Mercedes Russell hits one milestone, misses another as Lady Vols beat Georgia [photos]

Mercedes Russell hits one milestone, misses another as Lady Vols beat Georgia [photos]

February 11th, 2018 by David Cobb in Breaking News

Tennessee's Anastasia Hayes attempts to score while defended by Georgia's Simone Costa during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018. (Saul Young//Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Mercedes Russell hits one milestone, misses another as Lady Vols beat Georgia

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KNOXVILLE — There were a lot of turnovers and some fourth-quarter drama, which has been the case for the Tennessee women's basketball team during most of its Southeastern Conference games this season.

This was the type of drama coach Holly Warlick prefers, however.

In No. 11 Tennessee's 62-46 win over No. 18 Georgia on Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena, Mercedes Russell's chance at a career milestone came down to the wire.

With Russell stuck on 1,498 career points and her Lady Volunteers in control during the fourth quarter, Tennessee's perimeter players attempted to work the ball inside to their center. She eventually made it to the foul line and hit her first free throw. The second shot went down but rimmed out as a crowd of 12,523 let out a collective groan.

Tennessee center Mercedes Russell (21) tries to take the ball away from Georgia forward Mackenzie Engram (33) during the first quarter of an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018. (Joy Kimbrough/The Daily Times via AP)

Tennessee center Mercedes Russell (21) tries to take...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Warlick opted to take Russell out with 1:04 to play and the fifth-year senior stuck on 1,499.

"I didn't want Mercedes to get hurt," Warlick said.

After three straight wins that required a lot of fourth-quarter work, Warlick had the luxury of removing one of her team's two senior leaders from the game that became the fourth consecutive victory.

Plus, Russell had already reached one milestone. She became the sixth player in program history with 1,000 rebounds during the first half, when the Lady Vols put on a clinic in defense and rebounding in the annual Live Pink, Bleed Orange game that raises awareness for the battle against breast cancer.

Tennessee outrebounded Georgia 50-30 in the game.

"Here's what I love about it," Warlick said. "Hard work in practice correlates to success on the basketball court in the game. We've really done a great job of trying to focus in on what our weaknesses are and pinpoint how we need to get better."

Tennessee (21-4, 9-3) opened up a 21-point lead in the second quarter while holding Georgia (21-4, 9-3) without a field goal for more than nine minutes. The Lady Vols took a 36-19 lead to the break.

Georgia forced 27 Tennessee turnovers in the game but never got closer than 14 points in the second half as Tennessee's length on defense held the visitors to 29.5 percent shooting for the game. The Lady Bulldogs committed 20 turnovers.

"It was good to see us maintain," Warlick said. "They made little runs at us, and we answered their runs, which was really good."

Russell finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds, while Jaime Nared added 15 points, nine rebounds and four steals. Rennia Davis and Meme Jackson scored 11 points each for the Lady Vols, who moved into a three-way tie for second place in the SEC standings with Georgia and South Carolina.

Taja Cole and Mackenzie Engram led the Lady Bulldogs with 12 points apiece, with Engram getting 10 rebounds. Georgia, which has lost two of its past four games, hosts South Carolina (20-5, 9-3) on Thursday.

Tennessee hosts Alabama (15-10, 5-7) on Thursday. Russell, who has averaged a career-best 16.4 points per game and shot a career-best 62.7 percent from the floor this season, would enter the 1,500-point club with her first basket in that contest.

The five players she joined in the 1,000 rebounds club all finished their careers with at least 1,500 points as well: Tamika Catchings, Sheila Frost, Bashaara Graves, Chamique Holdsclaw and Glory Johnson.

"Those are some of the best players to play the game of basketball," Russell said. "Just to be added along with them, it's very humbling."

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This story was updated Feb. 11, 2018, at 11:59 p.m.