NASHVILLE - A little more energy and few more personal contributions worked wonders for Tennessee on Sunday afternoon.
The result was an 81-68 SEC women's basketball victory over Vanderbilt with a lot of Lady Vols' fingerprints on it. For that reason, UT's 15th consecutive victory against its instate rival was bigger than usual.
"It's a huge win for us,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said. "I had no idea what we'd do for 40 minutes.
Unlike recent games, the Lady Vols made the most of their time on the court. They never trailed, maintaining their grip on a lead that reached double figures in both halves. There were a few wobbles, primarily the result of foul trouble and turnovers, but no meltdowns.
The Lady Vols (23-2, 9-1 SEC) didn't throttle down until the final three minutes. By then, they had built their lead to as much as 20 points and satisfied their fans in the announced crowd of 14,316 at Memorial Gymnasium.
"I'm going to have to give them the credit,'' Summitt said. "They spent time figuring out how they can get better. We did a lot of good things today."
Candace Parker did her usual, scoring a game-high 23 points for UT. Fellow starter Angie Bjorklund added 15.
Reserve forward Alex Fuller provided a fresh wrinkle with 14 points, her SEC season high. She shot 6-for-8 from the floor and also had three rebounds and two assists.
The Lady Vols topped 50-percent shooting from the floor for the first time in seven games, hitting at a 51.8-percent clip (29-for-56). They were 8-for-16 on 3 pointers. The accuracy covered for 19 turnovers.
UT also made an unusual devotion to zone defense pay off. Vanderbilt (19-7, 8-3) committed 24 turnovers, which played a part in sabotaging a rally to within one point with 13:58 left.
"We're a pretty good team,'' Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. "Tennessee made us look bad."
Tennessee was a better team for having a team meeting on Friday afternoon, the day after Thursday night's 78-62 loss to LSU. The players-only portion yielded a better sense of direction.
"It was kind of like a now-or-never meeting,'' Parker said. "We can't wait like we did last season and expect to win a national championship. We have to stop talking about it and start being about it."
Summitt conceded that at times like that the sound of teammates resonates like no other.
"Sometime the voice of player-to-player is so much more electrifying to what happens," she said.
Fuller took the theme home with her and spent more time relating it to herself.
"I took it to heart because I'm an upperclassman and a leader on this team,'' Fuller said. "If she's (Summitt) not getting from me what she wants, and I have Vicki (Baugh) and Angie and Sid (Smallbone) and Kelley (Cain) looking at me and wondering why I'm not doing my job."
On this day, Alberta Auguste and Baugh followed Fuller's lead, contributing useful minutes. Parker and starting center Nicky Anosike both sat out large chunks of the first half with foul trouble. And UT still managed with as many as three reserves playing at once.
The foul trouble was part of Summitt's explanation for playing so much zone defense. Another reason amounted to a nod of respect to Vanderbilt's halfcourt offense.
"Vanderbilt runs so many great offensive sets,'' she said. "They're hard to defend."
Balcomb said that the Commodores normally play well against a zone. This performance was a sloppy exception.
"We were throwing the ball away for no apparent reason against their zone,'' Balcomb said. "That really hurt us."
Conversely, the Commodores prospered from behind the 3-point line, hitting 10 of 20 attempts. Forward Christina Wirth, who scored a team-high 14 points, hit four treys.
Summitt could smile about this afterward. She joked with Bjorklund by saying, "She likes to shoot the three ball but she doesn't always see people that like to shoot it."
The Lady Vols overcame the sharpshooters' siege with larceny, recording 14 steals. Alexis Hornbuckle had six, moving to within three of tying Bridgette Gordon's career mark for steals (333).
Vanderbilt's chances took a big hit when Wirth picked up her fourth foul with 13:38 left. The foul occurred moments after her trey had pulled Vanderbilt to 51-50.
Tennessee responded to the pivotal moment by scoring 12 of the next 15 points.
The Lady Vols will drop from No. 1 today when the Associated Press weekly poll is released. Still that doesn't change the fact that on Sunday Tennessee looked more like Tennessee.