Dan Fleser: Texas Fights Back; Lady Vols No Longer Undefeated

Sunday, December 8, 2019 - by Dan Fleser

KNOXVILLE – Texas emerged from a timeout early in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon as a women’s basketball team chastened by four losses already this season and determined to avoid No. 5.

Down three points to Tennessee, Longhorns guard Sug Sutton described their mind-set as being “Let’s come out and punch back.”

What transpired thereafter amounted to one punch too many for the heretofore undefeated Lady Vols. They were ranked as high as No. 17 nationally but were not sufficiently prepared for the moment by a schedule that ranked 343rd nationally.

Texas scored on third of its next four possessions while Tennessee went scoreless and committed two turnovers. Just like that, the game swung irreversibly toward the Longhorns before ending 66-60 in their favor before a crowd of 9,371 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

With the victory, Texas crept back above .500 at 5-4. The Longhorns have traveled a long, hard road after being ranked No. 15 in the preseason Associated Press top 25 poll. While two of their losses were to undefeated teams (Arizona and North Carolina State), they also were beaten by Hawaii, which is 4-5.

When asked if Texas is better than its record, coach Karen Aston responded firmly: “Absolutely. No question about it.”

“We’ve had our weaknesses exposed,” she said. “That’s why we play the schedule we’ve played. I think the adversity helped us when things got tight.”

Tennessee, on the hand, had returned to the rankings after a 74-63 win at Notre Dame on Nov. 11. But the Fighting Irish haven’t been the team they were previewed to be either. Therefore, Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper was bracing for a better reckoning and thought that this game might serve the purpose.

“We needed this,” she said. “… We needed to see where we were (against) a physical, athletic team. That’s what we’re going to see in the SEC.”

The Lady Vols (7-1) did many things well, outrebounding the Longhorns 54-42 and bouncing back from a 12-point first half deficit. The Lady Vols held Texas to eight points in the third quarter.

Ultimately, they were overcome by a trio of Texas guards, who combined for 51 points. Seniors Sug Sutton and Lashann Higgs had 19 points apiece. They helped cover for fellow senior Joyner Holmes, a 6-foot-3 forward who was slowed by an ankle injury and scored just four points, 13 below her per-game average.

Tennessee shot just 30 percent from the floor (22 for 72) and only had two double-figure scorers. Rennia Davis led with 15 points. She thought that Tennessee’s scoring struggles down the stretch reflected what was happening as early as the first quarter.

“We just weren’t as offensively efficient as we needed to be,” she said. “We didn’t take the shots we needed to take.”

Point guard Jazmine Massengill, who scored 10 points but shot 4-for-13 from floor, said Tennessee’s lack of ball movement contributed to their shooting woes.

“I think we took the hardest shots,” she said.

 The Lady Vols now are more familiar with what the Longhorns have experienced. As senior forward Kamera Harris said, “It was the first time we’ve had adversity. Just take it and learn from it.”      

* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com

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