Perhaps Vanderbilt could learn a thing or two from Tennessee about how to come out of halftime.
The 25th-ranked Commodores committed fouls and turnovers early in the second half as the No. 6 Lady Volunteers pulled away for an 87-64 victory on Sunday.
“They came out more inspired and intense on defense and took away passes and shot the gap and got offense and got us to turn it over,” Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb said.
“We’ve been struggling all year; we have not come out inspired after halftime the first 4 minutes, and I thought we helped feed into that. We didn’t come out the way we should have.”
The Lady Vols were coming off a 61-60 loss at No. 9 Kentucky, their first Southeastern Conference loss in nearly two years and seemed to carry their disappointment into a back-and-forth first half against Vanderbilt.
With Tennessee up 39-36, coach Pat Summitt, who before the season announced she had early onset Alzheimer’s, reminded the Lady Vols about the pride of wearing their orange jerseys—especially when playing the in-state rival Commodores, whom they face at least twice every season.
Tennessee (13-4, 4-1) responded by turning it up on the court.
“If you question that Pat Summitt does not have an influence on this team, at halftime she had a major influence,” associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “She challenged them the way Pat Summitt challenges them. They were inspired when they left the locker room.”
On the offensive end, they fought to get the ball inside to Shekinna Stricklen, Glory Johnson and Vicki Baugh.
Vanderbilt struggled to guard the pair in the post, with Tiffany Clarke picking up her third and fourth fouls within the first 1:17 of the second half and Stephanie Holzer fouling out with 8:07 left.
Stricklen scored 16 of her team-leading 20 points in the second half. Johnson finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds and Baugh added 16 points.
Tennessee held a 45-43 lead when Stricklen hit a layup with 15:17 to go, launching a 16-2 run that put the game out of reach for the Commodores (14-3, 2-2). Stricklen’s basket came off an assist by Ariel Massengale, one of her 12 in the game.
Isabelle Harrison stole the ball from Vandy’s Christina Foggie, and Massengale hit a layup on the break to make it 61-45 with 10:26 to play.
Balcomb called a timeout to give the Commodores a chance to regroup, but all they could do was keep pace as the Lady Vols hit 55.6 percent of their second-half shots.
Foggie and Holzer were the only Commodores who didn’t seem bothered much by the Lady Vols’ smothering defense. Vandy hit just 40 percent of its shots after halftime.
Foggie, whose 17.3 points per game ranks second in the SEC, tied her career high of 27 points for a third time this season, and Holzer scored 14 points before fouling out.
“In the first half I hit a few 3s, and after halftime they were more up in my space. That’s when I became aggressive and attacked the basket and got fouled a few times,” Foggie said. “It was just an adjustment of how to score after halftime.”
Tennessee finished with a 39-30 rebounding advantage, 18 more points in the paint and 21 points off 24 Vanderbilt turnovers in what turned into a physical, scrappy game.
Stricklen, a preseason all-American who leads Tennessee in scoring, gave her team a scare when she hit the floor clutching her right knee and screaming after going for a rebound with 3 minutes left.
Warlick said it appeared Stricklen had a knee strain, but would be fully evaluated on Monday.
“All I remember is going up for the ball, and I don’t know,” Stricklen said. I hit my knee, and I came down wrong. I probably hyperextended it, but I really don’t know.”
Johnson left the game with 1:50 before halftime after Vandy’s Elan Brown landed on top of her while the two went for a loose ball. She held ice on top of her right eye, but returned to start the second half.
“I’ll spend the majority of tomorrow since we have an off day in the training room getting treatments,” Johnson said. “I’m hurting today, and I know I’m going to wake up feeling worse.”