The Lady Vols’ road struggles continued with a 54-46 loss to Alabama on Thursday, the first loss in Tuscaloosa since 1984. Go inside for game analysis.
Tennessee (16-12, 7-8) crumbled underneath a barrage of missed shots to Alabama (14-14, 4-11).
The Lady Vols started the game 4-7 from the field and then went 2-22 with the misfires coming from all over the court over the next 15 minutes. Tennessee trailed 28-17 at halftime in a desultory effort after a promising opening.
Tennessee managed to take care of the ball with just 13 turnovers – though two miscues late after cutting the lead to five points stymied any chance of a comeback – but shot 26.1 percent (18-69) overall.
Bashaara Graves led Tennessee with 15 points and was joined in double digits by Jaime Nared with 13 points and Mercedes Russell with 10.
The shooting futility was all over the box score as Nared was 4-12 and Russell was 4-13. Diamond DeShields was 0-7, while Te’a Cooper and Jordan Reynolds both were 1-7.
Tennessee missed from the arc and point blank at the rim. As the misses piled up, so did the anxiety – and the Lady Vols’ body language showed a dejected team. The lack of floor leadership, an issue all season, was on full display at Foster Auditorium.
“Every little mistake that we make falls back on us, and we get antsy,” Graves said.
Graves, a senior who has poured all of her effort onto the court this season, deserves a better ending.
Mickey Dearstone asked coach Holly Warlick on the post-game radio show if the Lady Vols had quit.
“It would appear tonight we did,” Warlick said. “We didn’t fight until the second half.”
Tennessee trimmed the double-digit halftime deficit to six points, 31-25, but Alabama found enough offense to hold off the Lady Vols.
Tennessee managed to nip Alabama on the glass, 46-45, after getting out-rebounded 26-20 in the first half, and tallied 16 second-chance points to Alabama’s eight. The Crimson Tide shot 35 percent (18-51) overall and were led by Karyla Middlebrook with 13 points.
“Alabama was just better than us,” Warlick said.
The tendency of the Lady Vols to tighten up in close games has been a season-long issue. However, the team had practiced well leading up to the matchup, so the way the game unfolded was surprising. Andraya Carter hit a baseline jumper to open the game and Reynolds delivered a perfect bounce pass inside to Russell for a 14-11 lead.
But a 9-0 Alabama run put Tennessee on its heels, and it never recovered before the break.
“We couldn’t play out of it,” Warlick said. “It’s just a plethora of things.”
Alabama kept leaving the door open with ball security issues – the Crimson Tide had 19 turnovers – but the Lady Vols could not get closer than three points, 45-42, after Russell got to the rim in transition. That was followed by a foul by Nared, turnover by Cooper, foul by Cooper and charge by Carter, and Alabama sealed the win at the line.
The Lady Vols will close the regular season Sunday with “Senior Day” against Georgia.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Warlick said. “We’ve got to win Sunday. We’ve got to win games in the tournament.”