Thursday, January 25, 2007

(4) Tennessee 67, (15) Vanderbilt 57

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee has found the perfect antidote to avoiding a post-Duke hangover: Remember March.

Sidney Spencer scored a career-high 26 points, and the fourth-ranked Lady Vols pulled out a 67-57 victory Thursday night against 15th-ranked Vanderbilt to bounce back from Monday's loss to top-ranked Duke.

They were motivated by the memory from last season when the Lady Vols followed up a loss at Duke by losing to unranked Kentucky in a game they think cost them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

"We knew our character was going to be determined this week, on Thursday, and how we bounced back from that loss. Everyone did a good job of being extra focused on this game and taking care of business," Spencer said.

Playing their instate rival before a crowd of 12,009 -- many wearing Tennessee orange -- helped.

"This game was huge for us and not just because of its significance in terms of the SEC," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "It was significant for us from a national standpoint, as well as in terms of keeping us in contention for a No. 1 seed."

Tennessee (18-2, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) handed the Commodores (17-3, 4-1) their first loss at home this season but the 12th straight in the series. The Lady Vols relied on their defense, forcing Vandy into a season-high 27 turnovers that Tennessee turned into 29 points.

"We turned the ball over, and that's what we had done all night," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. "Twenty-seven turnovers, you're not going to beat the No. 4 team in the country."

Vanderbilt didn't make it easy.

Senior forward Carla Thomas scored 10 of her 16 points in less than 4 minutes to rally Vandy, and she hit two free throws to give the Commodores their last lead at 48-47 with 3:41 left.

Shannon Bobbitt hit a 3 that put Tennessee back up to stay at 50-48. Meredith Marsh tried to pass to Thomas, but Candace Parker grabbed the loose ball, was fouled and hit both free throws. She added a three-point play to match the Lady Vols' biggest lead of the second half at 55-48.

"I have the most confidence in the world in Shannon and her ability to hit the 3," said Parker, who had been doubled before tossing the ball to Bobbitt for the go-ahead bucket. "I dished it out and she hit. It was a big play."

Parker finished with 19 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, and Alexis Hornbuckle scored 11 for Tennessee, which hit 15 of 17 free throws in the final 2:33.

Hornbuckle helped hold Caroline Williams, who had been averaging 12.9 points for Vandy, to six. Hornbuckle said she had been misquoted as being scared of Vandy.

"I wanted to come out here and send a message that basically I'm not scared of anything and that Tennessee is not scared of anything. I wanted to shut down the best shooter on the team," Hornbuckle said.

Tennessee has played Vandy more than any other opponent, and these teams have played home-and-home since the 1993-94 season. The Lady Vols now lead 48-6 -- 47-6 by Vandy's count in a rivalry where the schools can't agree on how many games that really count.

Balcomb said she felt bad for her players who haven't beaten Tennessee since February 2002.

"I think they're as frustrated as I am. You can't obviously ... deny that because we've been in situations, in a position to win and just haven't closed the deal," Balcomb said.

Vanderbilt hadn't had this many turnovers since a victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Nov. 19, 2005.

Senior point guard Dee Davis tied the Vanderbilt record for career assists with three for 673. But she had nine turnovers and took the blame for trying too hard to make a pretty pass instead of the easy one.

"The turnovers kind of like puts a shadow over it right now for me. It's good to have an opportunity to break it. Right now it's a little bittersweet," she said.

The Lady Vols almost matched Vandy in turnovers with a season-high 25. The Commodores dominated on the boards most of the game until Tennessee took over late and finished with a 31-27 edge.

Vandy led by as many as eight points in the first half, but took the lead only twice in the second half, each time by only a point. Thomas provided the bucket on each.

Tennessee took control in the first half after trailing 17-9 by taking better shots and starting to turn the Commodores over in a 12-0 spurt highlighted by a pair of 3s by Spencer. Hornbuckle's 3 -- her first points of the game -- put the Lady Vols up 24-17 with 4:25 to go in the first half.

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