By David Dawson
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- In order to record their first-ever win in Knoxville, the Vanderbilt women knew they would need to execute on both ends of the floor Thursday night.
The Commodores, as it turned out, were only able to produce half of that formula.
Vanderbilt's defense, which is ranked among the best in the nation, delivered another gritty performance, but the Commodores struggled on offense for much of the night during a 58-49 loss to No. 18/22 Tennessee.
Rebekah Dahlman finished with a game-high 17 points for Vanderbilt (13-5, 2-3), and Marqu'es Webb pulled down a career-high 13 rebounds. Te'a Cooper led Tennessee with 13 points, including scoring nine straight points for the Lady Vols (12-6, 3-2) in the third quarter.
Vanderbilt was looking to end its 30-game losing streak on the Lady Vols' home floor -- and the Commodores appeared to have a golden chance to do it.
After staging a big fourth-quarter comeback, Vanderbilt trailed by three points in the final minute. But the Commodores came up empty on back-to-back possessions -- turning the ball over each time -- and the Lady Vols made six straight free throws in the final 15 seconds to escape with the win.
"I am really proud of the way we kept fighting tonight," said Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb. "We had two possessions to put ourselves in position to win the game, and even though we didn't execute, that's really all you can ask for on the road."
The loss snapped Vanderbilt's two-game winning streak, while the Lady Vols snapped a two-game skid.
Vanderbilt came into the night ranked 10th in the nation in field-goal percentage at 47.5 percent, but shot just 37 percent against the Lady Vols. The Commodores also committed 23 turnovers -- eight more than their season average.
But VU's defense made sure the game never got away. The Commodores limited Tennessee to 40 percent shooting from the floor, and Vanderbilt -- which entered the night ranked sixth in the nation in points allowed per game (51.1) -- also won the rebounding battle, 36-29.
"We're improving all the time," said Balcomb. "Their press effected us early in the game, and we started playing too fast. But we settled down and fought back."
Tennessee, which carried a 28-25 lead into the half, appeared to be pulling away in the third quarter, when Cooper's hot shooting helped the Lady Vols outscore Vanderbilt 16-7 and build a 44-32. The Lady Vols extended the lead to 47-34 early in the fourth quarter, but Vanderbilt didn't go away.
Fueled by a series of big shots by Dahlman, the Commodores put together a 15-5 run to pull within 52-49 with 1:42 to play. Dahlman scored seven points during the run -- including making her third 3 of the game -- and Webb eventually capped the surge with a basket in the paint with 1:42 to go.
The Commodores then had two chances to tie the game, but came up empty both times. Jasmine Jenkins was called for traveling with 57 seconds remaining, and Dahlman stepped on the sideline on Vanderbilt's next possession with 16 seconds left.
Tennessee's Andraya Carter converted two free throws to extend UT's lead to five points with 15 seconds left, and the Lady Vols held on from there.
Vanderbilt hosts Alabama on Monday night.