Updated at 11:21 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019.
KNOXVILLE — Despite a horrendous start Thursday, everything was set up for the Tennessee women's basketball team to pull out a win against 16th-ranked Kentucky.
A brief look at the Kentucky bench with 4:19 to play saw the Wildcats' top three scorers — Rhyne Howard, Maci Morris and Taylor Murray — sidelined, with Howard and Morris having fouled out and Murray having gone down with a knee injury late in the first half.
Yet the Wildcats made the plays down the stretch, not the Lady Volunteers.
Kentucky led wire to wire in a 73-71 Southeastern Conference victory in front of 8,145 at Thompson-Boling Arena, giving Tennessee back-to-back home losses for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
"The opportunity was there," Tennessee sophomore Rennia Davis said. "We just didn't capitalize."
The 13th-ranked Lady Vols (12-3, 1-2) play at Georgia on Sunday. They have a game at Alabama next week before hosting Arkansas on Jan. 21 in the "We Back Pat" game.
Tennessee shot only 38 percent from the field — its second consecutive game shooting under 40 percent — and made only 4 of 15 3-point attempts and only 17 of 29 free throws, the fourth time this season under 60 percent from the foul line. The Lady Vols outrebounded Kentucky (15-2, 2-1) 50-32, with 28 offensive boards, but they were able to turn those into only 20 second-chance points.
The Lady Vols had 17 assists but 19 turnovers.
"We knew Kentucky was going to get out and deny and play hard defensively," Davis said. "We've just got to keep the ball moving consistently and do the little things. At times we don't do that. and the ball gets stuck.
"That's something we've got to keep working on in practice."
Evina Westbrook led the Lady Vols with 20 points, but the sophomore point guard committed eight turnovers. Davis scored 12, with 10 in the second half as Tennessee attempted to mount a comeback, while Zaay Green scored nine. Mimi Collins had 11 points, all in the first half. Cheridene Green had 15 rebounds, eight offensive, but only eight points, as did Meme Jackson, who hit only one of her seven shots.
Jackson, the team's biggest long-shot threat, was only 1-for-4 from 3-point range. She is 1-for-16 in her last two games from the field and has been 5-for-30 in Tennessee's three losses.
Kentucky was led by Morris's 27 points. Ogechi Anyagaligbo had 13 and Jaida Roper — who took over for Murray after her injury — had 10. Howard, the freshman from Bradley Central High School, had six points and five rebounds before fouling out.
The Wildcats shot 55 percent from the field in the first quarter, jumping out to a 24-7 lead and leading by 11 after the period. They led by 10 at halftime and 58-46 going into the final period of play.
Tennessee kept chipping away, cutting the lead to two on a pair of Jackson free throws with 1:43 to play. Two possessions later, Kentucky held for a shot late in the shot clock, and with no other options available Roper shot a 3 from about 23 feet away that went in to put the Wildcats up 69-64.
Tennessee cut the lead to three on a Davis layup with 12 seconds to go, but Roper knocked down a pair of free throws with 11 seconds to play.
"We dug ourselves a hole in the first quarter," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "We didn't shoot the ball very well around the basket and I thought those two things hurt us, and we missed a ton of free throws. Kentucky battled; they weathered their storm.
"We couldn't overcome a lot of things we didn't do."