This season has been a season of firsts for the Tennessee women’s basketball team. Back in January, it lost five conference games in a row for the first time in team history.
That skid was most of a six game losing slide the team went on, which tied the worst losing streak in program history. On Thursday, against Vanderbilt, the Lady Vols set another precedent.
For the first time in their history, they lost to the Commodores at home, suffering a 76-69 defeat.
Vanderbilt picked up just its seventh win of the year, and second win in the SEC. It was 0-33 when playing in Knoxville, before the win.
“Obviously I’m disappointed, for our team, for the staff, and for the fans,” head coach Holly Warlick said. “We just didn’t play well… We just didn’t get it done.”
Thursday night’s game had an inflated air of importance for two particular Lady Vols: Meme Jackson and Cheridene Green. For the two seniors, it was their last time playing in the confines of Thompson-Boling Arena.
Both have been instrumental in their careers at Tennessee, seeing a combined three NCAA Tournament appearances, and one Elite Eight run. Despite the loss, both players had respectable nights.
Before fouling out in the final quarter of play, Green had 20 points to lead both teams. She tacked on eight rebounds, falling just short of a double-double. It was her first time this season eclipsing the 20-point mark.
Though Jackson wasn’t an efficient scorer, with just eight points, she was active in other areas. She led the team in assists with five, and tied for the lead in steals, with four.
This wasn’t the way they wanted their careers to end at home, though.
“This loss, it hurts,” Jackson said. “We just have to get back to work and remained focus, and get back to playing Tennessee basketball. I thought today we were playing a little lackadaisical as a team.”
Tennessee’s entire strategy this season, on both the offensive and defensive ends, has been predicated on rebounding. It has been something the team has done well, too. Before the Vanderbilt game, the Lady Vols had outrebounded opponents in 24 out of 27 total games.
Seven of the last eight games held true to that trend- the Commodores shattered it.
“I think they know we’re a great offensive rebounding team,” Green said. “They just had more heart and more effort when they took to detail and boxing us out… We should have just fough back.”
Tennessee was held to a season-low 22 rebounds, including just six offensive boards. Vanderbilt had 34 total rebounds, with nine on the offensive side for 12 second chance points.
It was the worst rebounding margin for Tennessee since the loss to Stanford back in December.
Before Thursday, Tennessee was projected as a nine-seed in the NCAA Tournament, heading to Waco, Texas in the first round to play No. 8 Arizona State. That was without the loss to Vanderbilt.
Now, according to the most recent projections, the Lady Vols are out of the postseason picture.
Since the tournament’s inception in 1982, Tennessee is the only program in the entire nation that has not missed a single year. It boasts eight national championships and 18 appearances in the Final Four, a spot it hasn’t been in since 2008.
Now, with a guaranteed losing record in conference play for the first time in program history, that unprecedented streak is in serious jeopardy, unless the Lady Vols can make a deep run in the SEC Tournament.
Tennessee will hit the road for its final game of the season against the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford on Sunday, the other team that Vanderbilt was able to beat in conference play. The Rebels are 9-19 overall, with a 3-11 SEC Record.
Ole Miss is currently embroiled in a three-game losing streak, with Alabama on tap before it plays Tennessee. The Lady Vols are 45-8 all time against Ole Miss, only dropping one game in the past 23 years.
That single loss came back in January 2017, a 67-62 decision at Ole Miss.
“We have Ole Miss up next,” Jackson said. “We don’t need to overlook them. That’s our next game, so we take it game-by-game.”