Lady Vols claim SEC road win

The Lady Vols used a second half run to seize a 64-54 win over Alabama on the road and claim second place in the SEC to open the month of February. Go inside for game analysis and video coverage.

Tennessee (18-4, 7-2) fell behind by 15 points to Alabama (10-12, 3-6) but stayed poised on the road behind the steady hand of Andraya Carter, the offense and poise of Cierra Burdick and the passing of Isabelle Harrison to claim the 64-54 win in Tuscaloosa on Sunday.

The Crimson Tide opened the game by draining some deep threes and getting to the paint – precisely where assistant coach Dean Lockwood said in pregame that they should not go.

The Lady Vols, meanwhile, had Meighan Simmons sitting on the bench with two quick fouls and were going 1-7 from the arc while letting the ball squirt loose too often when they did have it.

Alabama extended its lead to 15 points, 26-11 with a little over five minutes left in the first half, but Burdick provided a mini-rally and got on the glass to pull the Lady Vols to within eight points at halftime, 26-18.

"Cierra Burdick allowed us to regroup," head coach Holly Warlick said.

Alabama opened the game shooting 70 percent, cooled off to 40 percent by halftime and plummeted to 26.7 percent in the second half.

Burdick knew the torrid start wouldn't continue for the Crimson Tide.

"We were confident as a whole," Burdick said. "There wasn't a doubt in my mind we were going to win this basketball game."

The Crimson Tide were content to go deep in the shot clock and slow down the pace of the Lady Vols, who got just four fast break points. But in the second half, those deep threes missed the mark for Alabama, and Tennessee, after tying the game four times, took the lead for good on a Burdick trey, 42-39, with 7:29 left.

That was followed by three balls from Simmons and Carter for a 48-39 lead with 6:12 left. With 3:14 left, Tennessee led by 16 points, 60-44, after an errant pass off the backboard ended up in the hands of Jasmine Jones, who stuck the jumper.

Warlick, who had just nine players for the game with Ariel Massengale still recovering from a blow to head suffered 10 days ago, tried to finish the game with reserves, but Alabama surged again, and the starters reentered with a minute to go and closed out the win.

Burdick led the Lady Vols with a career-high 21 points. She also grabbed 11 boards with two assists, two steals and just one turnover in 35 minutes of play.

"She came up with some big shots," Warlick said. "She is playing great basketball right now."

Simmons made up for her first-half absence with 11 second-half points. The senior also had a sweet assist to Carter for a layup as the starting five put on a second-half display of cohesive basketball and adherence to the game plan.

Harrison also had 11 points and more importantly, 11 rebounds and six assists. She connected twice with shooters, who drained the treys.

"They are great passing posts," Burdick said, referring to Harrison and Bashaara Graves. "We practice it every day. Guards relocate, and we put it in."

Burdick was 3-5 from long range and has raised her offensive game in the absence of fellow junior Massengale. She also has taken on leadership responsibilities.

"She gave us a little poise," Warlick said.

Tennessee won the game for five reasons:

One, Carter handled the point guard spot with four assists, three steals and just two turnovers in 37 minutes. She also added some offense with seven points and played stiff defense. Her tight trap with Burdick led to a turnover and Simmons' basket in the second half.

Two, Burdick elevated her play overall. With Massengale out and Tennessee getting post contributions from Mercedes Russell, Burdick logged most of her minutes on the perimeter and delivered.

Three, Simmons has found her comfort zone in her senior season. She is playing both with high energy and under control, not an easy balance to strike sometimes.

Four, Tennessee took control of the glass after falling behind 6-12 in that category. The Lady Vols prevailed, 41-32, with Burdick and Harrison accounting for 22 of them.

Five, Warlick adjusted the defense at halftime – the Lady Vols identified shooters much better – and stuck with the game plan on offense. Getting Simmons back for the second half helped with the latter a lot.

"We needed stops, and we got big stops," Warlick said. "They struggled to get good looks."

Alabama, now coached by Kristy Curry, has made some noise in the SEC this season. Alabama beat Kentucky, which beat LSU, which beat Tennessee. It's been that kind of season in the SEC.

South Carolina now has first place to itself at 8-1 since Texas A&M lost Sunday to Vanderbilt. Tennessee and A&M are both 7-2 with the Lady Vols claiming second place in the league. Florida, LSU and Vanderbilt are all 6-3.

The Lady Vols now have 40 consecutive wins over Alabama, though Sunday's was one they definitely had to seize.

"It's a great win on the road," Warlick said. "Any win on the road in the SEC is a good win. It's tough."

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