After two tough losses against ranked opponents in Texas A&M and South Carolina, Vanderbilt hosted in-state rival Tennessee on Sunday afternoon.
The Volunteers are no top-25 team; in fact, for the first time in recent memory, Vanderbilt’s eight players in uniform matched the shorthanded eight Tennessee players. However, despite the rather even matchup and a competitive first quarter, the Commodores fell to Tennessee 82-65.
“Our team certainly battled,” said head coach Stephanie White. “We have a small margin for error, and you can’t afford to give a good team like Tennessee the chance to score easy buckets off of offensive rebounds, turnovers, and at the foul line.”
Tennessee tried to catch the Commodores off-guard in the first quarter, running a full-court press on the defensive end. The Commodores, however, remained unfazed.
Vanderbilt’s consistent ball movement helped them find Mariella Fasoula under the basket just about every other possession. Fasoula got creative on the low block; from layups, to scoop shots off-the-glass, to short range jump shots, she amassed eight first-quarter points with ease.
The Commodores also played stellar on the defensive end throughout the first quarter of play. It was Fasoula, once again, who was keeping Vanderbilt within striking distance.
Fasoula racked up one steal and one block, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story. Time and time again, Tennessee lobbed entry passes onto the low block, but Fasoula wouldn’t give up her ground. She fought to defend on each possession and forced the Volunteers to play a largely perimeter offense.
The first quarter ended with the Commodores trailing just 16-10. It was anyone’s ballgame, and the only discrepancy in the box score was rebounding.
Vanderbilt was out-rebounded 17-10, but their primary rebounder, Fasoula, had her work cut out for her. As the primary rebounder and low block defender, she forfeited eight offensive rebounds to Tennessee, allowing them to extend possessions and capitalize.
“We’ve got to do a better job on the defensive boards,” White noted. “We can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes because good teams will make you pay. They’re one of the best rebounding teams in the league. They are a team that can just physically jump up and get it. We’re not going to out-jump any opponent we play in the SEC, or really any opponent all year long. We have to be better at boxing out, we’ve got to be better at pushing out, and then once we do that we’ve got to grab the rebound.”
The second quarter, however, was nothing like the first. Tennessee was extremely efficient on offense, while the Commodores could hardly string together a possession. Again, the Commodores kept fighting, and trailed by a manageable margin of 35-26 at halftime.
Recently, referees haven’t been too kind to the Commodores when they played Tennessee at Memorial. After the men’s team was given a tough game by the officials, the women’s team was awarded a chance to come back by those very referees. They called five fouls on the Volunteers in the first five minutes of the third quarter, and Vanderbilt was able to cut the Tennessee lead to just three.
Even after Tennessee hit a big three to cap off a 9-2 run in the third, Vanderbilt slowly clawed their way back into the game. They entered the fourth quarter trailing 53-49.
Throughout the fourth, Tennessee dealt with more foul trouble. The crowd, littered with Tennessee Orange, did not respond well to many of the unbiased foul calls, but it certainly gave Vanderbilt another chance.
As the fourth quarter progressed, Vanderbilt’s offense slowed down. Tennessee continued their consistent attack, but this time, Vanderbilt could not match their prowess. The Volunteers had pulled away with a sizeable lead, despite Fasoula’s 16 points and seven rebounds.
Vanderbilt fell victim to the Volunteers by a final score of 82-65.
The Commodores will have a week off before traveling to Missouri to take on the Tigers next Sunday.