For the Tennessee women’s basketball team, the 2018-19 season has been about streaks.
Streaks that either hadn’t been seen in a long time and some streaks that had never been seen before in the illustrious program’s existence.
But all of those streaks have had one thing in common: none of them were good.
On Thursday night at Thompson-Boling Arena, Tennessee (17-12, 6-9 SEC) added to that laundry list of forgettable milestones by losing 76-69 to the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-21, 2-13 SEC).
The loss marked the first time ever that Vanderbilt had won in Knoxville, coming into the game 0-33 all-time.
The defeat did more than just deal a crippling blow to Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament chances. It was the last memory two seniors, Meme Jackson and Cheridene Green, will have on the ‘Summitt.’
“This loss, it hurts,” Jackson said. “We’ve just got to get back to work and remained focused and get back to playing Tennessee basketball. We had spurts where were playing hard and where we weren’t playing hard.”
The game was largely decided in the paint, where Tennessee was outscored by Vanderbilt 48-38 and out-rebounded 34-22, making it the first time this season that the Lady Vols had been out-rebounded by an unranked opponent.
“I’m disappointed for our team and for our staff and for the fans,” Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said. “We didn’t play well. We didn’t rebound, we didn’t make defense a priority. We just didn’t get it done.”
The first meeting between the two teams in Nashville back on Feb. 3 saw both squads struggle early and this time around started out similar, with Tennessee grinding their way to a 6-2 lead to open the game.
Vanderbilt would hit a three to pull within one, 6-5 before the Lady Vols would use another run to pull away from the Commodores to go up by six, 15-9, to end the first period.
Tennessee held a steady lead for the most of the second quarter, but Vanderbilt took advantage of the Lady Vols’ offensive struggles and were able to close the gap in the last minute and a half of action to go into the half trailing by just two at 25-27.
“We started missing shots and then we didn’t play defense,” Warlick said. “We were up by seven with a minute to go and then (Vanderbilt) cut it to two. I thought that stretch right there hurt us.”
The opening minutes of the second half saw Vanderbilt take its first lead of the game, even extending that lead by as much as four halfway through the third period.
Tennessee found themselves in need of a boost, and they got it from Green on a layup to tie the game, 41-41, with just over four minutes left in the quarter.
The basket by Green wasn’t enough for the Lady Vols to muster a run, however. Vanderbilt found an answer in the form of forward Mariella Fasoula. She seemed to emerge anytime Tennessee sniffed momentum.
Fasolula tallied 19 points on the night for the Commodores.
“We were finally able to get (Fasoula) going,” Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White said. “We were able to get her loose and get her the ball and move. She was able to finish. We were able to push the ball and get buckets while they were in transition.”
After a back-and-forth third quarter, Vanderbilt used a dominating run to open the final period of play, extending its lead to nine thanks to a 14-3 run.
Tennessee was able to make a dent, pulling within four, 57-61, with just under three minutes left, but shooting woes and foul trouble were too much for the Lady Vols to overcome in the homestretch.
Green, a London, England native, saved one of her best regular season performances for last, scoring a team-high 20 points along with eight rebounds, despite fouling out in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t think anyone would want to get fouled out, especially on senior night,” Green said. “I’ve been getting offensive (foul) calls throughout the season, but what I’ve learned is don’t allow that to make you play passive, just play my game and be smart with it. That’s what I did tonight.”
Tennessee travels to Oxford, Miss., on Sunday to face Ole Miss before SEC Tournament play in Greenville, S.C. next week.
In desperate need of a run in conference tournament play, an emotional Holly Warlick laid out what it will take for the Lady Vols to turn things around in March.
“You’re not going to win on just talent,” Warlick said. “You’re not going to win just because you’ve got ‘Tennessee’ across your chest. You’ve got to win because you have a passion and you have a will, and you have desire and you step up and say ‘dammit, I’m not going to lose.’
“That’s when you’re going to win.”