The 13th-ranked Lady Vols, coming off of a loss to Missouri, fell behind big early against the No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats, trailing by as much as 17 at one point in the first half.
While Tennessee (12-3, 1-2 SEC) was able to close the gap and hang around, it wasn’t enough to top their rival, as they fell to Kentucky (15-2, 2-1 SEC), 73-71 at Thompson-Boling Arena for their second straight conference loss.
“We just dug ourselves in a hole in the first quarter,” Warlick said. “We didn’t shoot the ball very well around the basket. Kentucky battled, give them credit. They weathered the storm and we couldn’t overcome a lot of the things that we didn’t do.”
In the loss to Missouri, Tennessee struggled to defend beyond the arc, and the Tigers burnt them for it. Kentucky did the same right out of the gates in the first quarter, jumping out to a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the contest.
Warlick attributed the slow start to a lack of defense paired with the inability to finish shots on the offensive end.
“We weren’t committed to the defensive end,” Warlick said. “We missed easy shots. It was just a combination of a lot of things.”
The Lady Vols were finally able to get onto the board after going scoreless for over the first three minutes to make it 7-3, but another big Kentucky run was in order. The Wildcats extended their lead to 22-5 by the time the second quarter rolled around.
“We’ve just got to move the ball more consistently,” sophomore guard Rennia Davis said of the team’s early struggles on offense. “There are times where we just don’t do that. We’ve just got to move the ball consistently and that’s something we’ve got to keep working on in practice.”
Tennessee settled in and slowed the pace of the game down as the second quarter wore on, pulling within 10-points of Kentucky’s lead at the half, 38-28.
For about the final quarter and a half, much of the same continued. Kentucky answered every Tennessee attempt at a comeback and as a result, the Lady Vols steadily stayed behind by 10-15 points. But the final five minutes nearly changed the outcome entirely.
A 10-2 run halfway through the fourth quarter helped Tennessee chip away at a 12-point deficit, and the Lady Vols went into the final minute trailing 66-64.
The back-breaker came at the 53 second mark. As the shot clock expired, Kentucky guard Jaida Roper hit a deep three to put Tennessee in a must foul situation, which virtually put the game away.
“We got it down to two and had the (shot) clock run out,” Warlick said. “When Roper made the three, that was kind of the back-breaker for us. I think we had solid defense, but she got one to go down.”
The bane for Tennessee proved to be Kentucky’s senior guard Maci Morris. Morris was a problem from deep range, going 4-of-6 from three en route to a 27- point showing.
After Morris fouled out late, Roper stepped up into her place, scoring the game-sealing shot along with 8 second half points.
“(Roper) was able to finish the game off for them,” Davis said. “She had that big three at the end, she hit some free throws. She was just able to make plays. We’ve just got to be able to guard those players. We know it’s coming.”
The problems weren’t limited to Morris and Roper, however. After a strong start from the free throw line, Tennessee’s comeback efforts were hindered greatly by their struggles at the charity stripe, along with turnovers.
After starting 8-of-10, the Lady Vols ended up finishing 17-of-29 down the stretch, which loomed large in the final period.
Although Tennessee outrebounded Kentucky in dominant fashion, 50-22, the 19 turnovers committed by the Lady Vols resulted in 22 crucial Kentucky points.
The opportunity to jump back in the win column presents itself on Sunday, as Tennessee travels to Athens, GA, to face The Georgia Bulldogs at Stegman Coliseum. The game will tip-off at 3 p.m.