STARKVILLE, Miss. — Tennessee lost the ball but not the ball game Thursday night.
Stymied by turnovers, UT relied on zone defense and key baskets to pull off a 67-63 SEC women’s basketball victory over Mississippi State at Humphrey Coliseum.
Bashaara Graves and Ariel Massengale hit free throws in the final minute to secure the outcome. They led No. 12 Tennessee (14-3, 3-2 SEC) with 13 points apiece.
Kendra Grant scored 21 to lead Mississippi State (14-4, 1-3).
In the days leading up to Thursday’s game, UT coach Holly Warlick wondered aloud about what was her team’s best defensive alignment. She gave their zone a good workout right from the start against Mississippi State.
The alignment spared the Lady Vols foul trouble. It also discouraged the dribble penetration plays that had been tearing through their man-to-man alignment.
Tennessee was in good shape after overcoming an early spate of missed shots to lead 20-8.
Then came the turnovers — 22 in all. They began with six during an eight-play sequence, robbing UT of its early momentum.
The mistakes continued in a variety of ways — everything from dribbling mishaps, to errant passes to losing the ball as if it was bar of soap.
They continued right up until Massengale lost the ball on Tennessee’s final possession of the first half. By the break, Tennessee’s lead had dwindled to a shaky 26-23.
The Lady Vols continued losing the ball after halftime. They committed two in the first minute, causing Warlick to burn a timeout.
But they somehow held onto the lead, cobbling together enough points to hold off State, which pulled within a basket on several occasions early in the half.
Tennessee returns home and takes a break from conference play to face No. 2 Notre Dame on Monday at Thompson-Boling Arena.