By David Dawson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The success of January hasn't spilled over into February for the Vanderbilt women. But they still have time to turn things around before March.
Hosting a ranked opponent for the second time in four days, the Commodores fell to No. 18/18 Kentucky 71-55 on Sunday during the annual Pink Out game at Memorial Gym. It was the fifth straight loss for Vanderbilt (15-10, 4-8), including three straight at home.
Alexis Jennings finished with game-highs of 18 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats (17-6, 6-6), who atoned for a loss to Vanderbilt on Jan. 28 in Lexington. Janee Thompson added 15 points for Kentucky, and Evelyn Akhator had 10 points and six rebounds.
Christa Reed finished with 17 for the Commodores, who reeled off four wins during a five-game stretch in late January but are still searching for their first win in February.
"I think that we have gotten away from who we are a little bit," said point guard Minta Spears. "We've talked about doing your role and playing as a team -- that was our identity throughout the whole season. In the past few weeks, we have gotten away from that."
Vanderbilt, which fell to No. 25 Tennessee on Thursday night, is still in prime position to make a move toward a postseason berth. The Commodores have four games remaining in the regular season, including three consecutive contests against ranked opponents -- Florida, Texas A&M and Mississippi State -- followed by the regular-season finale on the road against a Missouri team that has been ranked much of the season.
Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb acknowledged that it is a challenging stretch, but said that it just comes with the territory for a team in the SEC.
"First of all, I appreciate you noticing the strength of the schedule and what we’re dealing with right now," said Balcomb. "And we’re going to deal with it the rest of the time -- that’s part of being in the SEC. I think that a lot of the common denominator is figuring out who we can count on consistently on defense and who we can on offense. … We’ve become a very conservative team, and I’m not a conservative person."
As they've done in several recent games, the Commodores fell behind early against the Wildcats, who opened the game on a 10-2 run. Vanderbilt responded with a 15-6 surge, capped by Rebekah Dahlman's 3-pointer, to jump in front, 17-16, at the 6:57 mark of the second quarter. But Kentucky quickly regained the momentum, outscoring Vanderbilt 12-2 the remainder of the quarter to carry a 28-19 lead into the half.
The Wildcats extended their advantage to 14 points late in the third quarter and owned a 46-32 lead at the end of the period after Jennings scored in the paint just before the buzzer. Vanderbilt cut the deficit to eight points on two occasions in the fourth quarter, but Kentucky never allowed the Commodores to mount any prolonged scoring runs.
"We need to make sure that we are consistent with who we are," said Balcomb. "Early (this season), we were a great defensive team … We need to get back to that."
Kentucky, which came into the game as the SEC leader in 3-point accuracy at 36.7 percent, finished 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) from long range. But it was the Wildcats' work inside that made the biggest difference in the game. Kentucky collected 15 offensive rebounds, which enabled the Wildcats to extend their possessions throughout the afternoon. They finished with 22 more field goal attempts than Vanderbilt.
The Wildcats went 29-of-64 from the floor while Vanderbilt was 20-of-42, which matched the Commodores' season-low for attempts.
Reed went 5-of-11 from the floor, including 2-of-5 from 3-point range, to post her first double-digit scoring effort since Jan. 31. Spears added 10 points, and Marqu'es Webb and Dahlman had nine each.
Vanderbilt visits Florida on Thursday.