NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Coaching is never easy in Memorial Gym, not with the benches on the end lines. Pat Summitt couldn’t be happier at how her Tennessee Lady Vols responded Monday night.
Kelley Cain scored a career-high 19 points, and fifth-ranked Tennessee rallied and beat Vanderbilt 69-60 for the Lady Vols’ fifth straight victory.
Summitt said her Lady Vols (21-2, 9-1 Southeastern Conference) easily could have lost a second straight visit to Memorial Gym, something they’ve never done in consecutive seasons and not since 1985 and 1987 when the teams played only once a season. She was telling them not to lose this game when she noticed something.
“Right then, they started talking about what they needed to do. It wasn’t the coaches,” Summitt said. “It was the players. When they take the ownership, you’ll have better execution. Because it’s coming from them, and they want it.”
Angie Bjorklund credited Cain’s play and Shekinna Stricklen for speaking up.
“Once a teammate says we need to pick it up, it builds a lot more energy. It’s different coming from a teammate,” Bjorklund said.
The Lady Vols used their superior size to pound the Commodores inside and beat their instate rival for the 22nd time on their own floor after losing here 74-57 last season—just the seventh loss by Tennessee in this series.
“It’s a new year,” Cain said, who also had five blocked shots. “It’s not like we’re dwelling on last year. We’re concentrating on this year. We hate to lose to anybody, but we also learned you don’t lose to Vanderbilt.”
Vanderbilt (17-7, 6-5) saw its three-game winning streak end.
Bjorklund, Alyssia Brewer and Glory Johnson all finished with 10 points for Tennessee.
Merideth Marsh led Vanderbilt with 19 points. Jence Rhoads added 15, and Lauren Lueders 12.
Tennessee beat Vanderbilt 64-57 in Knoxville on Jan. 17, a game in which the Lady Vols managed only a one-rebound difference on the boards. On a snowy night in Nashville where about half the 6,005 fans wore orange, the Lady Vols took much better advantage of having 10 players 6-foot or taller compared to Vandy’s five such 6-footers and dominated 41-30.
“We let Bjorklund get open for two wide-open 3s down the stretch, you’re going to lose,” said Melanie Balcomb, who’s now 2-16 all-time against Tennessee. “You give away rebound after rebound … After they outrebounded us over and over, it was kind of like our sails went, ssssshh, down.”
In a meeting of the SEC’s top shooting teams, Tennessee also finished with a big edge there as well (44.6 percent to 37 percent) to overcome Vanderbilt’s 7-of-16 shooting from 3-point range.
“We have a confidence in ourselves this year,” Cain said. “If we get down, we have to take it one play at a time to get back in. … Leesy (Brewer) might be 2 inches shorter than I am, and we’re kind of built the same so it has to be a nightmare for people to guard two people 6-4.”
The score was tied six times in the first half, including at 28 at halftime.
Lueders hit a 3 from the right corner to open the second half and keep Vanderbilt ahead. The teams put on a sluggish and physical display, especially when Stricklen got a technical foul for giving a hip check to Jessica Mooney as the Vanderbilt guard came up to her as the Lady Vols tried to inbound the ball with 14:20 left.
Summitt said she’d never seen that called as a technical in her 36 seasons.
The Commodores led 47-40 when Rhoads scored on a layup, then Tiffany Clarke hit two free throws with 8:41 remaining.
Then Bjorklund, the SEC’s top 3-point shooter, finally got going.
She hit her first 3 with 8:27 left. Cain hit two free throws, then Alicia Manning scored on a layup, Bjorklund hit another long jumper. Cain blocked a shot, Manning got the rebound and then finished off the fast-break with a layup to give Tennessee the lead for good at 52-51 with 5:36 left—the Lady Vols’ first since 14-12.
Cain next stole the ball from Hannah Tuomi, and Manning had another layup. Vanderbilt stayed close, but Glory Johnson, who played only five minutes of the first half with two personal fouls, scored on a layup for her first field goal of the game. She also hit a jumper on the Lady Vols’ next trip down the court.
From there, the Lady Vols just put away the victory.
“I think we kind of gave it to them,” said Rhoads, who missed the game in Knoxville with a broken hand. “Bjorklund made some big shots at the end, but it’s mostly what we didn’t do and gave them the game.”