NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Taber Spani remembered only too well losing in Memorial Gym last season, and the senior made sure the Tennessee Lady Vols avoided a repeat performance.
Spani scored a career-high 24 points and Meighan Simmons added 23 as No. 9 Tennessee beat Vanderbilt 83-75 Thursday night for the Lady Vols' ninth straight victory.
"Well, I mean honestly you just want to come in and play your best against a great SEC team," Spani said. "Obviously, this is a great rivalry game. But we also have a lot of respect for Vanderbilt and what they're capable of doing and it's always a great environment."
Simmons said the Lady Vols wanted to send a message as well in this rivalry between SEC schools separated by 190 miles.
"We had to remind ourselves there's only one school in the state of Tennessee, and that's the University of Tennessee," Simmons said. "We wanted to prove that point tonight."
With No. 5 Kentucky losing to No. 18 South Carolina earlier in the night, Tennessee (16-3, 7-0) is the Southeastern Conference's last undefeated team in league play. Simmons said that's exactly where the Lady Vols expected to be. Coach Holly Warlick cautioned it's still very early this season.
"But yeah, it's great to be undefeated and be on top of the SEC," Warlick said. "But ... we're not satisfied absolutely."
The Lady Vols have won 11 straight SEC games dating back to last season and a loss here at Memorial Gym. They got a small measure of payback by beating Vanderbilt for the 25th time in 27 games in this series.
Bashaara Graves also had 16 points for Tennessee.
Vanderbilt (13-6, 3-3) lost for the first time at home this season and has lost three of four overall. The Commodores played without 6-foot-4 sophomore Clair Watkins, who tore her left anterior cruciate ligament in practice Wednesday. They still pulled down 21 offensive rebounds despite being outrebounded 46-43.
Christina Foggie led Vandy with 22 points before fouling out in the final minute, Tiffany Clarke had 19 and Kady Schrann 14.
The Commodores managed to tie the score twice, the second time at 41 after scoring the first 12 points of the second half. The Lady Vols answered with an 11-2 spurt capped by a drive by Simmons with 12:45 to go, and Vanderbilt couldn't get closer than five the rest of the way. Tennessee hit 14 of 15 at the line in the final 3:49 to seal the victory.