The one downside to being a high-octane offensive team is that you'll have some nights where the shots just don't fall; tonight was such a night for Tennessee. Shooting 40% from the field, the Ladies had their lowest scoring foray in a month (dating back to their 54 points against Baylor on December 14). Even more dubiously, they shot 10-32 from three point land, constantly lobbing bombs with less than stellar effect. Vanderbilt's zone held through most of the night as Cain was held to 4 points, and two of those from free throws.
It's a good thing that Tennessee has a defense to go with that offense.
As bad as Tennessee shot, Vanderbilt was worse. 33% from the floor and 28% from trey just won't get you the points you need against the Lady Vols. Playing primarily a man defense tonight, Tennessee kept constant pressure on Vanderbilt's ball handlers, forcing awkward shots and putting the Dores into an early and long slump. Vanderbilt could only scrape together 17 points in the first half to see a 12-point deficit to a team that just doesn't lose when playing with a lead.
After so many chainsaw games in conference play, an off night was due. Tonight was a perfect candidate, with ESPN's lights, a high-energy crowd, a close men's game, the short two-day turnaround from the Florida game, and a Vanderbilt squad that has always played the Ladies well. Both teams struggled to find breathing room on offense and saw a 5-5 tie after the first seven minutes of action. But Tennessee just had too many opportunities to get clean shots while Vanderbilt never could see the basket cleanly. After a quick flurry in the first half, Tennesse broke the tie with a 16-0 run and Vanderbilt could never fully recover.
By halftime, it appeared that the Vanderbilt offense had been run off its rails. When open looks did come, the Lady Dores often deferred to passing the ball rather than seizing the opportunity. Whether their game plan was designed to run the shot clock down or not, they were often forced into shooting with only a couple of seconds left on the possession. It was a tactic that might have worked against Tennessee last year when the team was known for getting absent-minded on defense; this year, the Ladies almost relish playing defense and used their energy and superior size to choke out the Vanderbilt offense.
On the other end, not all was sunshine and buttercups. Tennessee committed 15 turnovers with 10 of them coming from Vanderbilt steals. Most of the turnovers were completely avoidable had the Ladies kept their minds a little sharper and not been so risky. The interior offense was shut down for most of the game by a well-played zone defense that kept the ball on the perimeter. With Tennessee's snipers experiencing one of their less effective shooting nights, Vanderbilt could stay in the zone all game long.
This was a great win for the Lady Vols; after having so many blowouts, they had a chance to show their composure and churn out an ugly win on defense and rebounds (where they led Vanderbilt 50-31, and it should have been more imbalanced). They kept Hannah Tuomi silent throughout the night and never fell to her fouling traps. Other than a short-lived hot streak late in the game, Jence Rhoads was virtually nonexistent on offense, shooting 4-17 for the night and 2-4 from the free throw line; remarkably, these were the only free throws by Vanderbilt all night long.
Tennessee now gets an extra day of rest; as the rest of the SEC plays on Sunday, they will watch and wait for their road trip to South Carolina next Thursday. At 5-0 in conference play, the number of contenders for the regular season throne is rapidly diminishing.