The Lady Vols fell in double overtime against Georgia, ending a thrilling week on a sour note. Tennessee will return home – and finally play back-to-back SEC games in Knoxville – and faces a dogfight to claim a spot among the top four teams in the league.
Tennessee (15-8, 6-4) trailed Georgia (12-11, 4-6) for much of the game, which ultimately wasn’t settled until Jordan Reynolds had a three rattle in and out at the buzzer of the second overtime.
The Lady Vols were buried beneath 24 turnovers – including one in the final play in regulation – and the majority were of the unforced variety.
“I’m part of that problem. I had 10,” said a disconsolate Diamond DeShields. “Trying to create, making a pass that’s not there. I was most of the problem.”
DeShields also tallied 34 points in 47 minutes in her third game of the week. While neither Coach Holly Warlick nor DeShields offered excuses – quite the opposite actually as both took the team to task for uneven effort – fatigue was a factor in Athens.
Both teams started 1-6 from the field, but Georgia took a 7-2 lead midway through the first quarter. The Lady Vols opened the game as if they were wading through quicksand. Tennessee managed to trail by just three points, 27-24, at halftime thanks to 20 combined points by DeShields (12) and Mercedes Russell (eight).
The Lady Vols’ shot just 32 percent in the first 20 minutes and turned loose of the ball nine times. The somnambulant pace suited Georgia, which shot 35.5 percent in the first half. Tennessee, which managed to tie the game at 24-24 after a pair of free throws by Russell, was a perfect 8-8 from the line.
Jaime Nared, who went the distance this week against South Carolina and LSU, spent the final eight minutes of the first half on the bench with two fouls. Nared’s two first-half points came from the line. Nared, who has been a go-to player for Tennessee, fouled out in the first overtime and tallied just five points. She missed a free throw near the end of regulation.
“It’s not fair to put Jaime in that position,” Warlick said. “It should not come down to that.”
Tennessee managed to build a six-point lead, 56-50, in the fourth quarter, but turnovers and missed boxouts wiped it out.
“We shouldn’t have been in this situation,” DeShields said. “The game should have been over in regulation.”
Russell posted a double-double with 24 points and 17 rebounds. She also logged 49 minutes, a rather unprecedented stat line for a 6-6 post who has to run end to end. Reynolds, who had seven assists, went the distance at 50 minutes.
While fatigue could have been a factor, Warlick – and DeShields – looked inward for answers.
“I thought we had them ready for this game, and I guess we didn’t,” Warlick said. “We’ve got to get better. This wasn’t a good loss for us. We needed to take care of business, and we didn’t.”
“Effort, really,” said DeShields, by way of explaining the difference in the game. “Missing boxouts, that’s effort. Getting beat on defense, that’s effort.”
Tennessee shot 42.3 percent (30-71) overall, 21.4 percent (3-14) from the arc and 83.3 percent (15-18) from the line. The Lady Vols had 14 assists, eight steals and three blocks. Alexa Middleton added seven points, including two of Tennessee’s three 3-pointers.
Georgia shot 45.9 percent (34-74) overall, 29.4 percent (5-17) from the arc with two connecting in the second overtime and 50 percent (8-16) from the line. The Lady Bulldogs had 21 assists, 20 turnovers, 13 steals and five blocks.
Caliya Robinson led Georgia with 28 points, while Mackenzie Engram added 18. Pachis Roberts notched 17 points – with three long balls – while Shanea Armbrister added 11 points.
“I think when four scorers get double figures then we’re really hard to guard,” Georgia Coach Joni Taylor said. “This league is tough. We have to show up to every game ready to go. If you execute and follow the game plan, then you’re going to have a chance to win. I am so happy for this team. The girls are learning still and they had some bumps early, but we’re not done yet.”
Tennessee nipped Georgia on the glass, 42-41, but it was the timing of the Lady Bulldogs’ boards, especially on the offensive end, that snuffed out a Lady Vol victory.
“They got critical rebounds that kind of broke our back,” Warlick said. “We were very casual, and Georgia came to play. They outworked us. They out-hustled us. Hats off to them. They played a heck of a game.”
Tennessee will host Missouri and Texas A&M this week – two must-win games if the Lady Vols want to claim a bye in the SEC tourney – and try to shake off a disappointing end to a stellar week.
“This isn’t us,” DeShields said. “We’ve still got a lot of basketball. We just need to be who we are. Be Tennessee.”