KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The No. 13-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols fell, 73-71, to the 16th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats on Thursday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Lady Vols (12-3, 1-2 SEC) trailed by two points after a pair of free throws from Meme Jackson with one minute remaining, but a three-pointer from Wildcats guard Jaida Roper put the game out of reach for the Big Orange.
Sophomore point guard Evina Westbrook led the charge offensively for the Lady Vols with 20 points, marking her seventh performance of the season of 20 or more points, and added six rebounds. Sophomore Rennia Davis (12 points) and freshman Mimi Collins (career-high-tying 11 points) were the other Tennessee players with double-digit scoring. Senior Cheridene Green dominated the glass with a career-high 15 rebounds.
Kentucky (15-2, 2-1 SEC) was propelled by a 27-point night from senior guard Maci Morris, who connected at a 4-of-6 clip from deep range and shot over 60 percent from the field.
The Lady Vols fought from behind the entire game and cut the Wildcats’ lead to four points six times in the fourth quarter and then shaved the edge to two with 1:43 remaining.
Kentucky kicked off the first quarter on a 7-0 run on 3-of-4 shooting, with Tennessee first getting on the scoreboard at the 7:10 mark with a layup from Westbrook. The Lady Vols started off the game 1-of-6 from the field, as the Wildcats rushed to a 19-5 lead at the halfway point of the quarter. Despite their rough start shooting, Tennessee found some life after holding Kentucky to a two-minute scoring drought. A last-second layup to finish the first quarter cut the Wildcats’ lead to 27-16 after 10 minutes of play.
The Lady Vols defense clamped down to begin the second quarter, and an and-one from Westbrook at the 5:37 mark cut the Tennessee deficit to just eight points. However, the Lady Vols failed to score in the three following minutes, going 0-for-6 from the floor in the span. While dominating the boards by a 29-16 margin in the first half, Tennessee was unable to take advantage of second-chance opportunities. Still, a team-high 11-point first-half performance from Collins helped the Lady Vols trim a 17-point UK lead to a 38-28 deficit at halftime.
The Lady Vols’ shooting woes continued, as Zaay Green provided all but one of Tennessee’s points through six minutes of play in the third quarter. The Lady Vols faced a 53-38 climb with two minutes remaining in the quarter, as only three Tennessee players scored through eight minutes into the second half. The Lady Vols clawed back into the game behind a pair of 3-pointers from Rennia Davis to end the quarter. Davis’ clutch 3-pointers were Tennessee’s first of the game and presented the Lady Vols a 58-46 deficit going into the final quarter.
Tennessee stormed back with a Meme Jackson 3-pointer, followed by a post layup from Cheridene Green that cut the Kentucky lead to just four points with five minutes left in regulation. The Lady Vols held the Wildcats to just 1-of-6 shooting from the floor to start the fourth quarter, while firing in shots at a 5-of-6 clip on the other end.
After cutting the Kentucky lead to just two points with under two minutes remaining, a dagger 3-pointer from Roper extended the Wildcats’ lead to 69-64. Kentucky iced the game at the free throw line, giving the Wildcats a 73-71 victory.
Up Next: The Lady Vols will hit the road, traveling to Georgia on Sunday. The game is scheduled to tip at 3 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.
Big On The Boards: Tennessee out-rebounded Kentucky 50-32 and is averaging 44.7 rpg. in SEC play while holding opponents to an average of 31.7 rpg. UT has now topped 13 of 15 opponents on the glass this season.
Bench Contributing: In their first two SEC games the Lady Vols’ bench contributed a total of only nine points, all of which were scored by Jazmine Massengill. Tennessee’s bench posted 14 points against Kentucky with Mimi Collins, Rae Burrell, and Kasiyahna Kushkituah all contributing. Collins led the bench is scoring, tying her career high of 11.
Cheridene Rolling: Cheridene Green has led the team in rebounding and set new career highs in back-to-back games, snagging 14 against Missouri and 15 vs. Kentucky. Additionally, she posted a career-high four assists against Kentucky.
20+ Evina: Evina Westbrook recorded her seventh 20+ point performance of the season, setting a new SEC high of 20 points against Kentucky.