No. 3 Lady Vols pull away from Texas 75-61

Tennessee has played only one ranked team so far, but the

third-ranked Lady Vols still believe they’ve been tested plenty of

times this season.

It happened again Sunday.

Isabelle Harrison had 18 points and eight rebounds Sunday as

Tennessee rallied from its customary slow start for a 75-61 victory

over Texas. Although the Lady Vols (8-0) never trailed, they only

led 28-27 at intermission.

Tennessee has been tied or behind at halftime in three games

this season, yet won them all by at least nine points.

”I think in all the games we’ve played up to this point, there

have been times when our backs have been against the wall,”

Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale said.

Tennessee switched its lineup, giving 6-foot-6 freshman center

Mercedes Russell her first start and sophomore forward Jasmine

Jones her second career start.

Sophomore forward Bashaara Graves, who entered Sunday’s game

averaging 11.1 points and a team-high 9.0 rebounds, was held out of

the starting lineup for only the second time in 42 career games.

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said she made the changes because

Jones had a great week of practice and Graves didn’t perform as

well.

”I said, `Bashaara, I can’t start you,’ and she said she

understood,” Warlick said. ”It’s not a disciplinary thing.”

Graves finished with seven points and six rebounds in 23 minutes

off the bench. Massengale had 15 points and seven assists, Meighan

Simmons scored 13 points and Cierra Burdick had 10 for the Lady

Vols.

Tennessee improved to 8-0 for the first time since the 2009-10

season. The Lady Vols beat then-No. 12 North Carolina 81-65 on Nov.

11, but struggled in the first half before pulling away.

”They’re legit, there’s no question about it,” Texas coach

Karen Aston said. ”Watching a lot of film, they’re a legitimate

top-five team.”

Nneka Enemkpali led Texas (6-3) with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

All but two of her points came in the first half. Chassidy Fussell

added 12 points, despite shooting 1 of 10 from 3-point range.

Krystle Henderson had 11 points and Empress Davenport added

10.

This game was a contrast in styles between a Tennessee team that

likes to run and a Texas squad that prefers low scores. Tennessee

entered the day averaging 80.3 points, while Texas was allowing

49.5 points.

In the first half, Texas controlled the tempo.

After taking an 11-2 lead in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the

game, Tennessee struggled the rest of the first half. The Lady Vols

had a one-point lead at intermission mostly because Texas missed

open 3-point attempts. Texas was 1 of 7 on 3-pointers in the first

half and finished 4 of 20 from beyond the arc.

”I think we came into this game with nobody expecting us to

win,” Henderson said. ”We kind of had that chip on our shoulder

from the beginning.”

But once again, Tennessee came up big in the second half.

Massengale said Tennessee’s season-long penchant for playing better

in the second half helped players believe they could do it again

Sunday.

”It gives us a lot of confidence,” Massengale said. ”We need

to get off to better starts. We’re still trying to figure out

what’s going to make us go in the first half, but it’s a long

season and hopefully we figure that out soon.”

Texas trailed 35-34 with 15:20 remaining when Fussell missed a

3-pointer that would have given the Longhorns their first lead of

the game. But Tennessee went on a 9-0 run to build a double-digit

advantage. Massengale started the momentum shift with a driving

layup and assisted on baskets by Graves and Burdick in Tennessee’s

9-0 spurt.

Texas regrouped and cut Tennessee’s lead to 54-50 on Davenport’s

3-pointer with 8:32 remaining, but the Lady Vols scored the next 11

points to put the game away.

The game’s dominant player in the first half, Enemkpali scored

just two points in the second before fouling out with 2:58 left.

After fouling out, Enemkpali picked up a technical foul when she

tossed the ball in frustration and it landed on Burdick, who had

fallen to the floor on the play.

”It wasn’t (done) purposely,” Enemkpali said. ”It was the

wrong move on my part. It wasn’t a reflection on who I am as a

person or my program. It was just the wrong call.”