NASHVILLE – Meighan Simmons and Taber Spani combined for 47 points, Tennessee’s guards went 10-for-10 at the line in the final minute and the No. 9 Lady Vols withstood Vanderbilt’s second-half surge to take an 83-75 win Thursday night at Memorial Gymnasium.
Spani scored 24 points and Simmons added 23 points a day before her birthday as Tennessee (15-3, 6-0 SEC) remained undefeated in conference play. Spani was big in the first half with 15 points and Simmons’ intensity helped squash Vandy’s second-half runs.
The Lady Vols enjoyed a 46-43 rebounding edge and had good production from their bigs. Bashaara Graves had 16 points and eight boards and Isabelle Harrison chipped in with eight points and nine rebounds.
Christina Foggie led Vanderbilt (13-6, 3-3 SEC) with 22 points but fouled out with 41.3 seconds left in the game. Tiffany Clarke had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Commodores.
In the final five minutes, Tennessee committed to working the paint to match the Commodores’ continued drives inside. Graves and Harrison combined for eight straight points before Spani, Simmons and Ariel Massengale made 10 straight free throws to ice the game. The Lady Vols would not let Vanderbilt draw any closer than five points the rest of the way.
Midway through the second half, UT and Vanderbilt played up-tempo basketball, exchanging mini scoring runs. One moment, Tennessee would have a 10-point lead; the next, Vandy would claw to within five points. With the Lady Vols up 61-56 at 8:24, Meighan Simmons drained two free throws and hit a mid-range jumper to answer a persistent Vandy attack.
Graves came up big early in the second half to help Tennessee shake off a cold streak of shooting. She corralled a high entry pass and made a layup to reestablish UT’s lead at 43-41 with 15:07 on the clock. Her positioning for a defensive rebound on Vandy’s next possession allowed UT to push the ball forward. Simmons made two free throws after getting fouled on a drive and swished home a trey two possessions later to push Tennessee’s lead to 48-41.
Vanderbilt stormed out of halftime with a 12-0 run. A pair of layups by Christina Foggie and a free throw and fastbreak score by Clarke pulled the Commodores to within 41-36 and a Tennessee timeout at 17:40. After the timeout, Clarke made another layup and Jasmine Lister hit a 3-pointer to knot the game at 41-41 with 16:09 left.
With 8:15 remaining in the first half, a 9-2 Vanderbilt run brought the Commodores to within six points at 27-21. A layup by Harrison launched a 14-8 Tennessee run to close out the half ahead, 41-29. Taber Spani scored nine of her 15-first half points in the final eight minutes, including a trey with 1:50 remaining to give UT a 15-point advantage.
UT’s defense stymied Vanderbilt to just 26.3 percent shooting before halftime (10-of-38). The Lady Vols shot 45.9 percent from the floor (17-of-37) and owned a 29-21 edge on the boards before the break. Spani led the team with 15 first-half points and was 3-of-4 from downtown. Simmons had 10 points, four boards and three assists and Graves and Harrison combined for 11 rebounds.
Tennessee never trailed in the game, but Vanderbilt remained close through the first four minutes of play. The Lady Vols led the Commodores, 7-6, at the 16:32 mark, but a 3-pointer by Simmons sparked an 18-8 run that gave UT a 25-14 advantage by the second media timeout.
The Lady Vols will return to Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday, Jan. 28, to host No. 2/3 Notre Dame at 7 p.m. The game is part of the ESPN Big Monday Presented by Bud Light and will be broadcast on ESPN2. Tennessee will honor Hall of Famer and Lady Vol Head Coach Emeritus Pat Summitt with a banner hoisted high above the basketball court that bears her name.