Lady Vols, missing star Rickea Jackson, fall below .500 with loss to Virginia Tech

AP file photo by Joe Maiorana / Tennessee women's basketball coach Kellie Harper said she was proud of how the Lady Vols played Sunday despite a 59-56 home loss to ninth-ranked Virginia Tech.

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee women's basketball coach Kellie Harper and senior leader Jordan Horston remain encouraged despite a frustrating start to the season.

That doesn't mean either one is ready to embrace the results on the scoreboard.

After a week off — during which they dropped out of The Associated Press Top 25 poll after entering the season ranked fifth — the Lady Volunteers returned to the court in shorthanded fashion and lost 59-56 to No. 9 Virginia Tech in a Jimmy V Women's Classic matchup Sunday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Kayana Traylor scored 18 points, Cayla King added 11, and Georgia Amoore and D'asia Gregg had 10 apiece as the Hokies improved to 8-0. Amoore with seven assists and King with three steals had game highs, and Elizabeth Kitley grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots for Virginia Tech, which had a 12-point lead in the first half but went to the break ahead 34-30.

Horston led Tennessee (4-5) with 26 points and 11 rebounds, but she missed a pair of late shots with chances to tie. With the Lady Vols trailing 58-56 with three seconds left, Horston was off on a jumper; down three with 1.1 seconds remaining, her 3-point try from the top of the key bounced off.

"I mean, every loss that we have is pretty frustrating, because we don't like to lose," said Horston, who also had two assists and two steals. "I know for myself, I hate losing. I'm a competitor. Nobody wants to lose, but I've just got to keep reminding myself that it's not the end-all right now, so we're just still working, playing hard, and we're getting better. So that's what we're looking at."

Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks said Horston was "unbelievable" and called her a "tremendous talent," while Harper complimented Horston's leadership and effort, saying she "poured her heart out" while playing all but two minutes of the game.

Tennessee, which trailed 51-43 after three quarters, played without Rickea Jackson, whose per-game averages in points (17.6) and rebounds (6.6) lead the team. Jackson was held out because of a coach's decision that Harper said will be "indefinite" without giving further details. Jasmine Franklin and Jillian Hollingshead, both in concussion protocol, also sat.

"I'm proud of our team's fight," Harper said. "It just stinks that we didn't get the win. I thought we played well enough to win, but we needed to make a few more plays, whether that was on the offensive end or the defensive end, either one.

Tamari Key added 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks for Tennessee, Jasmine Powell had nine points, six assists and five rebounds, and Marta Suarez had nine rebounds.

Virginia Tech shot 35% (20-of-57) from the field and 28% (9-of-32) from 3-point range, while the Lady Vols shot 33% (2o-of-60) and 14% (2-of-14) by comparison but outrebounded the Hokies 46-31.

Next up for the Lady Vols is a visit from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Mocs (6-4) are in their first season under head coach Shawn Poppie, a Virginia Tech assistant the past six seasons.