Tennessee Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick sorts through upset loss at Chattanooga
CHATTANOOGA – A new women's basketball era for Tennessee began in shocking fashion Friday night.
Chattanooga took a lead in the first minute of the second half and proceeded to an 80-71 victory over the Lady Vols before a McKenzie Arena crowd of 8,468 in the first game for UT head coach Holly Warlick.
The Lady Mocs snapped a 19-game losing streak against Tennessee and scored their first victory in the series since Jan. 26, 1973. The outcome had their fans chanting "UTC" in the waning minutes. More than 100 of them rushed onto the court afterward.
"This is something special," Chattanooga coach Wes Moore said, "really great for our program."
Former Morristown West star Taylor Hall made her first four shots and finished with a game-high 24 points for Chattanooga (1-0), which shot 56.3 percent from the floor (18 for 32) for the final 20 minutes in scoring 52 points.
Chattanooga's performance had Warlick grousing about the one aspect of her team's play that she has stressed above all others.
"I think the whole night our defense was non-existent," Warlick said. "Outside of Andraya Carter putting pressure on the ball, we didn't affect them one bit. We were at the mercy of them missing shots.
"We're not going to outscore anybody. We're not going to outshoot them. We have to get turnovers."
Guard Meighan Simmons scored 23 points for No. 20 Tennessee (0-1) but took 25 shots and missed seven of her eight 3-point attempts. Freshman Bashaara Graves scored 14 before fouling out with 2:07 left.
Isabelle Harrison had a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. But the sophomore center's six turnovers, part of UT's 26, were more relevant to the outcome.
Tennessee should've felt more at home with roughly 40 percent of the crowd cheering for them. Head coach emeritus Pat Summitt was the guest of honor, signing autographs and posing for photos with dozens of fans beforehand.
Instead, the Lady Vols looked lost at the start, committing five turnovers in the first five minutes and missing five of their first six shots. Ariel Massengale, who didn't start at point guard, was hustled into the game within the first two minutes.
"We were just jittery at the beginning," said senior Taber Spani, who scored one basket and played 21 minutes. "It took us a long, long time to settle down. That's inexcusable."
The turnover count reached 17 by halftime, betraying any chance for the Lady Vols to build on a 20-11 lead. They went more than seven minutes without scoring and needed a Massengale 25-footer for a 28-all tie at halftime.
"You go in at halftime and talk about getting your defensive intensity up and you give up (52) points," Warlick said.
Chattanooga, which trailed at halftime 50-16 last season in Knoxville, started the second half making six of its first seven shots. Desperate for stops, Tennessee eventually went to a zone alignment for several possessions and managed to slow down the Lady Mocs.
But they gulped down a second wind and built their lead into double figures with 6:30 left, scoring from all points on the floor in mustering four double-figure scorers.
"We executed really well," Hall said.
The same couldn't be said for UT. Twice down the stretch, the Lady Mocs threw passes over Tennessee's press, which led to embarrassingly easy layups to punctuate their performance.
"When they started making their run, we didn't do a good job of staying together and it showed," Spani said.
The Lady Vols, who lost an opener for the first time since 1999, hope to be better at regrouping. A road game at No. 22 Georgia Tech awaits on Sunday.