CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Tennessee came to Virginia averaging 90.5 points per game and brandishing a powerful offensive identity.
The Lady Vols departed late Sunday afternoon a mere shell of themselves. They couldn’t overcome a poised, determined opponent and they couldn’t resist wasting possession after possession. They were powerless to prevent a shocking 69-64 women’s basketball upset loss in overtime to the Cavaliers before a crowd of 6,450 at John Paul Jones Arena.
Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick’s postgame assessment included a nugget that was blunt and to the point: “They were ready to play and we weren’t.”
The loss was Tennessee’s first to an unranked opponent since one of the worst losses in program history: a 71-55 upset by Ball State in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament.
Chelsea Shine led five double-figure scorers with 18 points for Virginia (4-0). China Crosby scored 13, including three free throws in the final 1 minute, 7 seconds of overtime.
Ataira Franklin had 12 and Ariana Moorer was one of two Cavaliers to score 10 points. Despite shooting 3 for 16 from the floor, Moorer’s pull-up jumper gave Virginia the lead for good at 62-61 with 2:57 left.
“I think the key word in the locker room was ‘believe,’ ” Moorer said.
UT, which shot 55.3 percent on 3-pointers in its opening two victories, couldn’t find the range from long range against the Cavaliers, finishing at 20.8 percent (5 for 24). Overall, Tennessee shot 40.7 percent (24 for 59) from the floor.
The Lady Vols weren’t much better from the free-throw line, shooting 52.4 percent (11 for 21). Johnson was 5 for 13.
The Lady Vols might have survived being off target if they hadn’t also committed a season-high 24 turnovers. Virginia converted the mistakes into 27 points, which minimized the sting of its 40.3 percent field goal shooting.
As the game progressed, Johnson said, “It got real quiet on the floor.”
“If our offense is not going, we kind of shut down,’’ Stricklen said. “That is something we really have to turn around. We have five seniors. A lot of this I blame on the seniors, the veterans, and I take a lot of responsibility for it and Glory does, too.”
The Lady Vols played without one senior. Center Vicki Baugh sat out with what Warlick described as tightness in her left leg.
The Cavaliers, on the other hand, could take credit for an aggressive zone defense. They used multiple alignments to slow UT in transition and push the Lady Vols further from the basket in their half-court sets.
“I think the biggest thing about our zone was just staying aggressive in it,’’ Virginia first-year coach Joanne Boyle said. “We didn’t want to give them easy looks at the 3. I thought we covered ground pretty well. … We just covered for each other and stayed aggressive and tried to make them play out as far as possible.”
Despite falling behind by nine points in the second half, the Lady Vols got the game to overtime and then opened the extra session with a trey by Spani. Then they committed turnovers on three of their next five possessions. Meighan Simmons gave up a steal on an inbounds play. Freshman point guard Ariel Massengale, who trumped her seven assists with seven turnovers, double-dribbled in the open floor.
“Instead of capitalizing on (the lead) and taking it to them,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said, “we kept making turnovers. We were our own worst enemy.”
They were at a loss to stop it.
Dan Fleser may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser