NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb sprayed the student section with the ice water from her cup, then slapped high fives before finally heading off the court.
A win over Tennessee is something to celebrate no matter how much the Lady Vols might be struggling.
Tiffany Clarke scored 23 points, and the Vanderbilt Commodores upset No. 11 Tennessee 93-79 on Thursday night for their fifth straight win overall and a very rare victory over their in-state rival.
"It's a rival game, it's Vanderbilt against Tennessee," Balcomb said. "And it's about school pride, and you're still playing the orange. They're 11th in the nation. It's everything it's always been."
For the Commodores (19-5, 7-4 Southeastern Conference), this was their first win against Tennessee since Jan. 11, 2009, and they did it by scoring their most points ever against their rival. It was just Balcomb's second win in 23 games against Tennessee since coming to Vanderbilt.
Tennessee (17-7, 8-3) had won 23 of the last 24 in this rivalry and seven straight. The Lady Vols, who fell out of the top 10 on Monday, now have lost two of three.
Coach Pat Summitt spent most of the game watching from her seat either leaning forward with hands clasped or her legs crossed. She said the Lady Vols were very disappointed.
"I just didn't think we brought the energy early on, and we didn't sustain our runs. We didn't have a whole lot of runs to sustain. We brought the energy early on and we didn't sustain our runs. We didn't have a whole lot of runs to sustain ...," said Summitt on her postgame radio show. "Really just a big, big disappointment. Vanderbilt 93, Tennessee 79. That says everything."
Christina Foggie scored 22 points for Vanderbilt, and Stephanie Holzer added 19. Jasmine Lister had her first double-double with 19 points and a career-high 13 assists.
"We have an inside threat and an outside threat, and not very many teams can guard that," Lister said.
Tennessee sure couldn't.
"We weren't communicating, hands weren't high, we weren't contesting shots," Johnson said. "A lot of wide open 3- point that went in, and there was no one around. At a game like this, you've got to forget about the offense and focus on playing defense."
Glory Johnson led Tennessee with 19 points before fouling out with 5:59 left. Meighan Simmons had a team-high 20 points, and Shekinna Stricklen 17.
Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick was asked afterward if this was Summitt's last game at Memorial Gym. Summitt announced last August she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.
“I don’t think so,” Warlick said. “I mean Pat is coaching, she’s still coaching and she’s going to continue to coach. So I hope it’s not the last time, and I have not heard if it is or isn’t. She’s still the head coach of this basketball team.”
The Commodores outworked, outshot and simply outplayed Tennessee from start to finish. They shot 55.7 percent (39 of 70) compared to 45.9 percent (28 of 61) for Tennessee as they drove past the Lady Vols time and again for easy layups with plenty of room to hit jumpers. They also outrebounded the Lady Vols 41-27.
The result was Vanaderbilt’s highest scoring half in this series for a 42-34 halftime lead. The Commodores built that to 48-36 on a layup by Kady Schrann with 17:00 left in the second half when Tennessee finally put together its best stretch.
Johnson hit a jumper starting a 16-4 run. Stricklen, held to two points in the first half, hit a jumper and added a 3-pointer and another jumper. Taber Spani hit a pair of free throws, then Cierra Burdick tied it up at 52 with 12:33 left.
That was the Lady Vols’ first lead since 6-5 and finally gave the fans wearing orange something to cheer. It didn’t last because Vanderbilt didn’t wither.
Foggie hit back-to-back 3s putting Vanderbilt ahead to stay, and her 3-pointer with 8:43 left made it a 65-56 lead with 8:43 left. The Commodores just kept scoring from there and went up by as much as 14 down the stretch. That prompted the home fans to get very loud.
Balcomb called the environment the best she’s seen since she’s been at Vanderbilt.
“There was more black and gold than there’s ever been,” Balcomb said. “Marketing did a great job, and the students coming out means everything to this program and to the environment and the atmosphere. And I can tell you, if the students came to every game like that, we wouldn’t lose a game.”
Tennessee led only twice in a first half where the Lady Vols struggled and bounced off the Commodores at times. The Lady Vols took far too many jumpers, especially early that came up short. Only Johnson scoring 15 points with Simmons adding 13 kept them from being blown out early.