BATON ROUGE, La. — Tennessee led by as many as 11 points and led in both halves Thursday night.
And thanks to a dramatic turn of events, The Lady Vols led when it mattered the most.
Bashaara Graves’ layup crawled over the rim with a second left to complete a frantic comeback, giving Tennessee a 64-62 SEC women’s basketball victory over LSU.
“For us to keep fighting and pull it out when people thought it was over, it says a lot about our character,” UT forward Cierra Burdick said.
Before a crowd of 4,482 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, No. 12 Tennessee (18-5, 9-1) overcame a 62-59 deficit in the final 30 seconds.
Theresa Plaisance, who scored a game-high 20 points, for LSU, appeared to have scored the game-winner on a jumper with 1:03 left. But her missed free throw with 13 seconds left following a Graves layup — left the door ajar.
Burdick tied the game by making one of two free throws with seven seconds remaining. Then UT pressured the inbounds play and Meighan Simmons deflected the pass to Graves.
“I knew if we got the possession, we’d get the win,” Graves said. “Meighan got a tip on the inbounds. That turned it around.”
Along with her timely tip, Simmons also scored a team-high 18 points. Graves’ final two baskets capped a 17-point performance.
Ariel Massengale scored nine points for UT. Kamiko Williams, who was questionable beforehand with a sprained right ankle, scored eight and grabbed six rebounds.
For LSU (13-10, 4-6), Bianca Lutley scored 13 points and Danielle Ballard had 10. Jeanne Kenney came back from a left knee injury suffered against Texas A&M on Monday to score four points and dish out five assists.
Tennessee’s victory was a gritty follow-up to Sunday’s stunning 80-63 upset loss at Missouri.
“We were a totally different team,” UT coach Holly Warlick said. “At Missouri, we gave up. Today, we didn’t give up. We battled. We had heart. We competed.”
Tennessee started fast, opening a 13-2 lead. The Lady Vols’ first two baskets were scored at the rim by Graves, courtesy of assists.
Such efficiency would not turn out to be the form for the first half, however.
The Lady Vols field-goal shooting percentage plunged as low as 33 percent against LSU’s zone. The turnovers also mounted, reaching nine at the break.
To make matters worse, Graves and Taber Spani both picked up two fouls.
Tennessee vs LSU, Feb. 7, 2013
The Lady Tigers rallied and led by as many as four points. UT recovered, though, scoring the half’s final basket in the final seconds for a 28-26 halftime lead.
Tennessee built its lead back to 34-27 to start the second half as the teams began trading defensive adjustments.
LSU eventually got the better of the chess match, not to mention the offensive rebounding, regaining the lead after a Adrienne Webb free throw with 11:11 left.
Overall, the game featured five ties and 14 lead changes. And a finish for Tennessee to savor.
Russell Finalist: Lady Vols signee Mercedes Russell was named Thursday as one of three finalists for the Naismith girls high school player of the year award.
Dan Fleser covers Tennessee women’s basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser.