NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Melanie Balcomb wanted her Vanderbilt Commodores to push the ball inside offensively and focus on defending Taber Spani and Meighan Simmons of Tennessee.
They didn't follow the game plan well at all.
The Commodores outscored No. 9 Tennessee 38-32 in the paint and even grabbed 21 offensive rebounds, but they couldn't keep up with the Lady Vols' top scorers Thursday night in losing 83-75.
"Believe it or not, the game plan in the first half was the same as it was in the second half," Balcomb said. "We just didn't execute the game plan. Get the ball inside, get the ball to the rim. It all worked in the second half. The first half, we took too many outside shots, weren't aggressive and didn't attack enough."
That left Vanderbilt trailing 41-29 at halftime. The Commodores scored the first 12 points of the second half to tie up Tennessee at 41. But that was as close as they would get as the Lady Vols responded by scoring 11 of the next 13 points before hitting 14 of their final 15 free throws in the final 3:49 to seal the win.
"Just can't celebrate when we make a run," Vanderbilt junior guard Christina Foggie said.
Foggie led Vandy with 22 points before fouling out in the final minute, Tiffany Clarke had 19 and Kady Schrann 14.
Spani scored a career-high 24 points and Simmons added 23 as Tennessee (16-3, 7-0) won its ninth straight. The Lady Vols got a measure of payback for losing in Memorial Gym a year ago, their last SEC loss.
"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 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.