DULUTH, Ga. — The No. 2 Lady Vols staged off an early SEC Tournament letdown against No. 10 LSU in the SEC quarterfinals Friday night at the Gwinnett Center, as they overcame a 15-point deficit to win 77-65 behind a strong effort on the boards.
Junior center Isabelle Harrison led the attack on offense with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Her counterpart, sophomore forward Bashaara Graves finished with 14 points (8-of-11 FT) and nine rebounds.
"Both of our posts were just going at each other and we just kept going," Graves said. "Every time Izzy was open I would pass it to her, and we just kept battling in the post."
Despite out-rebounding the Tigers 48-30, the sixth ranked team in the country was pushed to their limit especially in the first quarter of play.
After Graves scored the games first four points, Theresa Plaisance and the Lady Tigers struck back.
The six-foot-five senior center knocked down two three-pointers and took one to the hoop as she accounted for eight points during a 12-0 LSU run.
"It was tough going up against TP (Plaisance), she is a great player," Harrison said. "She can play outside and inside and being a post it's sometimes a hard adjustment."
The Lady Tigers continued to knock down shots from behind the arc in the first half and took a 27-12 lead after Jeanne Kenney drained her third three of the first half and the team's sixth overall.
"In the beginning our defense created that offense," Kenney said. "It all comes back to defense."
Despite maintaining the lead for the final 18:23 of the first period, the Lady Tigers let the Lady Vols gain momentum before the first half came to a close.
With just under a minute left before intermission, freshman point guard Jordan Reynolds rejected Danielle Ballard's jumper and then proceeded to take the ball down the court where she missed a jumper of her own.
However, fellow freshman Mercedes Russell was there to clean up the miss, as she boxed out her opponent and elevated beyond her opponent to gather the offensive rebound and hit the put back layup.
Her only basket of the night brought the score to 34-28 in favor of LSU at the break.
UT turned the ball over ten times in the first half and shot just 35.3 percent.
"We jut weren't getting good looks," Warlick said. "We pounded the ball inside. It kind of opened up the outside for us. We were focused on defense and rebounding as always."
In the second half the two teams battled back and forth with each other, but it was UT who came up with stops and put together a 16-0 run that was capped by senior Meighan Simmons two made free throws to put the Lady Vols ahead 70-55 with three minutes left to play in the game.
With 4:41 left to play, Simmons drew a charge against LSU's Raigyne Moncrief that brought the Gwinnett Center – that was mostly colored in orange and white – to life.
"The crowd was huge," Warlick said. "They are always big for us. They don't ever give up. We fed off them a lot throughout the game. This first game we knew was going to be very hard for us. We didn't get a chance to shoot in the arena until today.
"Once you get that first game under your belt, you are always more settled."
Redshirt freshman point guard Andraya Carter also played a major role in the second half, in which she shot 4-of-7 from the field after missing all four shots in the first half.
Jordan Reynolds also impressed her head coach, as she scored six points to go along with three assists, two blocks and three steals.
"Andraya Carter and Jordan Reynolds were huge today and they would not have done that without the support of the rest of the team," Warlick said. "They are so resilient. I don't care if they are freshman they get the job done for us."
Junior forward Cierra Burdick posted her fifth double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The win for the Lady Vols advances them to the semifinals where they will meet Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on ESPNU.