Lady Vols claim Top 10 road win over Kentucky
Tennessee (18-3, 8-0) overcame 22 turnovers against Kentucky (16-5, 5-3) and prevailed 73-72 behind the offense of Isabelle Harrison – she joined the 1,000-point club – and Cierra Burdick. The seniors combined for 35 points – 19 from Harrison and 16 from Burdick – and the Lady Vols needed each one. Senior Ariel Massengale helped lead the comeback with a stick of a three-pointer after rebounding her own long-range miss to knot the game at 60-60 with 5:42 left in the game. The Lady Vols had 13 turnovers in the first half – and trailed 31-25 – and added nine more in the second half. But Tennessee overcame the miscues down the stretch – the ball squirted loose just once in the final four minutes – and got three defensive stops in the final 30 seconds to finally cage the Wildcats. The box score was replete with superlatives from Bashaara Graves 5-5 mark from the line to Andraya Carter’s 35 minutes of play against a suffocating defense with zero turnovers. “It was two athletic teams that like to get after it,” Coach Holly Warlick said. The box score also will give Warlick and crew plenty to work on before Mississippi State arrives Sunday after Tennessee got nipped on the boards, 39-38, and allowed 19 offensive rebounds. And, of course, the aforementioned turnovers. “We had a lot of unforced turnovers,” Warlick said. “Those are things we can correct. They swarmed on defense, and we got too casual with the ball.” On the flip side, Kentucky turned loose of the ball 19 times, and Tennessee had eight steals, led by three thefts by Jaime Nared. The freshman has awakened in January and provided solid minutes on both sides of the ball. Her back-to-back baskets in the second half pulled Tennessee to within one, 45-44. “She got the ball and drove hard to the basket,” Warlick said. “I told her there is no turning back now.” Tennessee trailed at halftime after a soft finish to the second half. However, Warlick said the locker room tone stayed positive. “I think collectively how poised we were in the locker room,” Harrison said by way of explaining the comeback against a Kentucky team that was 10-0 at home this season before Thursday’s game at Memorial Coliseum. “That gave me confidence.” Harrison responded with 13 second-half points and completed the double-double with 10 boards. “She was huge,” Warlick said. “I thought she was outstanding.” Harrison and Graves withstood a game in which they were held, hacked and shoved in the paint. Graves added 11 points and seven boards. “She and Bashaara were solid,” Warlick said. “When they are on, we are tough to beat.” Both players also served as pressure relief in the backcourt when the guards got doubled by Kentucky. Graves and Harrison then found Carter, who singlehandedly steered the ball past the Wildcats. Carter also added eight points and three assists. She accounted for Tennessee’s second three-pointer of the game with a shot that found every inch of the rim and rolled in to pull Tennessee to within three points, 37-34. But the Lady Vols’ best offense was finding Harrison inside. She scored at the rim, around the rim and via a 15-footer on a pass from Carter. “I thought the guards settled down and got Izzy the ball,” Warlick said. Carter and Jordan Reynolds were critical in the closing seconds with Tennessee clinging to a one-point lead. Carter got a deflection to force Kentucky to work with less than four seconds, and Reynolds contested Makayla Epps’ shot to seal the win. The score was tied seven times and both teams led at six different times, with the Lady Vols holding the lead when the clock hit zero. “This is a tough place to play, and we will take it,” Warlick said. Epps led Kentucky with 23 points. The Wildcats shot 38.6 percent overall and connected on eight three-pointers with two coming in the final 100 seconds and trimming a slim lead by Tennessee. The Lady Vols shot 48.3 percent for the game – and 60 percent in the second half – by feeding the ball to Harrison. Burdick also repeatedly got to the rim and offensive glass, and her baskets were vital in wiping out a Kentucky lead late in the second half. The Lady Vols took the lead for good, 65-64, when Graves connected on a pair of free throws, and then held on for the win. The players were aware of the 250-game streak without a top 10 win on the road. That narrative now ends on television broadcasts. “It’s huge,” Harrison said. “I am proud of us.” The win also was gratifying for Kyra Elzy, a former Kentucky assistant coach who returned to her alma mater to join Warlick’s staff. “I heard Elzy screaming all game,” Harrison said. “She knows what Kentucky is going to do.” Warlick sounded elated on her post-game radio show and with good reason. Tennessee stays unbeaten in league play and proved it could overcome adversity on the road. “I love it that we won,” Warlick said. “Love it.” Game highlights from utsportstv
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