NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt knew the month of January would be a gauntlet.
That doesn’t mean when the calendar turns to February this weekend that the Commodores (12-9, 2-6 SEC) will relax.
“We just addressed it in the locker room. We have to respect everyone and fear no one,” Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White said. “We’ve had two letdowns this month with games we felt like we could have won. And we can’t do that. Now we’re healthier, but for our young kids, and I mean young kids being our freshmen and sophomores, understanding how you have to play every day in the SEC.”
Vandy is on a five-game losing streak after a 78-69 setback to No. 22 Tennessee on Thursday. That result completed a 2-6 month that saw the Commodores play four ranked opponents and two teams ranked inside the top 10.
White’s squad dropped three games in the month of January by an average of 35.6 points, but three others by an average of 11. It also had to wade rough waters without starting junior forward Autumn Newby.
“I think we’ve learned how to compete. And we’ve learned everyone in the SEC is a tough team and we’re going to have to come out and play 40 minutes,” Vanderbilt sophomore Jordyn Cambridge said. “Through these last couple games we’ve seen that we haven’t been playing our best for 40 minutes, so that’s what we need to do going into these next couple games.
“Coach White always says ‘respect everyone, fear no one’. So that’s going to be really big for us the next couple games.”
Newby, injured Jan. 12 against No. 1 South Carolina, returned Thursday to play 26 minutes, score six points and collect three rebounds. She also had two steals as she resumed her role as a prime emotional and defensive presence.
It was clear the Dores were a different team with Newby back in the lineup as they held a 46-44 lead with 3:48 left in the third quarter against Tennessee. The Lady Vols responded to control the remaining 13 1/2 minutes of the contest – that served as another reminder of the steps White’s team still has to make.
“In the SEC, when you’re playing top-25 teams, really night-in and night-out, you really can’t have lulls,” the Vandy head coach said. “We had an offensive lull in the second quarter and we had transition defensive lulls in the second half. Great teams take advantage of it.
“We’ve been through a gauntlet this month and I feel like we’re working our way back to getting healthy. So we have a really competitive team on the floor, now we got to work on becoming a consistent team on the floor.”
Vanderbilt now turns its attention to Auburn, a team it defeated 77-55 on Jan. 22. The Tigers (7-12, 1-7) are coming off back-to-back losses at Kentucky and at Mississippi State, respectively.
The Commodores won the season’s first meeting thanks, in part, to a 47-18 first half. But White reiterated her program is in no position to expect a similar result or overlook any program.
“You can’t look at an opponent and think we’re going to play up or down to whatever our perceived level of that opponent is. It’s a standard that we have to learn how to play to. That’s when you see good teams become great,” White said. “We’re committed to being a competitive team, committed to being a good team.
“When we start to have that consistent competitiveness and have that have that consistent mentality that we play every opponent the same way regardless of who it is, that’s when you’ll see us start to make bigger strides.”