6-5) led for a stretch of 8:03 of the first half but gave up an 8-0 run capped by a pair of Alicia Manning free throws and went to halftime tied 28-28. Then they led for a stretch of more than 14 minutes in the second before four straight points by Manning, a sophomore forward, put the Lady Vols (21-2, 9-1) ahead to stay.
Any and all attempts to answer were foiled with other momentary lapses.
“When there were key situations, we didn’t execute the game plan well on either end of the floor,” VU coach Melanie Balcomb said. “That’s tough to swallow. … When they needed it, they brought their strength and we didn’t stop it.”
For example, Vanderbilt did not allow a 3-point basket for the first 31 minutes and 33 seconds.
When its lead grew to seven points — the largest of the second half — Angie Bjorklund, the SEC leader in 3-point percentage, made one and cut the Lady Vols’ deficit back to a manageable four. Once they fell behind, the Commodores managed to stay within one basket for nearly four minutes until Bjorklund’s next — and last — 3-pointer pushed the margin to six with 1:47 to play.
Vanderbilt held Tennessee’s second-leading scorer, Shekinna Stricklen, without a field goal for the entire 20 minutes of the second half. Yet three of her game-high five assists came in the closing moments after the Lady Vols had gone in front.
Glory Johnson, UT’s third-leading scorer, went nearly 36 minutes before she made a basket, but her first and second each came in the immediate moments after the Commodores closed to within one point.
“I think we kind of gave it to them,” Vanderbilt junior guard Jence Rhoads said. “Bjorklund hit a couple big shots at the end, but I think it’s mostly what we didn’t do that gave them the game.”
Vanderbilt got 19 points from its leading scorer, Merideth Marsh, who played all 40 minutes. Rhoads and Lauren Lueders added 15 and 12, respectively.
Bjorklund, Stricklen and Johnson all were held below their season scoring averages, but the Lady Vols got a career-high 19 points from Kelley Cain, who made eight of 10 field goal attempts, and eight from Manning, which matched her season-high.
“We know if we get down, we have to take it one play at a time to gradually get ourselves back in,” Cain said. “We never hung our heads low. We always kept it positive, and tht’s what got us through this game.”
In other words, they never doubted themselves for a moment.
• Summit said “never in my 36 years” had she seen a call similar to the technical whistled on Stricklen with 14:20 to play in the half. It happened as Vanderbilt attempted to inbound the ball and Stricklen made contact with Commodores’ guard Jessica Mooney, who attempted to get open.
“(The official) said (Stricklen) moved her hip as if she was moving into (Mooney),” Summitt said. “He said, ‘You can’t do that, so I called it.’ That was it.”
• Rhoads missed the first game against UT this season (a 64-57 loss on Jan. 17) with a broken left hand. She has played six straight since even though the hand has not completely healed.
“I’m doing better,” Rhoads said. “I’m actually going to get an X-ray (Tuesday). It is feeling a lot better.”
• Vanderbilt has held Tennessee to fewer than 70 points in three straight meetings and five of the last six. Prior to that the Lady Vols had 70 or more in 12 of 13 contests.