The No. 23 Tennessee Lady Vols (8-2, 2-1 SEC) fell in a dramatic finish to the Georgia Bulldogs (11-1, 3-1 SEC) 67-66 on Thursday night. This marks their second loss of the season and their first home loss.
The Bulldogs’ only loss this season is at the hands of No. 14 Mississippi State. They entered this week in the receiving votes category of the AP Poll, landing them at 27 if the poll continued.
The Lady Vols took the floor tonight in special uniforms as a part of “We Back Pat” week. The jerseys feature accents of purple and “Summitt” written across the nameplate instead of the player’s last name.
We Back Pat is a foundation started by legendary Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt and her son Tyler Summitt after Pat’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in 2011. High schools and colleges around the country are hosting “We Back Pat” games this week including Tennessee’s official “We Back Pat” game against UConn on Jan. 21.
Tennessee came out hot to open the game resulting in a 25-17 lead at the end of the first quarter. Lady Vols’ center Tamari Key led all scorers in the quarter with six. The rest of the starters also added their fair share with Rae Burrell, Jordan Horston and Marta Suarez all scoring five points along with four more from Rennia Davis. The well-played first quarter was brought to a close by a Horston three to beat the buzzer.
Georgia struck first in the second quarter with a mid-range jump shot from Mikayla Coombs, but Key continued the quality start by tacking on two straight lay-ups to begin the half, ballooning the lead to 10. Tennessee gave up just four more points before beginning a 9-0 run over the course of more than four minutes that coincided with an almost six and a half minute Bulldog scoring drought. Georgia would find the bottom of the basket one more time before the half but Horston responded again with a two-point shot to beat the buzzer.
The Lady Vols went into halftime with a 15-point lead at the score of 40-25. Tennessee was led by Key who scored 10 first-half points and finished the game with 14 points, five rebounds and two assists on perfect six-for-six shooting. Horston also helped carry the first half load with nine of her 11 points coming in the time frame.
Tennessee scored first in the third quarter to earn their highest lead of the game at 17. The wheels slowly began to come off for the Lady Vols as they would go on to surrender this lead due to multiple runs by the Bulldogs. No run was bigger than the 13-point swing to end the quarter giving Georgia a 54-49 advantage heading into the final frame.
“We just got too comfortable overall. We can’t get comfortable in this league. We play teams that are going to go on scoring runs. We play good teams that are able to come back from a 15-point lead. So us as a team, we just can’t get too comfortable,” Davis said about the third quarter implosion.
Bulldog guards Que Morrison and Gabby Connally combined for 22 of Georgia’s 29 points in the third quarter. Both Morrison and Connally would also go on to finish with a game-high of 17.
Tennessee and Georgia traded shots to begin the fourth quarter but with just under four minutes left in the game, the Lady Vols would score five straight resulting in a three-point game with only three minutes left.
Georgia would score once more to extend the lead back to five with two minutes left but Tennessee responded with two baskets to narrow the lead back to just one. The Lady Vols were then forced to intentionally foul the Bulldogs five straight times in order to get into the bonus.
Georgia’s Jenna Staiti missed both ensuing free throws but Tennessee was unable to corral the rebound resulting in the Bulldogs retaining the ball. On the following inbound, Georgia could not get the ball in before a five-second violation and the Lady Vols got possession with 12 seconds left.
On the other end of the floor, Davis could not connect on a pass with Kasiyahna Kushkituah resulting in a jump ball with three seconds left. The Bulldogs owned the possession arrow, however, Georgia once again struggled to get the ball in and they committed another turnover giving the Lady Vols another chance to win.
With three seconds remaining, Horston turned the ball over on the inbound pass and the game became final. The Lady Vols were unable to get a shot off on either of their last two attempts.
“We were looking for Rennia (Davis) to get the tip in but I overthrew it and Georgia made a play,” Horston said about her turnover to seal the game.
Davis would finish the game as the Lady Vols’ leading scorer with 15 points along with four rebounds and three assists. Her partner, Burrell, came into the game leading Tennessee in points but struggled to score against Georgia resulting in only seven points on 3-for-13 shooting along with two rebounds and four assists.
“Hopefully our players will take this one to heart,” Lady Vols’ coach, Kellie Harper, said. “I know they were disappointed but you can’t just lose this and be disappointed. You have to lose this be disappointed and be better because of it.”
Tennessee goes back into action on Jan. 17 on the road against Alabama. Tip-off is at 3 p.m. and airs on SECN+.
Edited by Gracie-Lee Strange and Maddie Torres
Feature image courtesy of Lady Vol Basketball (@LadyVol_Hoops)