Sunday, February 17, 2008

(1) Tennessee 81, (25) Vanderbilt 68

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pat Summitt wanted to see how her Tennessee Lady Vols responded to an ugly, sloppy loss at home.

They snapped back into form pretty well.

Candace Parker scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and top-ranked Tennessee bounced back from a home loss with a 81-68 victory over No. 25 Vanderbilt on Sunday.

"If they play like they played today just in terms of the effort, we're going to win a lot of basketball games and we're going to be alive and well in the postseason," Summitt said. "But it has to be a habit. It can't be a one-game situation."

Tennessee (23-2, 9-1 Southeastern Conference), which beat Vanderbilt for the 15th straight time, risked slipping from first to third in the conference with a second straight loss. On Thursday, the Lady Vols lost to No. 7 LSU 78-62 at home.

Summitt followed that with a meeting Friday where the coaches talked followed by a players' only session.

"We said that we can't wait like we did last year until the postseason to turn it on and expect to win a national championship and basically we just said that we need to stop talking about it and be about it," Parker said of their meeting.

"Actions speak louder than words. We've talked all year about playing 40 minutes, and we've yet to do it."

They came pretty close Sunday.

The Lady Vols, expected to drop from No. 1 in Monday's new poll, hadn't lost consecutive games since 2006 when they lost to Duke and Kentucky.

It was never really close against Vanderbilt (19-7, 8-3), which snapped a six-game winning streak and has not beaten Tennessee since Feb. 16, 2002.

Angie Bjorklund added 15 points for Tennessee, and Alex Fuller had 14 off the bench.

Christina Wirth led Vanderbilt with 14 points, and Merideth Marsh had 11.

Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb credited Tennessee going to a zone defense with helping her Commodores to matching their season-high with 24 turnovers, a mark set Jan. 20 in their loss at Tennessee.

"Especially down the stretch when we were throwing the ball away for no apparent reason against their zone. That really hurt us," Balcomb said.

This was Tennessee's third game against a ranked opponent in seven days, a week that started with the controversial 59-58 win over No. 5 Rutgers on Monday and included a blown 19-point lead in that LSU rout Thursday.

They needed this kind of game and got it by leading throughout. Vandy managed only one tie -- at 2 -- and Lady Vols led 42-36 at halftime.

But Nicky Anosike picked up her fourth foul less than five minutes into the second half, and the Commodores scored 12 straight points capped by Wirth's 3 with 13:59 remaining to pull within 51-50 -- the closest they had been since that early tie.

Parker said they expected a run from Vanderbilt.

"I'm really happy with how we responded. We didn't just play down and let what happened at LSU happen again," she said.

Wirth picked up her fourth foul 11 seconds later and went to the bench. Tennessee answered with seven straight points in a 12-3 spurt, and Fuller's 3-pointer with 8:58 to go put the Lady Vols back up 63-53.

"They really dialed it up a bit," Summitt said of her team's response. "It hasn't always been the case, so I'm really proud for them."

They kept padding that lead to as much as 19 on a bucket by Parker with 4 minutes left at 78-59.

The Commodores are hoping for a rematch with Tennessee next month when they defend their league tournament title in games that will be played a couple miles away from their home court. But Wirth said they were disappointed with how they played Sunday.

"We should be. We didn't play well. We didn't do what we needed to do," Wirth said.

Tennessee opened the game outscoring Vandy 17-2, including 15 straight points. Bjorklund's 3 with 9:39 left put Tennessee up 22-8.

Tennessee got into foul trouble with Parker playing only 11 minutes and Anosike on the floor for seven. Summitt pulled both after they picked up their second fouls.

Vanderbilt took advantage. The Commodores had missed five of their first six shots and finally started settling down without the 6-foot-4 Parker and Anosike -- both taller than all but Vandy center Liz Sherwood -- in the middle.

The Commodores started turning Tennessee over and hit four straight shots, including three 3-pointers, to get back within single digits.

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