KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Redshirt senior Mercedes Russell paced No. 7 Tennessee with a career-high 33 points, as the seventh-ranked Lady Volunteers pulled away from Vanderbilt in the fourth period to secure an 86-73 victory Sunday afternoon in Thompson-Boling Arena.
With the win, the Lady Vols improved to 15-0, 3-0 in Southeastern Conference play, and won their 11th consecutive home game dating back to last season. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, fell to 4-13, 0-3 SEC.
Redshirt junior Cheridene Green also had a career day for the Big Orange, pouring in 17 points and grabbing five rebounds. Senior Jaime Nared chipped in 15 points, five rebounds and six steals as the Lady Vols remained unbeaten through their first 15 games for the fourth time in school history.
Vanderbilt was led in scoring by Cierra Walker, who went 6-of-8 from behind the three-point arc and finished the day with 20 points and six assists.Christa Reed (16), Chelsie Hall (15) and Erin Whalen (10) also scored in double figures for the Commodores, who dropped their third straight game and seventh in their last eight.
Russell proved to be too long, too strong and too determined to be contained, connecting on 14-of-20 shots from the field and five-of-six from the charity stripe to surpass her previous career best of 26, which she notched vs. Auburn on Jan. 19, 2017.
Green, meanwhile, exploded in the second half to finish 7-of-8 from the field. She had eight points in the fourth quarter alone. Behind the inside play of Russell and Green, the Lady Vols controlled the paint all day, possessing 42-28 and 56-26 advantages in rebounds and points in the paint, respectively. UT also worked on the offensive glass, pulling down 17 caroms that led to a 23-6 advantage in second-chance points.
The Lady Vols relied on their size advantage and physicality to jump to a quick 8-0 lead versus Vandy. After the hot start, VU was able to find an answer to Tennessee’s physical play, getting a pair of threes from Whalen. As a result, the teams exited the first quarter locked up at 16-all
Vanderbilt led through most of the first half of the second quarter, as the Commodores seemed unable to miss from behind the arc. The Lady Vols tied the game twice before a 10-0 run saw the home team seize momentum and take a 37-32 lead in to the locker room. The advantage was in large part due to a Herculean effort by Russell, scoring 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor.
In the third stanza, the teams exchanged the lead four times with Tennessee getting the better of it, entering the final period with a 65-62 lead. Down 62-61, Green drew a foul and gave Tennessee a chance to go on top. She hit the first shot to tie the game at 62-all, but the second rimmed out. Russell collected the rebound, which led to a Meme Jackson three-pointer to give UT a 65-62 lead as time expired. It was a lead the Lady Vols would not relinquish.
Tennessee turned the pressure up in the fourth period, as a successful press slowed down a Vanderbilt offense that was coming off the heels of a 30-point third period. Behind the support of the season’s biggest crowd (10,023), the Lady Volunteers forced eight turnovers that were quickly converted into points. A 10-0 Tennessee run starting with 5:59 remaining put the game out of reach.
Next Up: Tennessee will play the first of three consecutive road games against ranked opponents at No. 19/19 Texas A&M on Thursday. The game is scheduled to tip at 7 p.m. ET (6 CT) and will be televised on the SEC Network.
10+ Russell: Redshirt senior Mercedes Russell has scored ten or more points in all 15 games this season and on 74 occasions over the course of her career. Her career-best 33 points against Vandy marks the fourth time this season she’s scored more than 20 points, bringing her career total to 11 games with 20+ points.
Streaks Alive: With the win over Vanderbilt Tennessee extends its home winning streak to 11 games, dating back to the Feb. 19, 2017, win over Arkansas. The victory also keeps the Lady Vols’ record against Vandy in Thompson-Boling Arena perfect, extending the win streak to 33-0. Tennessee is 15-0 to start the season for just the fourth time in program history.
Big On The Boards: Tennessee out-rebounded Vanderbilt 42-28 and scored 56 points in the paint. Those numbers were a team effort with six players snagging at least five boards a piece.
Career Days: Russell posted a career-high 33 points against Vanderbilt, upending her previous high of 26 points (Auburn, 1/19/17). Cheridene Green upped her career high to 17 points, besting her previous high of 16 (Troy, 12/6/17).