Lady Vols fall to LSU in SEC opener

The Lady Vols overcame two technical fouls and a 16-point deficit with less than five minutes to play but came up short in the SEC opener against LSU on a night when Candace Parker's jersey was unfurled in the arena. Go inside with InsideTennessee for analysis and video coverage.

Tennessee (11-2, 0-1) fell to LSU (11-2, 1-0) in the conference opener for both before an energized crowd of 14,437 that was ecstatic about the return of Candace Parker for her jersey retirement, livid about the officiating, thrilled by the comeback and then ultimately disappointed when the Lady Vols fell short, 80-77.

Redshirt freshman Andraya Carter, playing in her first SEC game, had to loft the three to tie it with three seconds left, because Ariel Massengale was smothered, and while she got a good look, the shot didn't fall.

As the Lady Vols headed to the sideline, LSU sophomore Danielle Ballard, who is from Memphis, went to center court, put her finger to her lips and silenced the crowd.

Ballard, who led LSU with 25 points, said she always wanted to beat Tennessee. The Lady Vols struggled to contain her – 17 of her points came before the break – though Carter made matters harder for her in the second half.

"She put her team on her back in the first half and went out there and did what she needed to do for them and it cost us," Massengale said.

Massengale tallied 12 assists – one shy of her career high of 13 against Virginia earlier this season – and was a major factor in the comeback, as was Carter, Jasmine Jones, Isabelle Harrison, Cierra Burdick and a hobbled Bashaara Graves.

"I think that after all the chaos that was going on, we just pulled each other together and no matter what we just have to get stops, and really focus and not worry about anything else," Harrison said. "I think that during that stretch we did really well at coming together."

The chaos was back-to-back technical fouls – first on Meighan Simmons and then on Holly Warlick.

"Well, apparently Meighan had some body language that wasn't very good and I guess he didn't like what I said," Warlick said.

Simmons had picked up a third foul on a charging call with 9:58 to go in the game and Tennessee trailing by three, 58-55. The replay on the overhead scoreboard showed Simmons didn't make contact – though the LSU player snapped her head back to sell it – and Simmons held onto the ball and stared at the official, causing Massengale to get the ball and settle down Simmons.

That may have set the stage for the technical as Simmons was whistled for her fourth foul on a drive by Raigyne Moncrief, another questionable call but one called often now in games. Simmons wasn't overly demonstrative, but the technical came anyway. That was her fifth and sent the senior guard to the sideline with 4:57 left in the game.

Warlick erupted on the sideline, much to the crowd's delight, and was assessed a technical. That allowed LSU to shoot four free throws – Jeanne Kenney hit all four – and then Moncrief made one of two on the original foul to give LSU a 75-59 lead with less than five minutes to play.

Remarkably, Tennessee got back into the game behind the defense and board play of Jones and Carter and the offense and board play of Harrison.

The Lady Vols went on a 15-2 run in a little over two-and-a-half minutes. Harrison went to the line with 16 seconds to go and Tennessee trailing by two. She made one of two to pull the Lady Vols within one, 78-77.

"Maybe I just had too much thinking in my head," Harrison said of the missed second free throw. "I should have concentrated. It frustrates me, a lot."

After Moncrief hit two free throws for the 80-77 lead, Tennessee needed a three to tie it. Carter managed to loft a shot with a LSU defender on her, but the shot didn't fall. With Simmons disqualified, LSU knew Massengale would want the ball and the Lady Vols had just eight seconds to make a play.

"We wanted Ariel Massengale to get a three. She just didn't get a chance to get the ball," Warlick said. "I thought Andraya Carter got a good look. She has hit some big threes, but it just didn't go in."

Harrison tied her career high with 26 points – she also grabbed 10 boards – and hit clutch shots at the rim, from the paint and on the baseline to bring Tennessee back.

"She is a competitor," Warlick said.

Tennessee led at halftime, 44-40, despite being out-rebounded, 24-19, and letting Ballard repeatedly get to the paint. Simmons had 15 points by the break – she was 4-4 from the arc – while Harrison had reached double figures with 11.

Tennessee was without its most tenacious rebounder in Bashaara Graves, who logged just seven minutes before halftime because of what appeared to be a calf injury.

Graves played 10 minutes in the second half – and had a key stick-back with four minutes left to jump-start the rally – but she was clearly limited. She left with 1:51 remaining and didn't return.

"I didn't want to do anymore damage to her, but she is tough kid," Warlick said. "When she says she is hurt, she is hurt."

Graves' presence was missed, especially in a physical game with LSU.

"I'm used to having Bashaara in the game, having that physicality and if I miss and see Bashaara, I put it up and vice versa," Harrison said. "She is a huge aspect to our offense and defense. We don't have another strong post player like that, and when she got hurt it really affected us."

Freshman Mercedes Russell, who was playing in the first SEC game of her career, logged 22 minutes and tallied nine points on 4-7 shooting, including a nifty reverse layup, and four boards. Russell was 1-4 from the line after fixing her stroke from the stripe earlier in the season, but that can also be the effect of physical conference play on newcomers.

LSU was 81.5 percent from the line and hit 22-27. Tennessee was 71.9 percent and made 23-32. It wasn't so much that the Lady Vols missed but when they missed, especially the front end of one-and-ones.

The game began with Parker escorted to center court by Warlick, Pat Summitt and Athletics Director Dave Hart, as the crowd roared its approval for the return of the two-time national title winner.

It ended with Tennessee peeved over a loss because of defensive breakdowns, poor first-half rebounding, especially by Tennessee's guards, and LSU's rapid-fire start to the second half.

But this team has considerable fight and the ability to adjust. Ballard scored just eight second-half points. The Lady Vols out-rebounded LSU in the second half, 26-9, for a final tally on the glass of 47-33. They nearly erased a 16-point lead – coming one made free throw short – in four minutes and 21 seconds.

That was done with commitment to defense, with Jones and Carter providing the pressure on the ball.

"That's how we want to play, but we just were backing up (earlier on defense), and we didn't have enough defense until probably the last six minutes," Warlick said.

These are fixable issues – the defensive commitment must come early, the guards have to get on the glass, or at least box out so the posts aren't swarmed – and Tennessee can fix them. The Lady Vols will have to accelerate the learning process, as the second SEC game is on the road against Georgia on Sunday, and the Lady Bulldogs typically play well in Athens.

"We all contributed in being down early, and then we all contributed in getting back into the game," Warlick said. "It is a team sport. We have to learn from it.

"We have to turn around and play Georgia. We can't dwell on this too long. We will go back and watch the tape to see what we can do. We will get better."

VIDEO LINKS

Candace Parker ceremony from utsportstv

Game highlights from utsportstv

Coach Holly Warlick

Ariel Massengale, Isabelle Harrison

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell, Jeanne Kenney, Danielle Ballard


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