Russell's big day helps No. 7 Lady Vols outlast Vandy 86-73

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Mercedes Russell scored a career-high 33 points as No. 7 Tennessee came from behind in the second half to outlast Vanderbilt 86-73 on Sunday and remain unbeaten.

Vanderbilt (4-13, 0-3 SEC) has never beaten the Lady Vols (15-0, 3-0) at Knoxville in 33 attempts. Tennessee capitalized on its superior size to go on an 11-0 run midway through the second half and withstand an unexpected challenge from the Commodores.

Russell already had outscored her previous career high of 26 points by the end of the third quarter and ended up shooting 14 of 20 and pulling down eight rebounds. Cheridene Green shot 7 of 8 and scored 17 points - also a career high - and Jaime Nared added 15 points.

With no starters taller than 6-foot-2, Vanderbilt had no way of stopping the 6-6 Russell and the 6-3 Green whenever they got near the basket. Tennessee outrebounded Vanderbilt 42-28 and outscored the Commodores 23-6 in second-chance points.

Vanderbilt stayed close by shooting 10 of 20 from 3-point range. Cierra Walker scored 20 points and was 6 of 8 on 3-pointers. Christa Reed scored 16 points, Chelsie Hall had 15 and Erin Whalen added 10.

Tennessee is 15-0 for the fourth time in school history and is enjoying its fastest start since 2005-06, when the Lady Vols won their first 16 games and finished 31-5 with an NCAA regional final appearance. In the other two instances when the Lady Vols started 15-0, they had an undefeated national championship season in 1997-98 and reached the NCAA final in 1994-95.

The Lady Vols now enter the toughest part of their schedule. Tennessee is on the road for its next three games against No. 19 Texas A&M, No. 4 South Carolina and No. 2 Notre Dame before returning home to face No. 5 Mississippi State.

Vanderbilt entered the day struggling through its worst 16-game start in school history, but the Commodores gave Tennessee everything it could handle. Vanderbilt led 62-58 with a minute left in the third quarter before Tennessee's 11-0 run put the Lady Vols ahead for good.

Tennessee's spurt started with seven straight points in the final minute of the third quarter, including Meme Jackson's tiebreaking 3-pointer with less than 3 seconds left. Tennessee capped the run with layups from Russell and Green early in the fourth quarter.

Vanderbilt stayed close much of the fourth quarter and trailed only 73-68 when a Walker 3-point attempt bounced off the rim, her first miss after making six straight shots from beyond the arc. Tennessee then used a suffocating defense to score 10 straight points and put the game away as Vanderbilt committed a flurry of turnovers.

BIG PICTURE

Vanderbilt: Although the Commodores lost for the seventh time in their last eight games, this performance should give Vanderbilt some confidence that it can compete with the rest of the SEC. Vanderbilt's ability to stay close much of the way was particularly impressive since its leading scorer this season - Rachel Bell - managed just two points.

Tennessee: Green's performance off the bench is encouraging for a team that will likely need more contributions from the junior as it enters the meat of its SEC schedule, particularly if Russell encounters foul trouble. Tennessee needed Green to deliver Sunday because starting guards Evina Westbrook and Nared combined to shoot just 6 of 26.

NEXT UP

Vanderbilt hosts No. 15 Missouri on Thursday.

Tennessee is at No. 19 Texas A&M on Thursday.