CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) Chattanooga’s Jim Foster – a Hall of Fame coach and wine aficionado – watched his team deliver a vintage performance on the eve of Thanksgiving.
Freshman guard Keiana Gilbert scored a career-high 27 points and made a critical block in the last minute Wednesday night as Chattanooga stunned No. 4 Tennessee 67-63 despite squandering a 17-point lead.
”I think it’s going be an Opus night,” Foster quipped. ”That’s a fine cabernet.”
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The score was tied 63-all in the final minute when Tennessee’s Andraya Carter made a midcourt steal and drove to the basket, but Gilbert blocked the shot and Chattanooga’s Alicia Payne got the rebound and was fouled. Payne made one of two free throws to put Chattanooga ahead for good with 53 seconds left.
Gilbert, a 5-foot-11 freshman guard/forward, had been averaging 11.2 points per game.
”You have to go out there and just act like Tennessee was just any other team,” Gilbert said.
Jasmine Jones scored a career-high 19 points for the Lady Vols, which rallied from a 17-point deficit. But she also missed two shots in the final 22 seconds that would have tied the game or put Tennessee ahead. Jones had sat out Tennessee’s last three games with a mild concussion.
Tennessee has a recent history of struggles at Chattanooga’s McKenzie Arena.
Chattanooga stunned Tennessee 80-71 two seasons ago to spoil the head coaching debut of Tennessee’s Holly Warlick in a game that ushered in the Lady Vols’ post-Pat Summitt era. Tennessee also trailed by eight points with just over eight minutes left before winning 66-63 at Chattanooga on Nov. 21, 2008.
”I thought our offense affected our defense,” Warlick said. ”We missed layup after layup after layup after layup. We decided not to defend anybody.”
Foster warned his players not to be awed by a Tennessee team that had won its first four games by an average margin of 45.3 points.
”Coach was telling us we could beat this team, they’re an average team,” Chattanooga forward Destiny Bramblett said.
Foster said he didn’t quite put it that way.
”What I said was if you made them play defense for 20-25 seconds, you can make them average because their athleticism and the way they jump people causes a lot of problems,” Foster said. ”You have to stand up to that.”
Chattanooga (4-2) built a 37-21 halftime lead that matched the eighth-highest halftime deficit the Lady Vols had ever faced. The Lady Vols chipped away and finally tied the game 57-all on Jones’ putback with 4:31 remaining. The game was still tied at 63 in the final minute when Gilbert’s block led to Payne’s go-ahead free throw.
Jones took a potential go-ahead shot that hit the backboard and front rim with 22 seconds left. Chattanooga’s Jasmine Joyner made one of two free throws to make it 65-63, then Jones missed a shot from the left elbow with five seconds remaining.
Ka’Vonne Towns made two game-clinching free throws with three seconds left.
Tennessee: The Lady Vols entered the night having forced at least 30 turnovers in three straight games, the first time that’s happened in school history. Chattanooga had 17 turnovers Friday.
Chattanooga: Towns and Payne are the only remaining Mocs who played for Chattanooga in the victory over Tennessee two seasons ago.
Tennessee: At No. 6 Texas on Sunday.
Chattanooga: At Arkansas State on Monday.
Jones’ previous career high for scoring was 14 against Alabama last season. … Tennessee center Nia Moore, who had been averaging 20.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, had just six points and four rebounds in 11 minutes.
Tennessee center Isabelle Harrison missed a fourth straight game with a sprained knee.