NASHVILLE - Vanderbilt might have stumbled upon the perfect way to prepare for Tennessee.
The Commodores jazzed up their practice preparations for their most vexing SEC women's basketball rival, dressing their male practice players in all orange and piping in a "Rocky Top" musical backdrop.
The most telling move, though, was putting out a Tennessee doormat.
"So we could walk on it,'' senior guard Jennifer Risper said.
After a stroll on that mat, the Commodores walked all over Tennessee on Sunday afternoon. They ended a 16-game losing streak to the Lady Vols in resounding fashion, winning 74-58 before a crowd of 9,650 at Memorial Gymnasium.
"I guess I can finally smile,'' said Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb, who recorded her first coaching victory over UT in 15 tries.
No. 24 Vanderbilt (13-4, 2-0 SEC) crowded five scorers into double figures, led by Jessica Mooney's 15 points. The Commodores dominated nearly every aspect of play. The most telling numbers were a 40-30 edge in points from the foul lane and a 23-8 advantage in points off turnovers.
"We said, 'Outwork them, outwork them, outwork them' and we did that,'' Vanderbilt forward Christina Wirth said.
UT coach Pat Summitt agreed.
"I thought Vanderbilt was the better team from tipoff to the end,'' she said. "Their ability to take us off the dribble, we didn't have an answer. That was probably the most aggressive Vanderbilt team we've played here."
For No. 7 Tennessee (12-3, 1-1), the best response came from forward Alex Fuller. She had team highs in points (12) and rebounding (seven).
The senior also was a leader in terms of accountability, alluding to Tennessee's inconsistent play during its previous three games, particularly before halftime. Summitt referred to the trend as "living on the edge." Whatever it is, Fuller can't live with it.
"I haven't made it a good enough point to the rest of the team to stress how important all of these games are,'' Fuller said. "I'll take responsibility from here on out to make it known in practice and come game time."
Much like the game, Vanderbilt was way ahead of Tennessee in that regard, too. Balcomb reassessed her approach to this rivalry in the offseason and realized that it didn't match the game's magnitude. Hence, the unusual practice routine.
Balcomb used one of her favorite quotes to describe the motivation: "If you keep doing what you do. You'll keep getting what you get."
The most effective makeover, though, was reflected by the Commodores' ability to drive through Tennessee's defense and get to the basket. Mooney led the charge and her teammates followed.
"Taking people off the dribble and attacking,'' Balcomb said. "All of our attacking is what we haven't been able to do to them.
"That is because of our athleticism and our strength."
Tennessee was scrambling for a response from the outset. Summitt shuffled the starting lineup, replacing point guard Briana Bass with Alicia Manning.
"That came from a situation with Bri in a film session we had,'' said Summitt, who characterized the move as punitive and said it was for one game. "I don't think that affected what happened from a 40-minute standpoint."
If anything, the situation drew more attention to the disparity in guard play. The Commodores ended the first half with a 12-point scoring run for a 31-23 lead. Four of the six baskets were scored by Vanderbilt guards. Three were converted right at the rim.
Overall, Vandy's backcourt players accounted for 52 points.
"That was our first priority, to stop those drives,'' Fuller said. "Obviously we didn't do it. They drove on us I don't know how many times."
Tennessee's backcourt paled by comparison. Guards Angie Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen combined for nearly as many turnovers (eight) as points (11).
"We didn't defend from the guard position,'' Summitt said, "and we didn't score well."
The Lady Vols closed to 47-42 with 10:52 left but never appeared to match the Commodores' determination.
"We were all trying to encourage each other,'' said center Kelley Cain, who scored nine points. "It's one thing to say something, it's another to do it."
The Commodores led by as many as 21 points down the stretch. A final 3-pointer by Sydney Smallbone enabled UT to avoid its worst loss in the series.
"They were tougher than us in every aspect of the game,'' Summitt said. "I don't want to take anything away from Vanderbilt. I don't know why we didn't respond better."