It's no secret that Vanderbilt hates Tennessee. What is often a big/little brother relationship has fueled the rivalry for a long time in many sports, as Tennessee holds major edges in football and women's basketball. Vanderbilt's distaste for Tennessee is often so pervasive that it seems that every waking moment is spent spitting at orange.
That obsessive hatred served Vanderbilt well. It's not often you see a team so finely tuned to an opponent. Vanderbilt had plays designed to break Tennessee's best defenses. They had defenses designed to break Tennessee's best offensive sets. They even had inbounds passes designed to exploit the holes in Tennessee's inbounds defense. It's a hard thing to do, but Vanderbilt's coaches have obviously spent many sleepless nights wondering how to break through Tennessee. It was obvious in the emotions of the game.
Tennessee wanted to win a game. Vanderbilt wanted to beat Tennessee.
It's hard to find fault with anything Vanderbilt did on the night. They simply had Tennessee scouted out, especially when Vanderbilt had the ball. Even when Tennessee found their shooting rhythm, Vanderbilt found ways to keep on scoring and prevent Tennessee from catching up.
In light of tonight's events, a few things will have to change:
Tennessee has to find their three-point threats again. Vanderbilt left the three open all night long. They defended the inbounds passes and focused on boxouts for the rebounds. It worked. Tennessee has to break that.
Tennessee can't play the same tendencies all game long. In Knoxville, Tennessee denied Vanderbilt's guards their favorite drive directions. Tonight, Vanderbilt's guards took the opposite drives. The posts blocked out to keep the guards open straight to the basket. Again and again and again.
Again, relax. They played tight. They struggled. It's officially a trend.
Stricklen. When she showed up, Tennessee dominated Vandy. Too bad she only really showed up for about 8 minutes. Where is this girl?
The thing to remember is that this game was easily the best game that Vandy played all year long. Much of the final scoring margin came when Tennessee knew they were beat and were just running the game out (much like the Notre Dame game). Sometimes you face a team that is just clicking on all cylinders, and Tennessee faced that. Still, Tennessee had a lead with about 12 minutes to go, and Vandy went on an amazing streak from there on out.
Ok, outside all that: with as much talent and as much success as Tennessee had last year, something is wrong with this team that we're missing. Is Summitt's condition affecting them this much? Whatever is going on, this is not the team that gave Baylor a good game. This isn't even the team that played listlessly against Virginia. These recent losses are an entirely different animal, and we're getting to the point of no return.