By Ron Wynn
Vanderbilt University began the college basketball season with high expectations while the University of Tennessee faced a season of adjustment and change. But lately both have found things difficult, as they each lost close, hard fought games over the weekend to Louisville and Pittsburgh respectively.
The Commodores lost a second straight overtime game, this time falling to the Louisville Cardinals on the road 62-60. With all five starters returning, Vanderbilt had begun the season ranked in the Top 10. But the loss was their third of the young season (against five wins) and their ranking and reputation are now in question. They entered the game in the number 20 spot, but most likely will drop out of the Top 25, even though Louisville is undefeated (7-0) and ranked sixth. This was another game in the Big East/SEC challenge, one among several interconference tournaments initiated to generate more interest among college basketball fans in the pre-conference slate.
Instead it exposed a recurring problem during the first eight games for the Commodores: defense in key situations. Junior guard Peyton Silva hit a layup with one second remaining to seal the game, negating a superb effort by John Jenkins (27 points). He seemed unwilling to let his team lose in the overtime, hitting a three-pointer as it started and then giving Vandy a five-point lead at 55-50 with only 2:29 left. Unfortunately Vanderbilt couldn’t stop the Cardinals.
Chane Behanan’s three-poiknt play and subsequent two free throws helped cut Vandy’s lead to two at 57-55. A three-pointer from Kyle Kuric (15) put Louisville ahead 58-57 with 59 seconds remaining. Vandy’s Brad Tinsley only made one of two free throws, knotting things at 58. Kuric and Jenkins exchanged baskets, leaving the score tied at 60. A last-minute miss by Behanan sent the game into overtime, and set the stage for Silva’s heroics. The Commodores also have to be wondering how they lost a nine-point lead (43-34) with 8:34 remaining in regulation.
Vanderbilt got more bad news on the injury front. Already missing center Festus Ezeli with a sprained knee, the Commodores then lost the services of backup center Josh Henderson. He sustained a stress fracture in his left foot, and will be out 8-12 weeks. Jeffrey Taylor had 11 points for Vanderbilt, but missed a pair of free throws and a layup during Louisville’s run late second-half run. Lance Goulboure hit seven of 12 free throws and also had 11 points. They were the only other double figure scorers for Vanderbilt. The Commodores next two games are a road contest at Davidson Wednesday night and a Saturday night home match with Indiana State.
By contrast, UT was the team trying to fight their way back into a game against Pittsburgh. The unranked Volunteers cut an eight-point deficit down to two with four seconds left, but couldn’t catch a break on a jump ball call. The possession arrow was in Pittsburgh’s favor, and they promptly set up what ended as a three point play for John Johnson, wrapping a 61-56 victory over UT in Knoxville.
It hurt even more because Tennessee, after seeming totally out of things down eight with 54 seconds left, scrapped and hustled their way right back into contention. Trae Golden shook off a flagrant elbow from Ashton Gibbs and hit one of two free throws plus possession. Cameron Tatum’s layup reduced the margin to five. Golden sank a three-pointer around a pair of missed free throws making it 58-56. Pittsburgh missed another free throw, but then came the held ball. Pittsburgh took the ball out of bounds, then fired a pass downcourt to Johnson. He made the layup despite being hit by Skylar McBee, then hit the free throw.
“These are the types of games we’ve got to finish in order to become a good team and win big ballgames,” Tatum told the Associated Press. “That’s what good teams do, they win tight ballgames. Tatum had 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Golden and Maymon had 12 each. Golden also had six assists. UT (3-4) has now lost four of five after winning its first two games. Nasir Robinson had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Number 17 Pittsburgh (7-1). Gibbs had 16. Pittsburgh won the rebound battle 38-32.
“Obviously we want to win these ballgames,” UT head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I thought our guys really battled and really defended for the most part.” UT faces OVC foe Austin Peay Saturday in Nashville, then heads to Charleston for a game next Wednesday.
At least both Vanderbilt and UT’s nationally prominent women’s teams had easy times with overmatched squads. Vanderbilt’s Lady Commodores kept their unbeaten home mark intact Sunday with a 70-54 romp over a game High Point team that wouldn’t fade despite falling behind by 17 at halftime. Indeed there was some concern after Highpoint went on a 12-2 opening run in the second half, cutting the score to 34-27 with 16:37 remaining. Then Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb regrouped the crew, Stephanie Holzer got her own rebound and scored, and Vandy was back in charge. They forced 21 turnovers (although they also committed 20) and outrebounded High Point 37-35.
Christina Fogge had a career-high 26 points, making nine of 11 atempts from the field for a fourth straight game of 20 or more poiknts. Jasmine Lister added nine assists (also a career high). Tiffany Clarke had 14 points and nine rebounds.Cheyenne Parker had 19 points and 13 rebounds for High Point. But the Commodores held high scoring guard Erin Reynolds (coming off a 36 point effort that tied the school’s Division I scoring record) without any points on a zero for nine night.
Although Tennessee (4-2 and ranked eighth) was facing a solid team in Texas (number 21) they dispatched them with ease 73-57 Sunday in Knoxville. It marked the best game in several years for Vicki Baugh, the lone holdover from UT’s 2008 national championship team. She’s battled injuries the past two years, but against Texas she had 17 points and 11 rebounds, her second double-double of the season. Baugh hit eight of 10 shots from the field. She also had five offensive rebounds among her total.
Texas (5-2) did get within six in the second half, cutting the gap from 14 to 59-52. But Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen took care of things, fueling a 10-0 run that put the game out of reach. Stricklen was the game’s high scorer with20 points. Ariel Massengale and Meighan Simmons also had 10, while Johnson had 11 points and 10 rebounds. Ashleigh Fontenette had 22 points, becoming the 36th player in Texas history to reach the 1,000 point career mark. Chassidy Fussell added 14. The Lady Vols will be playing in New York at Madison Square Garden this weekend.
Longtime Lady Vols coach Pat Summit was named the Sports Illustrated 2011 Sportswoman of the Year this week. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski was named Sportsman of the Year. Summit has been at UT 38 years, while Zrzyzewski is in his 40th season. They join the late John Wooden and former North Carolina coach Dean Smith as the only college coaches to win this award.