Tennessee convened enough scorers for a women’s basketball victory Monday night.
Six Lady Vols in double figures usually turns the trick.
But this wasn’t your usual night.
Not with Virginia’s Monica Wright doing the work of three players. Not with Tennessee coming up about 2½ minutes short of finishing the job.
Tennessee’s points didn’t equate to enough poise and the result was an 83-82 loss to the Cavaliers before a stunned crowd of 11,627 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Wright, a junior guard, scored 35 points for No. 16 Virginia (2-0). Her impressive work allowed for teammate Britnee Millner’s decisive free throw with 6.4 seconds left.
“She just willed us to win,’’ Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said of Wright. “She put us on her back and carried us.”
No. 5 Tennessee (1-1) was led by Glory Johnson, the SEC freshman of the week, and classmate Briana Bass. They each scored 13 points.
Shekinna Stricklen and Sydney Smallbone added 12 points apiece. Cait McMahan had 11 and Kelley Cain 10.
But the math that mattered the most was two untimely fouls and two crucial turnovers down the stretch.
“I thought we played a team that was mentally and physically a lot tougher than us,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said. “That’s disappointing.”
Virginia started out sloppier than Tennessee, committing 17 first-half turnovers. The mistakes were precious fuel for 27 UT points. They also contributed to a 21-3 scoring run as the Lady Vols led by as many as 13 points (41-28) before halftime.
The Cavaliers got their act together during the break and committed just six turnovers thereafter.
“That was the difference in the game,’’ Ryan said. “I knew once we settled down and didn’t give them 27 points in turnovers, we’d have a chance.”
Tennessee’s act, meanwhile, began to unravel. The Lady Vols had no answer for Wright, despite trying different defenders and different alignments, including a zone for several possessions.
“We knew coming in what (Wright) could do,’’ McMahan said. “We didn’t execute. That’s our fault. We have to take the blame for that.”
Wright received some vital help from center Aisha Mohammed, who scored 14 of her 19 points in the second half and freshman reserve guard Whitny Edwards, who scored 11 of her 13 points after the break.
UT’s only hope was to outscore the Cavaliers and keep its misfortune to a minimum.
Johnson was whistled for a biggie when she interrupted her trip to the foul line by being called for a technical after tangling with Edwards with 3:38 left.
Summitt said the official’s explanation was “he thought she threw an elbow.”
“That shouldn’t have happened,’’ Summitt said, “and it better not happen again.”
As for Johnson’s take: “I think that was a tough call on my part . . . We just got tied up. I got the call.”
While that exchange turned out to be a scoring wash, UT forged a 78-73 advantage after a clutch 3-pointer by Bass with 2:46 remaining.
But two Tennessee turnovers led to four free Virginia points. A steal and driving layup by Edwards pulled the Cavaliers even at 80 with 1:12 left.
“The turnovers, they broke us,’’ Smallbone said.
Not quite. Two Alex Fuller free throws gave UT an 82-80 lead with 48.1 seconds left. Wright answered with a jumper over Bass nine seconds later.
UT’s final shot at victory was a driving miss by Stricklen, who shot 3-for-14 from the floor. She fouled Millner after a rebound scramble to set up the winning free throw.
“We were looking to get the ball inside either off the pass or penetration,” Summitt said.
Millner missed her second free throw, giving UT a final opportunity. But Fuller hesitated in calling time out and then the Lady Vols didn’t heave the ball up the court on a final inbounds play.
The loss was just Tennessee’s 19th in the arena.
“We definitely feel like we were part of history,’’ Wright said. “And it was well-earned.”