NASHVILLE — Tennessee’s Kelley Cain blocked five shots against Vanderbilt on Monday night but one resounded above all the others.
When the Lady Vols 6-foot-6 center swatted away Gabby Smith’s driving shot, teammate Alicia Manning collected the rejection and took off the other way for a driving layup.
Just like that, Tennessee — which had trailed the entire second half — was leading by point. Just like that, an outcome that seemed destined for the loss column had been steered toward victory lane and a 69-60 SEC women’s basketball win over the Commodores before a crowd of 6,005 at Memorial Gymnasium.
“That gave us a lot of momentum,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said of the block. “I think it was big for us. I think it motivated the entire team.”
Manning’s basket gave UT and a 52-51 lead with 5:33 left, erasing the remnants of a Vanderbilt advantage that had reached seven points in the second half. The Lady Vols then closed with a 17-point finishing kick.
“We have a confidence about ourselves this year,’’ Cain said. “If we get down, we take it one play at a time. We never hung our heads low.”
Along with blocking shots, Cain also converted 8 of 10 field-goal attempts in scoring a team-high 19 points. She led four double-figure scorers for No. 5 Tennessee (21-2, 9-1 SEC). Angie Bjorklund, Glory Johnson and Alyssia Brewer scored 10 apiece.
The Lady Vols had a 41-30 rebounding advantage and shot 53.8 percent from the field (14-for-26) in the second half.
Merideth Marsh scored 19 for Vanderbilt (17-7, 6-5). Jence Rhoads scored 15 and Lauren Lueders had 12.
Tennessee started by hitting six of its first seven shots, opening a 12-7 lead.
After the Lady Vols’ opening act, Vanderbilt took charge. A 3-pointer by Lueders, one of seven by the Commodores, ignited a comeback. They regained the lead at 18-16 when freshman Elan Brown squeezed in a driving reverse layup over UT’s Brewer.
Tennessee’s play, meanwhile, dissolved into foul trouble and more backcourt upheaval. Johnson and Brewer both missed significant first half minutes with two fouls apiece. Johnson was limited to five minutes.
Freshman Kamiko Williams continued to struggle as the starting point guard. Three other Lady Vols manned the position before the break.
Vanderbilt’s lead grew to 28-20 after Jessica Mooney stripped the ball from Williams, sending Marsh off for a driving layup and free throw.
After a timeout, the Lady Vols climbed off the deck to score the final eight points of the half. Taber Spani and Manning each swished a pair of free throws and Shekinna Stricklen converted a jumper to beat the shot clock and save a wayward possession.
Johnson returned in the second half but not for long. She picked up her third foul inside the first three minutes of the second half and sat for five more minutes. Stricklen was hit with a technical foul after jostling with Mooney on an inbounds play with 14:20 left.
The Commodores had regained the lead with Lueders’ trey to open the half. They held their advantage and expanded it to 47-40 after two Tiffany Clarke free throws with 8:41 left.
But then Tennessee had the final resounding say.
“We could’ve lost this game,’’ Summitt said. “We didn’t give up. We stepped up late in the game.”
Tennessee resumes conference play at Ole Miss Thursday night.