No. 18 Georgia (21-4, 9-3 SEC) failed to upset the eleventh-ranked Lady Vols in Knoxville, as they fell by a score of 62-46. Tennessee finished with four players scoring in double-digits. The senior duo of Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell combined for 28 points. Russell also tallied her 1,000th career rebound and came one point shy of 1,000 career points.
Both teams started sloppily, especially for the Lady Vols who turned the ball over in each of their first two possessions. However, a driving layup and a pair of free throws from Nared got Tennessee back on track. Mackenzie Engram of Georgia hit a 3-pointer to take an early 9-6 Bulldogs lead.
Meanwhile, the Lady Vols got hot from deep range as Meme Jackson and Nared knocked down two 3-pointers each. Rennia Davis finished the first quarter with a last-second bucket from beyond-the-arc to give Tennessee the 17-13 lead after the first quarter. The Lady Vols made three of its five deep balls through the first 10 minutes of play.
Head Coach Holly Warlick and Tennessee started the second quarter hot as the Lady Vols notched a 10-0 run behind Nared and freshman center Kasiyahna Kushkituah.
“She (Kushkituah) came in and made an immediate impact, she doesn’t know how strong she is,” Nared said.
Kushkituah scored a quick three points to start the quarter.
“She’s a dying breed and I’m glad she’s here at Tennessee,” Warlick said.
Georgia finally ended the run at the 4:01 mark with a pair of free throws from Caliya Robinson. However, the Bulldogs foul troubles put the Vols in the bonus to end the second quarter.
Tennessee outscored Georgia 19-7 in the second quarter, as Nared led the Vols with 12 points going into the half. Tennessee held the Bulldogs to just 23 percent shooting from the field and 10 percent from beyond-the-arc as they led 36-19 at halftime.
Russell had the hot hand for the Lady Vols to start the second half, as she recorded the first four points of the half for Tennessee. Georgia scored eight points through the first three minutes of the third quarter, more than they scored in the entire second quarter.
The Volunteers steamed on as Hayes and Russell each got and-ones in the final two minutes of the quarter. Tennessee finished the third quarter with a 55-37 lead behind Russell’s seven points.
The fourth quarter started slowly as both teams faced scoring droughts of more than two minutes apiece. The Lady Vols and Bulldogs both combined for seven turnovers in the first five minutes of play.
However, Davis snapped the Tennessee drought with a pair of free throws at the 4:22 mark. Still, the Volunteers forced Georgia to shoot just 2-of-13 from the field to finish the fourth quarter.
“First of all, Tennessee is really good defensively and that got us frustrated,” Georgia Head Coach Joni Taylor said. “I thought we were pretty good defensively, we just weren’t making shots that we normally make.”
Tennessee out-rebounded the Bulldogs 50-30 and forced the Bulldogs to commit 20 turnovers on Sunday. The Lady Vols faced turnover issues of their own, with a total of 27 turnovers for the second time this season. Regardless, Tennessee held the Bulldogs to just 30 percent shooting from the field and eight percent shooting from 3-point range in the dominant victory.
“I really proud of our basketball team for winning this game,” Warlick said. “We’ve been so up and down, but we were a really solid team today.”
Warlick knows the team’s work isn’t finished.
“It’s huge, hard work and practice correlates to success on the basketball court,” Warlick said. “The only way we’re going to get better is practicing… and we’re going to continue working on our turnovers.”
The Lady Vols hit the court next on Thursday, as they take on Alabama at 6:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.
Edited by Ben McKee
Featured image courtesy of Seth Raborn