By David Dawson
NASHVILLE -- For the second time in the span of four days, the Vanderbilt women followed the same script: They fell behind by double digits, staged a big comeback -- and ultimately came up short.
Hosting No. 25 Tennessee on Thursday night, the Commodores trimmed a 19-point third-quarter deficit down to six with roughing five minutes remaining in the game, but the Lady Vols pulled away down the stretch and handed Vanderbilt a 69-51 loss at Memorial Gym.
Jaime Norred scored a game-high 18 points for the Lady Vols (15-9, 6-5), who finished 0-of-12 from 3-point range but outscored Vanderbilt 42-20 in the paint. Rebekah Dahlman scored 13 points, Minta Spears had 11 and Jasmine Jenkins had 10 for Vanderbilt (15-9, 4-7).
It was the fourth straight loss for the Commodores, who erased a 22-point deficit against Arkansas on Monday night before losing on a buzzer-beater.
Against Tennessee, the Commodores trailed 43-24 at the 5:39 mark of the third quarter but put together a 22-9 run to slice the Lady Vols' lead to 52-46 with 5:32 remaining in the game. Tennessee, however, outscored Vanderbilt 17-5 the rest of the way to stretch its winning streak in the series to four games.
"By the time we cut (UT's lead) to six, I was exhausted, which means (the players) probably were, too," said head coach Melanie Balcomb. "We fought so hard to get back out there. But for (Marqu'es Webb) to get her fifth foul was pretty deflating for us because she was fresh, they (Tennessee) were tired, and we were going to go to her."
Webb fouled out with 3:04 to go. She finished with four points and a team-high seven rebounds.
For Tennessee, Diamond DeShields scored 12 points and pulled down nine rebounds, and Mercedes Russell had 11 points, eight boards and two blocked shots.
Vanderbilt's Christa Reed, who came into the game as VU's leading scored and ranked among the nation's top-10 in 3-point accuracy, finished just 1-of-9 from the floor.
The Commodores endured a cold-shooting first half, going 8-of-27 from the floor, including making only 3-of-15 attempts in the first quarter. Vanderbilt heated up in the second half -- going 10-of-20 -- but it wasn't enough to overcome Tennessee's lead.
"We can do better than we're doing; we're a better practice team than this," said Balcomb. "Everybody's all in, everybody's committed, they're unselfish. I think that's what's tough is I like this team, and I expect to win every game we go into. I'm as surprised as they are when we start games so poorly."
Tennessee took control of the game early by outscoring Vanderbilt 20-7 in the first quarter. The Lady Vols maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second quarter and carried a 33-19 lead into the half.
Tennessee built its largest lead of the night, 43-24, on a jumper by Russell with 5:39 to play in the third quarter. The Commodores then responded with their 22-9 surge -- which started with five straight points by Minta Spears and ended with back-to-back baskets by Jenkins -- to get within striking distance midway through the fourth quarter. But the comeback ultimately stalled, as Tennessee went on a 10-2 run to secure the win.
Vanderbilt host Kentucky on Sunday as the Commodores play the second game of a five-game stretch in which they are facing teams who are ranked in the AP Top-25.