No. 21 Tennessee fell to No. 22 Georgia 57-55 in Athens on Sunday afternoon coming off of its upset of No. 2 South Carolina in Knoxville on Thursday night.
Senior forward Rennia Davis scored a team-high 22 points on 7-for-17 shooting to lead the Lady Vols. Junior guard Rae Burrell was the only other player to reach double-figures with 10 points, as Tennessee shot 29% from the field for the game. The Lady Vols shot 12% on 4-for-31 shooting in the first half.
“Just disappointed in the mistakes,” Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper said after the game. “Thought we had a lack of focus. … Friday and Saturday weren’t our best practices and that’s something I complimented our team on this year consistently. We’ve come to practice to get better everyday. I don’t know how well we handled Thursday (win over South Carolina).”
Georgia was led by a game-high 24 points from Gabby Connally on 5-or-11 shooting from three. Fellow senior guard Que Harrison was the only other Bulldog to score double-figures with 10 points. Georgia shot 33% from the field as a team.
Poor execution late
The Lady Vols had two opportunities late to win the game or send it to overtime. Georgia led 56-50 with 3:38 remaining, but after a Davis three and two Rae Burrell free throws, the lead was down to 57-55 with 22 seconds remaining.
With a chance to end the game or extend it, Harper called a timeout and drew up a play to get Davis a shot. Davis decided to attack the basked and attempted a wrap-around pass to Tamari Key under the basket, but the pass was a little too hot to handle and it resulted in a turnover.
“I thought Rennia had a chance to pull up and shoot a jumper on the first of the two,” Harper said. “I thought she was open and maybe took it a dribble too far and ended up making the pass.”
Georgia got the ball back, but immediately gave it back to Tennessee. The Bulldogs inbounded the basketball and the Lady Vols defended it perfectly by not fouling and forcing a jump ball. Once again, they had the ball back in their possession with a chance to win the game or extend it. Davis ended up getting a shot off, but it didn’t fall. Georgia claimed the rebound and the game.
“The last one, I don’t know that our spacing was great,” Harper said. “I was out of timeouts and couldn’t draw up anything to get us exactly where I wanted us. I think we actually executed the play ok, I just don’t know that our spacing was right.”
Tennessee’s offense struggled mightily against the Bulldogs. It managed to make just four shots in the first half on its way to shooting 12.9% from the field, a season-low. If it weren’t for an 11-for-14 clip at the free throw line in the opening half, the Lady Vols wouldn’t have only trailed Georgia by single-digits, 27-19, at halftime.
The second half was better for the Lady Vols, but not by much. They scored on five of their six possessions after only making four baskets in the opening frame, managing to shoot 42.9% from the field, but they were 28.6% from three. UT was 4-for-7 at the free throw line.
“Georgia’s gameplan was really good today,” Harper said. “It took us out of sync offensively… We weren’t getting easy shots. And the easy shots we did get we were not making especially early on and the frustration showed. We started forcing things offensively.”
Turnovers also reared its ugly head once again for the Lady Vols. They turned it over 20 times, leading to 10 Georgia points and 14 fastbreak points for the Bulldogs.
“You have to find more shots when you’re struggling, not less shots, and that’s less opportunities to get a shot up,” Harper said. “The biggest problem with (the turnovers) is we needed more shots.”
Burrell hasn’t struggled much this year. In fact, she’s been the most consistent Lady Vol this season. Sunday’s trip to Athens was a game she’d like to forget, however. Burrell finished with 10 points 4-for-17 shooting from the field. She was 0-for-4 from three, 2-for-4 at the free throw line and finished with a -2 plus/minus.
Burrell struggled against Georgia in the first matchup as well back on Jan. 14. In Tennessee’s 68-67 loss in Knoxville, Burrell finished with seven points on 3-for-15 shooting and 1-for-5 shooting from three.
“Georgia’s one-on-one defense is really good so Rae has a little bit of a harder time getting to the basket,” Harper said. “Rae also doesn’t get any open shots against Georgia. There’s nothing where she’s just catching and getting clean looks. At least those are few and far between.
“I think a lot of it is they’re keying in on her. They’re collapsing down, so are spacing isn’t great in terms of helping her.”
The Lady Vols have two scheduled games remaining on the schedule. They’ll remain on the road this Thursday night for an 8 p.m. tip with Missouri. Tennessee will then return home on Sunday for the regular season-finale against Auburn.
The SEC Tournament begins the following week on March 3.