Lady Vols secure win at Georgia

Tennessee evened its SEC record with an 85-70 win over Georgia in Athens behind stellar performances by Isabelle Harrison and Ariel Massengale and by withstanding a Lady Bulldogs comeback. Go inside for game analysis.

Tennessee (12-2, 1-1) got the "must win" – in the words of head coach Holly Warlick – over Georgia (12-3, 0-2) on Sunday in a game that encapsulated the rigors of the SEC.

Just three days after LSU blew all but one point of a 16-point lead in three minutes against Tennessee, Georgia wiped out a 28-point second-half lead by the Lady Vols with a 21-0 run.

Just like LSU, the Lady Vols held on and claimed a road win in the SEC.

"It's tough to win down here," said Warlick, who gave a shout-out to the fans in orange who made the trip to Stegeman Coliseum. "We get strong support here."

It was the week for winning on the road in the SEC. Florida went to Lexington and beat Kentucky on Sunday. If the first week is a harbinger of what is to come, it will be a battle for the top of the SEC.

Warlick watched her team start strong, take a 40-28 lead into halftime despite 13 turnovers and then lose most of a 28-point lead – 67-39 at the 11:45 mark of the second half to 76-70 with 1:12 to play. Still, she was pleased with her team, and she should be.

The Lady Vols closed with a 9-0 run – all from the free throw line – to secure the 85-70 win.

"The coaches said that we played with the most heart than we have in a long time," Ariel Massengale said.

Massengale was a major reason for that. She scored a career-high 28 points and was 10-10 from the stripe.

The junior point guard had just five points at halftime, but that was more due to Isabelle Harrison scoring 18 before the break. Assistant coach Jolette Law told Massengale to be ready, as the staff knew Georgia would counter to limit the Harrison's touches.

"Coach Law came up to me and told me to be aggressive," Massengale said. "I saw open gaps and went for it."

Indeed, she did. Massengale drained a jumper and a three-pointer to open her second half scoring and then got to the paint at will for layups and a perfect floater. Her highlight drive came while falling down, with the ball caroming off the glass and through the net for the and-one play.

"Well, I wanted the ball in her hands when the clock's running down, especially in the second half because they started keying on Izzy, obviously," Warlick said.

"She was a big-time player today. She made plays and was a playmaker. She got everybody where they needed to go. I wanted the ball in her hands and she did great things with it."

The game seemed basically over midway through the second half. Georgia was one-and-done on offense and when the Lady Bulldogs connected, Tennessee had a dagger answer, usually delivered by Massengale.

"They definitely took advantage of our mistakes in the second half," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "But I was really proud of them for most of the game because despite everything they never dragged their feet. They just fought the fight but struggled to make things happen at times."

The Lady Bulldogs made plenty of things happen during that 21-0 run, though part of the reason for it was the Lady Vols got away from doing the things that built the 28-point lead – taking care of the ball and selecting makeable shots.

After 13 first-half turnovers – overcome by 50 percent shooting and good defense – Tennessee had just one miscue for most of the second half. The Lady Vols tacked on six more during Georgia's run and compounded the issue with either quick or difficult shots.

However, Warlick and staff still have plenty to like starting with: 30-33 from the line (Massengale said the team has shot a lot of free throws in practice after returning from Christmas); 45.5 percent shooting overall and from the arc; 42-29 tally on boards in Tennessee's favor; and eight points from sometimes reluctant shooter Andraya Carter.

Carter can be a difference-maker for Tennessee – she already is on defense, as is Jasmine Jones – but she has to be offensive-minded, too, and she was in this game. Her leaping ability allows her to rebound among posts, and she did that, too, with five boards.

Meighan Simmons also got on the glass with five rebounds, and Tennessee needs that from its guards. The senior also reached double figures with 11 points.

Harrison ended with 18 points and 10 boards, as Massengale carried the offensive load in the second half. Tennessee has the ability to score from assorted spots on the court, and that will help in postseason.

Warlick saw enough Sunday to be happy with her team.

"Any win down here is a great win," Warlick said. "Proud of our players ... it was a must win for us."

While the Lady Vols are certainly making things more interesting than the coaches – not to mention the on-the-edge-of-their-seats fan base – would like, the team has shown the ability to not get rattled when things go awry. And that also can serve a team well in postseason.

However, there is a long time between now and March, and the SEC will present plenty of challenges. Ole Miss arrives in Knoxville this week for a Thursday evening game and gave Baylor all it could handle in Waco, Texas, on Dec. 18, before falling 87-80.

Massengale noticed a better approach to this game, in terms of film study, scouting and practice and described it as "business-like."

In the rugged SEC, that is the only approach.

VIDEO COVERAGE

Game highlights via utsportstv


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