No. 13 Tennessee fell to No. 16 Kentucky 73-68 on Thursday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Lady Vols (12-3, 1-2) have now lost back-to-back SEC games and sit at 1-2 in conference play. Evina Westbrook scored a team-high 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. Rennia Davis added 12 points to go along with Cheridene Green’s eight points and 15 rebounds.
For Kentucky, senior guard Maci Morris scored a game-high 27 points despite fouling out midway through the fourth quarter. Forward Ogechi Anyagaligbo finished with 13 points while the Cats’ star freshman – Cleveland, Tennessee native Rhyne Howard – fouled out and was held to just six points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Despite trailing by as many as 17 in the game, the Lady Vols were able to climb back and cut Kentucky’s lead to two points with 1:43 remaining in the game. Up 66-64, Jaida Roper threw up a miracle three that went in despite Tennessee defending well throughout the entirety of the play clock. The shot pushed the Kentucky lead back to five – a lead that the Lady Vols weren’t able to overcome.
Here are the biggest observations from the Lady Vols’ second consecutive loss and third home loss of the season.
Too many points left on the court
Tennessee may have lost by two, but it only has itself to blame for not winning.
The Lady Vols missed 12 free throws, shot 4-of-15 from the 3-point line, shot 37.9 percent from the field, turned it over 19 times, and allowed Kentucky to shoot over 50 percent in both the first and third quarter.
Individually, Cheridene Green was 2-of-6 from the charity stripe, Zaay Green was 1-of-3, Rae Burrell missed a pair, and Davis missed her only attempt. Eight Lady Vols shot free throws, and only Westbrook was perfect, making all five of her attempts – though she did turn it over eight times.
Despite outscoring the Cats in the second and fourth quarter, it was that opening quarter and third frame that cost Tennessee.
It wasn’t just free throws and turnovers; Tennessee was behind the eight-ball from the jump. If there had been five or 10 minutes remaining in the game late in the fourth quarter, the Lady Vols probably would have won, as they had control of the game and the effort was present.
In the first 10 minutes, that effort wasn’t there.
“We just dug ourselves into a hole in the first quarter,” Holly Warlick said. “We did not shoot the ball very well at the basket. I thought those two things hurt us. We missed a ton of free throws.”
With 4:27 remaining in the first quarter, Kentucky was up by 17 – leading 22-5 – due to a poor defensive and offensive start from the Lady Vols. The Cats led 27-16 at the end of the opening frame.
Morris jump-started Kentucky, scoring 11 points in the first quarter on 3-of-4 shooting from the 3-point line. Taylor Murray added seven first quarter points.
“We weren’t committed to the defensive end,” Warlick said of the first quarter woes. “We missed a lot of easy shots. Just a combination of things.”
For the second consecutive game Meme Jackson shot it poorly from the 3-point line.
Against Missouri on Sunday, Jackson was 0-of-9 on the day and 0-3 from three. It was just the second time all season in which the senior guard didn’t make a 3-pointer. Against Kentucky, Jackson once again had a rough shooting night. She was 1-of-4 from distance, marking just the fourth time this season she’s only made one three.
“I thought she took some good shots, but I think she is pressing a little bit,” Warlick said of Jackson. “So we will get her in the gym and put up shots – get that confidence back. She is one of our best shooters, but she hasn’t shot the ball well the last two games, and obviously it has hurt us.”
As a team, Tennessee shot 4-of-15 from the 3-point line. Davis accounted for two of them, while Westbrook knocked down her only attempt.
After losing back-to-back SEC home games, the Lady Vols will travel to Athens, Georgia. Tennessee will take on the Bulldogs this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET. UT will then travel to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama next Thursday.
“We have a great basketball team and we are going to keep grinding,” Warlick said. “If we have to start on the road, we will start on the road.”
The Lady Vols return home to take on Arkansas a week from Monday in the annual “We back Pat” game.