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Earlier this week, Tennessee returned to the national rankings in women's basketball for the first time in the 2020-21 season. It might be a short stay.

The Lady Volunteers, No. 23 in The Associated Press Top 25 and No. 24 in the coaches poll, went from the brink of a blowout win to a battle for control to a gut-punch loss Thursday night in Knoxville, losing 67-66 to Southeastern Conference rival Georgia after leading by 17 points early in the second half.

When Tennessee sophomore center Tamari Key made a layup 11 seconds into the third quarter, the Lady Vols (8-2, 2-1) pushed their lead to 42-25. The Lady Bulldogs (11-1, 3-1) chipped away from there, going ahead for the first time — and for good — when Que Morrison hit a 3-pointer with 47 seconds to play in the third.

Georgia outscored Tennessee 29-9 in the period on the way to its first win in Knoxville since 1996, a run of 15 straight losses for the Lady Dogs, whose biggest lead Thursday was eight points twice, the last time with 4:07 to play.

The Lady Vols closed their gap to its final margin on a layup by Rennia Davis on a Rae Burrell assist with 29 seconds remaining. Tennessee had possession twice in the final 13 seconds but gave it away both times, finishing the game with 24 turnovers that led to 23 Georgia points.

"It's the SEC, and you have to play every single night, and you have to play for 40 minutes," Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said in her postgame news conference. "You can't play for 30 minutes and think you're going to get a win. Obviously I was really disappointed in how we came out at halftime. I let our players know that. I was really honest with them after the game about what I saw.

"I think they'll be motivated coming out of this to be a better basketball team. They better be, because it doesn't get easier. It is tough, it is every single night."

Davis led Tennessee with 15 points, and she also had four rebounds, three assists and a block. Key added 14 points with five rebounds, four blocks and two assists, and Jordan Horston scored 11 points. Kasiyahna Kushkituah led the Lady Vols in rebounds with seven as they finished with a 38-29 advantage on the glass.

Georgia's scoring was paced by 17 points apiece from Gabby Connally, who had four 3-pointers and five assists in 37 minutes, and fellow starter Morrison, who had eight rebounds and four steals in 34 minutes and scored all but four of her points in the third quarter. The Lady Dogs' other three starters played a combined 36 minutes.

Mikayla Coombs added 11 points, seven rebounds and four steals in 35 minutes off the bench for Georgia, which has not been ranked this season but was among the top teams in "others receiving votes" in both national polls this week.

"First of all, Tennessee is an outstanding team, and we knew it was going to be tough to come in here and win," Georgia coach Joni Taylor said in a school release. "In the second half, we went with who we thought was going to give us the most energy. When we play as many players as we play, it sometimes takes time to figure out. I think tonight was big for our team because it shows them we can play with the best. It also showed us why it is so important to get off to a good start and the importance of coming out strong from the tip."

Tennessee returns to competition at Alabama at 3 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. Georgia's next game is at the same time, with Ole Miss visiting Athens.

Compiled by Marty Kirkland. Contact him at mkirkland@timesfreepress.com.

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