No. 17 Tennessee fell to Texas on Sunday afternoon 66-60 as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, bringing the Lady Vols’ undefeated season to an end.
“That was an exciting, competitive game,” Lady Vols’ head coach Kellie Harper said following the loss. “Obviously, I hate the loss, but it’s definitely an opportunity for us to measure where we are against high-quality athletes and a really good basketball team. I told our players that we have to find a way to get better, otherwise, the loss helps you none.”
Sunday afternoon’s contest in Thompson-Boling was a hard-fought battle throughout.
Jazmine Massengill and Lou Brown hit back-to-back 3’s right out of the gates, and after a pair of free throws from Rennia Davis, the Lady Vols (7-1) had an early 8-4 lead. Texas (5-4) would outscore Tennessee 18-11 from that point on in the opening frame to hold a 22-19 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“I don’t want to say we needed the loss, that’s hard to say, but we needed that game,” Harper said. “That was one reason I’ve been looking forward to this game, because I knew we needed this.
“We needed to see where we are with a physical, athletic team with size. That’s going to be what we see in the SEC, so we needed to have that to learn from and to grow from.”
Tennessee cut Texas’ lead to one just moments into the second quarter, but the Longhorns responded with a 14-3 run to extend their lead to 12 — the largest lead of the quarter. Rennia Davis ended the quarter with a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer to cap a 10-4 Lady Vols run. Texas led 42-36 at the break
“I think it was the build up from the first quarter,” Davis said following the game after a team-high 15 points. “We weren’t as efficient with our offense as we wanted to be. I don’t think we were taking the shots that we wanted to take. On top of that, we weren’t stopping them from scoring the easier shots.”
The build up of shooting 33.3 percent in the first half due to poor shot selection continued well into the third quarter. Tennessee only scored 13 points in the third quarter, but its defense only allowed Texas to score eight points in the frame as the Longhorns shot only 21.1 percent.
UT ended the third quarter on a 9-2 run thanks to six points in the paint, cutting Texas’ lead to 50-49. The Lady Vol run extended to 13-2 as the fourth quarter began, giving them their first lead of the second half, 53-50, behind buckets from Davis and Tamari Key
“I think the bright spot from the game today was our post play, especially defensively with how physical that game was,” Harper said. “We have not seen that this year — the physicality, interior play — and Tamari Key did a really good job.
“I thought she (Key) was alert. I thought she was physical. I thought she was competitive, and that’s a good sign.”
After claiming the lead with 9:25 remaining in the game, Texas called a timeout. Tennessee wouldn’t score again until the 4:48 mark of the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Longhorns had scored eight straight to claim a 58-53 lead.
The Lady Vols were only able to score five points the remainder of the game, and UT only made one shot down the stretch — a Jazmine Massengill jumper. Massengill’s bucket made the score 60-57, and that would be the closest the Lady Vols would get the remainder of the way
“We did not execute our quick-hit action,” Harper explained when asked about the fourth quarter struggles. “That’s definitely an area that we’re going to look at. We have to communicate better when we’re out on the court. The game’s coming really fast, it’s loud, so our communication has to be better.
“I think defensively, we were a little bit slow during that stretch. When you take the lead, you’ve got to be able to get one more bucket and finish that off. You’ve got to get a bucket in those three possessions and give yourself a chance going down the stretch, and we just couldn’t get that bucket that we needed.”
Along with leading the team in points, Davis had seven rebounds and two assists. Massengill was the only other Lady Vol to finish in double figures. The sophomore guard scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds, assisted on four buckets, and tallied two steals.
Key, the freshman forward, finished with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds, four of which were on the offensive end
“I don’t want them excited that we did something positive, I want them feeling it,” Harper said. “I want it to be a little bit of a gut-wrench.
“I also explained to them, because this is our first loss and the first time that we are dealing with this, I don’t deal with (losses) very well, so I didn’t need to see anybody happy in the locker room.”
The Lady Vols next contest will be the final of a six-game homestead in which they’ve gone 4-1 so far. Tennessee takes on Colorado State Wednesday night at 7 PM Eastern.