KNOXVILLE — Tennessee coach Holly Warlick finally encountered a school that has faced more injury problems than her own team.
Meighan Simmons scored 17 points and was one of five Tennessee players to reach double figures Sunday as the 12th-ranked Lady Volunteers defeated injury-riddled Vanderbilt 83-64 to clinch their 37th consecutive 20-win season.
Tennessee (20-5, 11-1 Southeastern Conference) hasn't failed to win at least 20 games since going 16-11 in 1975-76. This latest victory gave Tennessee a half-game lead in the SEC standings over No. 11 Texas A&M (20-5, 10-1), which hosts No. 9 Kentucky (22-3, 10-2) today.
"[Vanderbilt's] lost some key players, and I understand it because we have, too," Warlick said.
Tennessee lost guard Andraya Carter to a season-ending shoulder injury in December and is currently playing without starting center Isabelle Harrison, who underwent knee surgery last month. Vanderbilt (16-9, 6-6) is playing without three players projected as starters in the preseason.
The Commodores played a second straight game without 2011-12 SEC scoring leader Christina Foggie, who injured her right knee last weekend against Kentucky. Vanderbilt guard Kady Schrann missed her third consecutive game with an ankle injury. Vanderbilt has played the entire season without center Stephanie Holzer, who dislocated a knee in a preseason exhibition.
Vanderbilt got more bad news Sunday when starting forward Tiffany Clarke got sick at halftime and didn't play in the second half after scoring seven points and pulling down five rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
"I don't know what else could go wrong," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said.
Both teams wore different shades of pink uniforms Sunday in honor of Tennessee's annual "Live Pink, Bleed Orange" game to raise breast cancer awareness and support the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Warlick gave a special pink game ball to her sister, Marion Ferrill, who underwent a double mastectomy last fall. Ferrill's cancer now is in remission, and she has attended each of Tennessee's home games this season.
"To see her there, that's a survivor," Warlick said. "Absolutely, [was it] emotional? Yes. I gave her the ball and said she's my greatest hero. As we're battling a game, we're concerned about a game. That's a battle of life."
Vanderbilt's lack of depth eventually wore the Commodores down, though they made Tennessee work for the victory.
Ariel Massengale scored 14 points, Bashaara Graves had 13 points and Jasmine Jones and Taber Spani each added 12 points for Tennessee, which shot 55 percent (33 of 60) from the floor.
"It just shows we are a team and everybody does their role out there," Simmons said of the balanced scoring. "Everybody's capable of scoring in double digits. When everybody gets their chance to get out there and shine, that's when the team shines the most."
Jasmine Lister matched a career high with 24 points for Vanderbilt (16-9, 6-6), while freshmen Morgan Batey and Heather Bowe each added 10 points.
Vanderbilt has never beaten Tennessee at Knoxville in 28 attempts.
For most of the first half, Tennessee would build a lead, only to watch Vanderbilt close the gap.
Tennessee made six of its first eight shots to grab an early 14-5 advantage, but Vanderbilt tied the game by going on an 11-2 run. After Tennessee went on a 9-2 spurt to take a 25-18 lead, Vanderbilt cut the margin to two. Tennessee got the lead up to nine again at 33-24, but Vanderbilt got back within four.
Lister and Clarke kept Vanderbilt close, teaming up to score 18 points and shoot 7 of 14 in the first half while their teammates shot a combined 5 of 17 for 11 points. Lister stayed productive in the second half while Clarke's illness forced her to sit.
"As long as I went slow and read the defense, I could've gotten whatever I wanted," Lister said. "If they didn't close out soon enough, I could shoot. If they closed out, I could go to the basket, pump fake and get to the free-throw line, which pretty much just took reading the defense."
Tennessee pulled away by going on a 16-4 spurt midway through the game. The Lady Vols were clinging to a 33-29 lead before scoring the last six points of the first half. They opened the second half with a 10-4 run and led by double digits the rest of the way.
The Lady Vols led by as many as 20 points in the second half. Vanderbilt scored 10 straight points to cut the lead to 10 with 8:40 remaining, but the Commodores couldn't get the margin into single digits. With five freshmen playing more than 10 minutes each -- and three of them getting over 25 minutes -- the Commodores eventually ran out of gas.
"I think the effort's there," Balcomb said. "If you see them get tired, it's because they haven't played so many minutes, but they're really starting to figure it out."
Before the game, the Champions For A Cause foundation founded by Warlick and LSU coach Nikki Caldwell to fight breast cancer presented separate $15,000 checks to three organizations: The Kay Yow Cancer Fund, the UT Breast Health Outreach Program and the Brady James Foundation.
Breast cancer survivor and "Good Morning America" host Robin Roberts attended the game and sat next to former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt. Roberts left "Good Morning America" last year to undergo a bone marrow transplant to treat a rare blood disorder, but she is scheduled to return to the show Wednesday.