No. 6 Tennessee women eke out 73-72 win over No. 10 Kentucky
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Initially slowed by Kentucky’s aggressive defense, Tennessee’s duo of Isabelle Harrison and Cierra Burdick used their athleticism to take control inside.
Their second-half play helped the sixth-ranked Lady Vols seize a slim lead eventually preserved by big defensive stands in the tense final seconds. But the story was Harrison and Burdick, who combined for 25 second-half points as Tennessee held on to edge No. 10 Kentucky 73-72 Thursday night and earn its first true road win over a top-10 foe since 2008.
Not to mention, spark a celebration along with a big sigh of relief.
”It’s about time,” Burdick said after scoring 12 of her 16 points after the break. ”It’s been a struggle on the road for us against top-10 teams. It’s making a huge statement for how hard we work and the heart that we have. … I think tonight was just a display of that. We played with tons of heart.”
Harrison scored 13 of her 19 points in the second half and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Lady Vols (18-3, 8-0 Southeastern Conference), whose resolve erased a six-point second half deficit and held on with the game in the balance.
Makayla Epps’ consecutive 3-pointers got Kentucky (16-5, 5-3) within a point with 1:16 remaining and the Wildcats had several chances to win it in the final 16 seconds. But Epps and Jennifer O’Neill missed jumpers, Jordan Reynolds blocked Alexis Jennings’ shot with 2 seconds left and Andraya Carter tipped O’Neill’s jumper as time expired.
As Epps slumped to the court, Tennessee players exulted over a hard-fought win.
”We just had to get down and had to get stops,” Carter said. ”I just knew we had to get a stop and that’s what we did.”
Bashaara Graves added 11 points as Tennessee shot 67 percent after halftime and 48 percent overall for its 14th win in 15 games that extended its SEC-best winning streak to 15 games dating to last season.
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick praised Harrison for getting the Lady Vols in gear down the stretch.
”One thing about Isabelle, she works before she gets the ball,” Warlick said. ”I thought she did a great job of that and didn’t get frustrated. I thought she was solid.”
Epps scored a game-high 23 points, including three 3-pointers for the Wildcats, who made 8 of 19 from long range but lost for the third time in five games. O’Neill and Jennings had 12 points each for Kentucky.
The Lady Vols ended their two-game slide in Memorial Coliseum while ending Kentucky’s 13-game streak on its home floor.
Tennessee achieved it thanks to a variety of zone and man defenses that thwarted Kentucky at key moments. The Lady Vols committed three more turnovers (22) than the Wildcats, but outscored them 46-34 in the paint and 14-12 on second-chance points. Kentucky also shot just 39 percent.
”It was a tough game to lose,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. ”Tennessee made more plays than we did and played harder in the second half. We didn’t play any defense in the second half and so we got beat. It’s a tough one to lose.”
Kentucky lost for the third time in five games, including two to the SEC’s co-leaders. The Wildcats also lost at top-ranked South Carolina and LSU. They face the Lady Vols again on Feb. 15 in Knoxville.
Tennessee: Needing three points coming in, Harrison scored six in the first half to become the program’s 39th player to surpass 1,000.
Kentucky: Jelleah Sidney’s seven first-half points were a season high and just two off her career best.
Tennessee: Hosts No. 18 Mississippi State on Sunday.
Kentucky: Hosts Georgia on Sunday.