published Monday, December 9th, 2013

Lady Vols pull away from Texas 75-61

  • photo
    Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale, right, shoots past Texas guard Empress Davenport in the second half of the Lady Vols’ 75-61 win Sunday in Knoxville.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee has played only one ranked team so far, but the third-ranked Lady Vols still believe they've been tested plenty of times this season.

It happened again Sunday.

Isabelle Harrison had 18 points and eight rebounds Sunday as Tennessee rallied from its customary slow start for a 75-61 victory over Texas. Although the Lady Vols (8-0) never trailed, they only led 28-27 at intermission.

Tennessee has been tied or behind at halftime in three games this season, yet won them all by at least nine points.

"I think in all the games we've played up to this point, there have been times when our backs have been against the wall," Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale said.

Tennessee switched its lineup, giving 6-foot-6 freshman center Mercedes Russell her first start and sophomore forward Jasmine Jones her second career start.

Sophomore forward Bashaara Graves, who entered Sunday's game averaging 11.1 points and a team-high 9.0 rebounds, was held out of the starting lineup for only the second time in 42 career games. Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said she made the changes because Jones had a great week of practice and Graves didn't perform as well.

"I said, 'Bashaara, I can't start you,' and she said she understood," Warlick said. "It's not a disciplinary thing."

Graves finished with seven points and six rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench. Massengale had 15 points and seven assists, Meighan Simmons scored 13 points and Cierra Burdick had 10 for the Lady Vols.

Tennessee improved to 8-0 for the first time since the 2009-10 season. The Lady Vols beat then-No. 12 North Carolina 81-65 on Nov. 11, but struggled in the first half before pulling away.

"They're legit, there's no question about it," Texas coach Karen Aston said. "Watching a lot of film, they're a legitimate top-five team."

Nneka Enemkpali led Texas (6-3) with 12 points and 11 rebounds. All but two of her points came in the first half. Chassidy Fussell added 12 points, despite shooting 1 of 10 from 3-point range.

Krystle Henderson had 11 points and Empress Davenport added 10.

This game was a contrast in styles between a Tennessee team that likes to run and a Texas squad that prefers low scores. Tennessee entered the day averaging 80.3 points, while Texas was allowing 49.5 points.

In the first half, Texas controlled the tempo.

After taking an 11-2 lead in the first 5½ minutes of the game, Tennessee struggled the rest of the first half. The Lady Vols had a one-point lead at intermission mostly because Texas missed open 3-point attempts. Texas was 1 of 7 on 3-pointers in the first half and finished 4 of 20 from beyond the arc.

"I think we came into this game with nobody expecting us to win," Henderson said. "We kind of had that chip on our shoulder from the beginning."

But once again, Tennessee came up big in the second half. Massengale said Tennessee's season-long penchant for playing better in the second half helped players believe they could do it again Sunday.

"It gives us a lot of confidence," Massengale said. "We need to get off to better starts. We're still trying to figure out what's going to make us go in the first half, but it's a long season and hopefully we figure that out soon."

Texas trailed 35-34 with 15:20 remaining when Fussell missed a 3-pointer that would have given the Longhorns their first lead of the game. But Tennessee went on a 9-0 run to build a double-digit advantage. Massengale started the momentum shift with a driving layup and assisted on baskets by Graves and Burdick in Tennessee's 9-0 spurt.

Texas regrouped and cut Tennessee's lead to 54-50 on Davenport's 3-pointer with 8:32 remaining, but the Lady Vols scored the next 11 points to put the game away.

The game's dominant player in the first half, Enemkpali scored just two points in the second before fouling out with 2:58 left. After fouling out, Enemkpali picked up a technical foul when she tossed the ball in frustration and it landed on Burdick, who had fallen to the floor on the play.

"It wasn't (done) purposely," Enemkpali said. "It was the wrong move on my part. It wasn't a reflection on who I am as a person or my program. It was just the wrong call."

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