Texas fades away, falls 75-61 to No. 3 Lady Vols
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Texas has proved it can go toe-to-toe with the nation’s elite programs for a half.
Now the Longhorns must learn how to stay competitive for a full game.
Texas controlled the tempo against Tennessee for most of the first half Sunday before fading down the stretch in a 75-61 loss to the third-ranked Lady Vols.
The game followed a similar pattern to a 63-54 loss to No. 6 Stanford last month in which the Longhorns (6-3) led at halftime.
“It’s just about execution, staying focused on execution, staying focused on your discipline,” Texas coach Karen Aston said. “What our team tends to do is be extremely dedicated to game plans and being disciplined in the first half and then we lose a little bit of our discipline. I’ll take the blame for that. Somewhere along the way I have to figure this out.”
Nneka Enemkpali exemplified Texas’ changing fortunes before and after halftime.
Enemkpali, a 6-foot-1 junior forward, had 10 points and eight rebounds in the first half. She finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 2:58 left. After fouling out, Enemkpali got a technical foul when she tossed the ball in frustration and it hit Tennessee’s Cierra Burdick, who had fallen to the floor on the play.
“It wasn’t (done) purposely,” Enemkpali said. “It was the wrong move on my part. It wasn’t a reflection on who I am as a person or my program. It was just the wrong call. I was in the heat of the moment and I have to learn to make better choices.”
Chassidy Fussell added 12 points for Texas despite shooting 1 of 10 from 3-point range. Krystle Henderson had 11 points and Empress Davenport added 10.
Isabelle Harrison had 18 points and eight rebounds to lead Tennessee, which continued its season-long habit of playing better in the second half. Tennessee (8-0) has been tied or behind at halftime in three games this season, yet won them all by at least nine points. Ariel Massengale added 15 points and seven assists.
Although the Lady Vols never trailed Sunday, they only led 28-27 at halftime.
“We need to get off to better starts,” Massengale said. “We’re still trying to figure out what’s going to make us go in the first half, but it’s a long season and hopefully we figure that out soon.”
Tennessee switched its lineup Sunday by giving 6-foot-6 freshman center Mercedes Russell her first start and sophomore forward Jasmine Jones her second career start.
Sophomore forward Bashaara Graves, who entered Sunday averaging 11.1 points and a team-high 9.0 rebounds per game, was held out of the starting lineup for only the second time in 42 career games. Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said she made the changes because Jones had a great week of practice and Graves didn’t perform as well.
“I said, `Bashaara, I can’t start you,’ and she said she understood,” Warlick said. “It’s not a disciplinary thing.”
This game was a contrast in styles between a Tennessee team that likes to run and a Texas squad that prefers low scores. Tennessee entered the day averaging 80.3 points, while Texas was allowing 49.5 points.
In the first half, Texas controlled the tempo.
After taking an 11-2 lead in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the game, Tennessee struggled the rest of the first half. The Lady Vols had a one-point lead at intermission mostly because Texas missed open 3-point attempts. Texas was 1 of 7 on 3-pointers in the first half and finished 4 of 20 from beyond the arc.
“I think we came into this game with nobody expecting us to win,” Henderson said. “We kind of had that chip on our shoulder from the beginning.”
Texas wasn’t the same in the second half. Enemkpali wasn’t as effective after getting into foul trouble.
“It causes me to think twice about what I can and can’t do, and it causes a player like me to play a little bit more timid than I like to play,” Enemkpali said. “I have to figure out how to stay out of foul trouble, stay on the floor and be effective for my team.”
Texas trailed 35-34 with 15:20 remaining when Fussell missed a 3-pointer that would have given the Longhorns their first lead. But Tennessee went on a 9-0 run to build a double-digit advantage. Texas cut Tennessee’s lead to 54-50 on Davenport’s 3-pointer with 8:32 remaining, but the Lady Vols scored the next 11 points to put the game away.