NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Texas A&M coach Gary Blair has always enjoyed coming to Nashville.
On Saturday night, he ditched the game film, enjoyed a nice dinner and headed downtown to take in some country music. He was in a comfort zone. The same couldn't be said for his team come Sunday.
The 10th-ranked Aggies sputtered in their first trip to Memorial Gymnasium since 1996, losing to Vanderbilt 61-51. Texas A&M, the fifth-best shooting team in Division I, shot just 30.9 percent and loss for just the second time in 11 games.
"I was totally relaxed coming into this game," Blair said. "I like this town. It's just that we've never played well here. I won one time at Arkansas."
Blair last visited the oldest arena in the Southeastern Conference in 2003 when he was in his final year at Arkansas - also a loss.
Texas A&M (21-7, 11-3) didn't receive a warm SEC greeting, missing eight shots early and falling behind by 12 in the second half. The Aggies also struggled because the league's third-leading scorer and top rebounder, Kelsey Bone, never got into a groove. The 6-foot-4 center scored a team-high 17 points and matched her average with eight rebounds but she made just 6-of-18 shots.
The taller Texas A&M also got outworked on the boards despite 12 points and 10 rebounds from Kristi Bellock. Vanderbilt won the rebounding battle 41-36 and dominated inside. Texas A&M also had no answer for Tiffany Clarke, who scored a career-high 30 points.
The Aggies were also short-handed. Backup point guard Jordan Jones stayed in College Station, Texas due to disciplinary reasons. Therefore, freshman Adrienne Pratcher played all 40 minutes. She scored seven points and had six assists but also committed four turnovers.
"We didn't come out and play well on the offensive end," Pratcher said. "Defensively, we only turned them over 13 times. I think that wasn't enough if we wanted to come back into the game."
Vanderbilt (18-9, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) won consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 6. Clarke paved the way with 22 points after halftime. The senior made 12 shots out of 25 attempts - the most shots taken by a Vanderbilt player in eight years.
She carried the injured Commodores. Reigning SEC scoring champ Christina Foggie has missed the last four games and is one of four Vanderbilt players currently hurt.
"I just saw open looks," Clarke said. "It was executing our offense and getting the best shot, the open shot. Sometimes I guess that was me."
Most of the time it was her, especially late.
Texas A&M (21-7, 11-3) trailed by 12 twice early in the second half but pulled within 47-44 with 6:53 left. After a free throw by Clarke, Jasmine Lister pushed the lead back to seven with a 3-pointer. Lister later found Clarke for an open layup. Clarke followed with a turnaround jumper for a commanding 55-47 lead with 1:58 to go.
"She is tough when it is the toughest opponents," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. "Down the stretch in the SEC, she's done that now every season. And now she is just turning it up."
Vanderbilt led 25-20 at halftime but Texas A&M had a chance to cut into it before the break. Lister, however, forced Pratcher into a turnover with 7 seconds left to maintain the five-point advantage. The Commodores made their first five shots out of the break, including four from Clarke. Lister's 3-pointer off an offensive rebound lifted Vanderbilt to a 38-26 lead with 15:44 left.
"We take it by four minutes at a time and that gave us a big momentum shift going into the half," Brown said. "(Lister) had really good lockdown D and everyone was there to help her. We really stressed team defense and I think we did a great job."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)