LOS ANGELES — After recovering from a frustrating first-half, a 19-point lead almost proved insufficient for the top-ranked Tennessee women’s basketball team Wednesday night.
Tennessee had to repel UCLA early and late to escape with a 82-70 victory in front of 4.003 fans at Pauley Pavilion.
The Lady Vols (10-0) extend their winning streak to 16 games over two seasons while giving the Bruins (4-6) their sixth defeat in seven games.
Junior forward Candace Parker led Tennessee with 17 points. Senior point guard Shannon Bobbitt scored 16 points and senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle had 12 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Freshman Angie Bjorklund contributed 12 points and freshman Vicki Baugh tied her season best with 11 points.
But Tennessee barely survived the first half. After taking a 17-10 lead with 7:58 gone, the Lady Vols collapsed.
Despite establishing position inside, Tennessee missed 18 of its final 27 shots and committed 12 turnovers in the half. Meanwhile, UCLA made eight consecutive baskets to move ahead, 31-27, with 2:28 before halftime.
“I don’t think we brought the intensity,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “UCLA can spread you out and take you off the dribble. We didn’t defend penetration and we didn’t do a good job on the boards. We didn’t have the energy.”
The Bruins took control despite starting two freshmen and playing three more. Darxia Morris, one of the starting freshmen, led the Bruins’ first-half scoring with eight points.
Parker, however, scored just four points while missing four of her six field-goal attempts in the first half and Hornbuckle failed to score a point.
But Bobbitt’s 3-point basket off Bjorklund’s steal narrowed the deficit to 31-30 with 2:07 left in the first half. The Lady Vols then needed a break to end the half ahead.
After making a steal, UCLA freshman Christina Nzekwe missed an 8-foot jumper with 42 seconds left. Baugh’s turnaround jumper with 20.5 seconds remaining gave Tennessee a 32-31 halftime advantage.
The Lady Vols began the second half by making nine of their first 11 shots and extended their lead to 62-43 with 10:20 to play. Three consecutive baskets from Bjorklund, including a pair of 3-point shots, proved pivotal.
“One of the biggest adjustments was to go inside and get paint points,” Summitt said. “From a defensive standpoint, I thought extending our 2-2-1 (zone) back to our matchup was slowing them down and gave us support on (defending) dribble penetration.”
UCLA narrowed its deficit to 75-66 with 3:06 left but failed to score for the next 2:33. Meanwhile, UT made seven of eight foul shots in the final 2:51.
“I thought we did a great job for about 30 minutes,” UCLA coach Kathy Olivier said. “But Tennessee is going to be a very, very tough team to beat when the Final Four comes.”
Lindsey Pluimer led the Bruins with 16 points. Morris finished with 12 points and Monique Alexander had 11.
The Lady Vols will remain in California and prepare for Saturday night’s game at No. 5 Stanford (9-1).