By Alex Brown
Coach Mark Campbell’s Lady Bulldogs have established themselves as the premier team in the NAIA, winning the last two national titles.
Entering 2010 as the top-ranked favorite, they got a chance to prove themselves against two of the SEC’s best.
Union traveled to Knoxville Sunday to take on Tennessee in an exhibition game, falling 86–53 to the No. 4 Lady Volunteers.
Tuesday they hit the road for another exhibition, challenging Vanderbilt in Nashville. The Lady Commodores, ranked No. 24 in the AP poll, dispatched Union 90–61.
Playing their third game in four days, Union saw an early 14–5 lead evaporate as Vanderbilt went on a 23–0 run.
The Lady Commodores set the tone from there, making 52.6 percent of their field goals and out-rebounding the Lady Bulldogs, 41–23.
The Union head coach offered a simple explanation for his team’s collapse.
“Heart,” Campbell said. “We didn’t have any tonight.”
He said part of the reason for his team’s lack of poise was the well-disguised defensive sets Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb put in place, contributing to Union’s 17 turnovers.
Union’s high scorer was senior guard Kayla Hudson, political science major, who scored 19 points and hit five 3-pointers. Center Zeinab Chan, senior history major and last year’s NAIA tournament MVP, scored 14 points before fouling out.
Lavanda Ross, junior social work major, had contributed stellar guard play in Union’s early-season games, but was limited to five points and sat out the second half with a nagging shin injury.
Vanderbilt freshman guard Christina Foggie led the Lady Commodores with 27 points.
While Union has set the benchmark in recent years for success in the NAIA, Coach Pat Summitt’s Tennessee program has held that distinction in the NCAA for decades. The Lady Volunteers showed why they are consistently one of the country’s top teams with an impressive performance at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The game was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of Union’s players, playing in front of 11,252 fans and beneath the eight NCAA national championship banners hanging in the rafters. Facing the legendary coach on the court that bears her name, the Lady Bulldogs acquitted themselves well, drawing praise from Summitt and their own head coach.
“They’re good,” Summitt said. “They’re so well-coached and disciplined, and they play so well together. I even caught myself watching them play.”
Campbell said he was delighted with the opportunity to take his team to Knoxville and proud of its performance.
“We appreciate that Tennessee allowed us to come up here and play,” Campbell said. “I was proud of my kids tonight. We pride ourselves in being able to play emotionally on the same level no matter what’s going on during the game, and I was proud that we competed the entire night.”
Union knew the Lady Vols would give them match-up problems that no amount of preparation could offset. Campbell said while watching tapes of the Lady Vols prior to the game, he realized “there’s nothing we can do.” He credited his team with its resilience.
“For the most part, we did a good job on the things that we could control,” Campbell said.
Union’s size inferiority allowed Tennessee to establish an edge on the boards, out-rebounding the visitors 49–23, including 20 offensive boards. The Lady Vols’ aggressive defense forced 19 turnovers.
Despite a poor shooting night overall, Union was on-target from behind the arc, shooting 9-for-19, an effort that impressed their hosts.
“We weren’t really expecting (Union) to shoot seven feet behind the 3-point line,” said junior forward Alicia Manning. “They can definitely shoot, and I give them my hand in that.”
Hudson led the Union scoring attack with 17 points, including five 3-pointers. Her only field goal inside the arc was a spinning, left-handed heave to beat the shot clock.
Hudson wasn’t the only Lady Bulldog to impress, as Ross chipped in 16 points and five assists, showing her athleticism with aggressive drives to the basket. Chan was held in-check offensively by Tennessee’s bigger post players, scoring only four points. She contributed four blocks and five rebounds on the defensive end.
Junior forward Glory Johnson led the Lady Vols with 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Manning poured in 13 points.