Despite the frigid weather, a season-high of 14,437 fans made it to Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night to witness the jersey retirement of not only a former Lady Vol national champion, but also a WNBA MVP as well in Candace Parker.
While there was plenty of celebration and cheers throughout the nightcap, silence loomed throughout the arena as the final buzzer sounded after Andraya Carter missed a game tying three point shot. In their SEC home opener, the No. 5 Lady Vols fell just short to No. 16 LSU. 80-77.
Lady Tigers guard Danielle Ballard—along with two technical fouls assessed to Meighan Simmons and Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick— provided the difference in the game between the two top-25 ranked programs.
With some of LSU’s post players in foul trouble, Ballard accounted for a season-high in points with 25 and tied her career-high as well. The former Memphis Central High School standout also shot over a third of her team’s field goal attempts as she connected on 11-of-25 from the floor and totaled a respective eight rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“She is a great player, and we knew coming into the game she was great against one-on-one,” Lady Vols point guard Ariel Massengale said. “She put her team on her back in the first half and did what she needed to do to get her team the victory.”
The game appeared all but over after the Lady Tigers (11-2, 1-0 SEC) hit five free throws to give them a 75-59 lead with 4:37 left to play. Simmons and Warlick were both given technical fouls for showing frustration about a foul called on the Lady Vols lone senior.
Despite the largest deficit of the night, Tennessee (11-2, 0-1) settled down and put together a 14-2 run. After a made jumper by Isabelle Harrison at the two-minute mark, the Lady Vols only trailed by three.
“After all the chaos had settled down, we pulled ourselves together, and we said no matter what we had to get stops,” Harrison said. “During that stretch we really pressed our defense and did a good job coming back.”
Harrison led all scorers on the night with 26 points (7-of-13 FG, 12-of-16 FT). The total matched her career-high in points that she accomplished in the team’s 110-42 win last Sunday over Lipscomb.
With 15.9 seconds remaining in the game, Harrison hit her first free throw attempt but was just off on her second that would have tied the game.
“I may have started thinking too much on that last free throw, and it frustrates me a lot to miss that,” Harrison said.
Freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief gave the Lady Tigers breathing room with two made free throws and forced the Lady Vols to try and hit a three pointer with their go-to shooter from long range in Simmons fouled out of the game.
The Lady Vols final attempt at overtime was no good.
“It’s tough when you work so hard every day,” Massengale said. “We played great the last few minutes of the game and we came up with big stops when we needed them. We just have to go back to the little details. We need to play with that final energy for a whole 40 minutes.”
Despite sophomore forward Bashaara Graves only playing seven minutes in the first half due to an injury, the Lady Vols led at halftime 44-40. Warlick’s squad, however, gave up a 5-0 run to start the final period and never regained the lead the rest of the night.
In the first half of action, Simmons had 15 points, including 4-of-4 from beyond the arc.
Massengale put together her second double-double of the season with 10 points and 12 of her team’s 16 assists.
Tennessee shot 41.7 percent (25-of-60) from the floor and 71.9 percent (23-of-32) from the free throw line.
LSU shot 40.6 percent (26-of-64) on field goals and 81.5 percent (22-of-27) from the charity stripe.
“We got beat by a better team today,” Warlick said. “Pretty plain and simple.”
The Lady Vols hit the road as they face the Georgia Bulldogs this Sunday at 4 p.m. in Athens, Ga.