In the past few years, several departments around Vanderbilt have joined forces to try to paint the gym black and gold instead of orange to provide the home team with a true home court advantage.
This year, the scheduling of ESPN College GameDay in Memorial Gym on Saturday morning prior to the Vanderbilt-Kentucky men's game on Saturday night, provided a unique promotional opportunity.
Students were able to secure priority seating for the Kentucky men's game on Saturday night by attending the Vanderbilt-Tennessee women's game on Thursday night, then attending GameDay on Saturday morning. Beginning at 2:00 p.m. Thursday afternoon, students began to line up.
By the time the gym opened at 6:30 p.m., a crowd of several hundred students were ready to get out of the cold and into the gym.
Last year for the first time, the Vanderbilt administration added a women's basketball game to the events associated with the annual Employee Celebration, and the highest profile game on the home schedule was selected. Once again this year, the Employee Celebration game featured the Lady Vols. This year, however, the university specified that fans would have to wear black and gold in order to pick up a ticket.
From 6:30 until game time, a steady stream of Vanderbilt employees filtered through the practice gym to pick up their tickets, then moved on to claim their seats.
In the first few minutes of the game, the lead see-sawed, but after the first media timeout, Vanderbilt began to take control. This layup by Jasmine Lister gave the 'Dores an 11-8 lead.
Christina Foggie's 3-pointer with 11:03 left in the first half, gave Vanderbilt a 22-15 lead.
A steal by Jordan Coleman, an assist from Lister, and a layup by Foggie gave the Dores an 8-point lead at 35-27 with 3:42 left in the first half.
Lister finished the game with 13 assists to go along with her 19 points to give her the first double double of her Vanderbilt career.
Stephanie Holzer scored 15 of her 19 points in the first half. She also grabbed nine rebounds and shot 9 for 13 from the field.
The duo "Quick Change" provided the half-time entertainment. The magic act changes costumes and props in the blink of an eye, leaving fans asking, HOW DID THEY DO THAT???
The 'Dores took a 42-32 half-time lead into the locker room and built a 12-point lead at 48-36 with 17:01 left in the game. But the Lady Vols fought back.
After a 3-pointer by Tennessee freshman Cierra Burdick tied the score at 52-52 with 12:33 remaining, a basket by Glory Johnson put the Lady Vols ahead 54-52, their first lead since the first few minutes of the game.
Long-time Vanderbilt fans were thinking, "I've seen this before," remembering seemingly countless games in which the 'Dores built a good lead, then lost it late in the game.
But this time, the team wrote a different ending to the story. After Tennessee took the lead, Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcolmb called time out. Then, after the timeout, Foggie hit a 3-pointer to put the 'Dores back on top for good.
The 3-pointer kicked off a 17-2 Vanderbilt run, fueled by the energy from the student section. The run included three 3-pointers from Foggie, to give the 'Dores a 13-point lead with 7:49 remaining in the game.
The 'Dores and their fans began to feel that victory was within reach, but there was still work to do.
When the dust settled, Vanderbilt had prevailed 93-79. "It feels good to have a team as happy as they are right now and that had the fight and the determintion after they lost the lead to turn it around," Coach Balcomb said in the post-game press conference. "I just enjoy watching them be so happy. I don't remember a Vanderbilt team that had so much fun playing so hard, and that's a good feeling."
With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 19-5 overall, 7-4 in the SEC. Next the 'Dores travel to Georgia for a Sunday afternoon game against the Lady Bulldogs. Next home game will be Thursday February 16 when Vanderbilt hosts the Florida Gators.