ATHENS, Ga. — Tennessee didn’t get another close call Thursday night.
The Lady Vols’ turnovers and untimely fouls pushed them over the edge in a 53-50 SEC women’s basketball loss to Georgia before a crowd of 7,728 at Stegeman Coliseum.
Tennessee has pulled through similar scenarios the past two games, against Florida and Vanderbilt. But the Lady Bulldogs knew their way around tight quarters as well and played accordingly, erasing a pair of one-point deficits inside the final two minutes. The victory ended an eight-game losing streak against their long-time rival and was their first home win over UT since 2000.
“The win is a step in the right direction,’’ Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “I guess, by some measures it is a big step, but it is a single game. It is something to enjoy and appreciate tonight.”
Ashley Houts led three-double-figure scorers with 12 points for No. 8 Georgia (18-1, 5-1 SEC), which moved past Tennessee into first place in the conference standings. Meredith Mitchell scored 11 and Porsha Phillips had 10. She scored the decisive basket on a backdoor layup with 40 seconds left.
Glory Johnson scored a game-high 14 points for No. 3 Tennessee (16-2, 4-1). Kelley Cain had 10 and a game-high nine rebounds, part of UT’s 37-23 advantage on the boards.
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt’s post-game attention turned to her team’s guard play or lack thereof. Angie Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen shot a collective 6 for 21 from the floor and were charged with 13 of Tennessee’s 23 turnovers.
“That’s guard play,’’ Summitt said, “and Georgia’s guard play was a lot better than ours.”
Turnover No. 23 was one too many, occurring when Bjorklund was stripped of the ball by freshman Jasmine James with 21 seconds left.
James was fouled but missed her free throw. Phillips grabbed the miss and went back to the line, converting a pair.
Tennessee’s final shot for a tie was a long, forced attempt by Stricklen, ending a 7 for 24 second-half shooting effort (29.2 percent).
The missed shots didn’t bother Cain as much as the squandered possessions.
“We just didn’t have composure tonight,’’ she said. “There’s no excuse for 23 turnovers.”
Stricklen, who had a game-high seven, agreed.
“Rushing,’’ she muttered, “rushing at times when we didn’t have to rush. Just not being patient. Trying to do too much.”
A double foul called on Cain with 4:13 left was another crippling blow. The second foul — Cain’s fifth — was a technical, resulting from something the 6-foot-6 center said.
“I’m not going to get into that battle,’’ Summitt said. “… I think (the official) misunderstood what came out of her mouth. That was costly. She shouldn’t have said anything.”
Cain reiterated Summitt’s contention that it was “he-said, she-said stuff.”
“I take full responsibility for this loss,’’ a tearful Cain said. “I apologized to my teammates. I apologized to my coaching staff. It’s not going to happen again.”
With points at a premium, the fouls led to four made free throws by Georgia and a 46-43 lead.
Still, Tennessee recovered to lead twice. Alyssia Brewer’s 3-point play provided the final advantage (50-49) with 1:07 left.
While their zone defense had been effective, the Lady Vols were victimized in their man alignment down the stretch, including Phillips’ key basket.
“We talked about it as a staff and we were pretty much in agreement,’’ Summitt said. “We didn’t want to give up a 3. When we went to our man, we were in our switching man. So we were trying to keep people in front of us.”