In front of a host of pink-clad fans, the Tennessee Lady Vols (20-5, 11-1 SEC) beat visiting Vanderbilt (16-9, 6-6) 83-64 Sunday evening at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"Any win is a great win for us," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "I thought we fought hard, we had a couple lapse, but we got the job done."
Beating Vanderbilt at home is nothing new for the Lady Vols, as they now have an all-time record of 28-0 versus the Commodores in Thompson-Boling Arena. What made Sunday evening's game unique is that it was the breast cancer awareness game, for which both Vanderbilt and the Lady Vols wore pink uniforms. It was the highest attended Lady Vols game of the year at 14,716 fans.
The game carried special meaning for Warlick as she presented her sister, a breast cancer survivor, with an autographed ball before the game.
"We're here raising awareness for breast cancer, and then when my sister had to battle that, it is difficult and to see her there and to see her, that's a survivor, I gave her a ball and said she's my greatest hero," said Warlick. "As we're battling a game, and we're concerned about a game, that is a battle of life. We're going to do all we can to find a cure. Awareness, research, whatever we have to do."
The Lady Vols built a 39-29 halftime lead and were paced by sophomore Ariel Massengale and freshman Jasmine Jones. Massengale and Jones had eight and 10 points respectively in the opening period.
Freshman Bashaara Graves and junior Meighan Simmons stepped up in the second half to carry the Lady Vols down the stretch. Graves scored 11 of her 13 in the closing period and Simmons scored 11 of her 17 points in that same frame.
Their efforts helped the Lady Vols maintain distance from the Commodores each time they made a run.
"Vanderbilt's always going to come into Knoxville and try to prove a point, we just had to come out there, play twice as hard and give it our all out there on the court," Simmons said.
The Lady Vols had a balanced scoring effort with five players reaching double-figures. In addition to Graves' and Simmons' efforts, Massengale (14), Jones (12) and Taber Spani (12) all scored in double-figures. As a team, the Lady Vols shot an impressive 55 percent from the field.
"We had balanced scoring and that's huge for us offensively," Warlick said.
Although the Lady Vols maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half, Warlick was not pleased with the Lady Vols' effort on the defensive end. The Commodores shot 44 percent for the game, including 50 percent shooting in the second half.
"I thought at times we got good stops and then we gave up easy drives to the basket. We got to keep getting better," Warlick said.
The Commodores' lone bright spot was the play of junior guard Jasmine Lister, who put up 24 points on 9-of-21 shooting, including going 5-of-11 from three point range.
"As I long as I went slow and read the defense I could have got whatever I wanted, if they didn't close out soon enough I could shoot, if they closed out I could go to the basket," Lister said.