KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — What started with a coronation ended with consternation for the Tennessee Lady Vols.
On a night when Tennessee retired the No. 3 jersey of Candace Parker, the fifth-ranked Lady Vols fell 80-77 to No. 16 LSU on Thursday after a frantic rally from a 16-point deficit fell just short. LSU (11-2, 1-0 SEC) ended a seven-game losing streak in this rivalry and snapped the Lady Vols' string of 16 consecutive victories in SEC openers.
Tennessee (11-2, 0-1) has lost two of its last three games after getting off to a 10-0 start. The Lady Vols now have little time to regroup before playing at No. 19 Georgia on Sunday.
"We have to learn from it," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "We have to turn around and play Georgia. ... We can't dwell on this too long. We will go back and watch the tape to see what we can do. We will get better."
Tennessee, which trailed 75-59 with 4:37 left, cut the deficit to one point in the final minute before LSU hung on. The loss spoiled a festive evening in which Tennessee honored Parker, who led the Lady Vols to national titles in 2007 and 2008.
LSU coach Nikki Caldwell and Warlick were assistants on former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt's staff during Parker's college career. Caldwell played on Tennessee's 1991 national championship team and was born in Oak Ridge, Tenn., about 25 miles from Thompson-Boling Arena.
Before the game, Parker said it was appropriate the ceremony came when the Lady Vols played LSU.
"It's very fitting," Parker said. "Nikki Caldwell was a huge reason why I came to the University of Tennessee and why I became a Lady Vol. It was an honor to play under that coaching staff."
LSU was clinging to a 78-77 lead when Tennessee's Isabelle Harrison missed the second of two free throws with 15.9 seconds left. After Raigyne Moncrief got the rebound and made both ends of a one-and-one opportunity, Andraya Carter missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
"Maybe I just had too much thinking in my head," Harrison said of her missed free throw. "I should have concentrated. It frustrates me a lot."
Harrison matched a career high with 26 points and also had 10 rebounds. Ariel Massengale added 10 points and 12 assists, while Meighan Simmons scored 15. Tennessee forward Bashaara Graves played just 17 minutes after getting hurt early in the game, and she wore an orange sleeve on her right leg while on the floor in the second half.
"She wasn't getting any lift off of her jumps," Warlick said. "She was in pain."
Danielle Ballard matched a career high with 25 points for LSU, while DaShawn Harden had 17 points and shot 4 of 7 from 3-point range. LSU also got 15 points from Theresa Plaisance and 14 from Jeanne Kenney.
"We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game," Caldwell said. "I'm just so proud of our team for really taking our game plan and trying to execute it. Players stepped up and made big plays. We knew that Tennessee was going to come at us and was going to make a run because that's who they are."
LSU erased a 44-40 halftime deficit by going on an 11-2 spurt to open the second half. Plaisance scored seven points during that surge, including a 3-pointer that put the Tigers in front 45-44 with 19:14 remaining. Tennessee clawed back and tied it at 55, but LSU responded with a 20-4 run that featured a trio of 3-pointers from Harden.
The game seemed out of reach for Tennessee with 4:37 remaining when Simmons and Warlick each picked up technical fouls after Simmons was called for a personal foul. The sequence caused Simmons to foul out, and Kenney made four straight free throws to give LSU a 75-59 advantage, which represented Tennessee's largest deficit of the season.
"Our defense wasn't very highly motivated to play until probably like the last six minutes of the game," Warlick said.
But the Lady Vols stormed back by turning up the defensive pressure and forcing LSU into numerous turnovers.
The struggles down the stretch brought back memories of last year's Tennessee-LSU game, when the Lady Vols rallied in the final minute to win 64-62 on Graves' basket.
But this time, LSU found a way to beat Tennessee for the first time since winning 66-63 in Baton Rouge on Feb. 26, 2009. LSU's last victory over Tennessee in Knoxville was a 78-62 decision on Feb. 14, 2008.