Glory Johnson will not focus on the last play when A’dia Mathies abruptly ended sixth-ranked Tennessee’s 36-game Southeastern Conference winning streak. Instead, she’ll dwell on all the little things the Lady Volunteers did wrong in a 61-60 loss to No. 9 Kentucky on Thursday night.
Mathies drove the lane and scored in traffic with 4.2 seconds left to finish with a career-high 34 points.
“Mathies did a great job of getting to the basket,” said Johnson, who had 17 points. “We’re not going to look at that one play, we’re going to look at missed layups and missed free throws and turnovers and everything that happened that shouldn’t have.”
With Kentucky trailing 60-57, Mathies followed her own shot to cut it to one with 46 seconds left.
After Tennessee (12-4, 3-1) was called for a charge and Kentucky (15-2, 4-0) used a timeout, Mathies took the ball at halfcourt, dribbled into the lane and hit a 7-foot floater.
“We didn’t have an answer for her tonight, it didn’t start with the last shot,” Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “She was outstanding. My hat’s off to her. She was outstanding.”
Tennessee’s Kamiko Williams drove the length of the floor, but missed an off-balance 16-footer as time expired. Tennessee rallied from 12 points down with 7:46 left to take a lead, but lost for the first time in the SEC since falling 53-50 at Georgia on Jan. 21, 2010.
“Our defense got us back in the game,” Warlick said. “We made a couple of runs.”
Vicki Baugh scored 16 points and Shekinna Stricklen 11 for Tennessee, but it wasn’t enough to keep Kentucky from winning its first four games in conference play for the first time in history to go with 15 straight at home.
Kentucky led 50-38 off two free throws by Mathies with 7:46 left when Tennessee used a 16-4 rally to tie it. Meighan Simmons and Stricklen hit 3s, while Ariel Massengale’s three-point play made it 54-all.
Then, after Mathies made two more free throws, Stricklen hit a layup, Kentucky’s Amber Smith threw a pass away that led to a free throw by Johnson and Mathies fell and lost the ball that started Tennessee’s 3-on-0 break that ended with a layup by Baugh to give the Lady Vols a 59-56 with 2:06 left.
At the timeout, the Kentucky pep band played “Don’t Stop Believin”’ with the game seemingly getting out of control.
Bria Goss made one of two free throws for the Wildcats and Johnson hit the second of two attempts to put Tennessee back ahead 60-57.
Goss then missed a 3 that would’ve tied it, but grabbed her own rebound and Kentucky got another possession. Mathies scored on a putback to cut it to 60-59 and Stricklen was whistled for a charge with 28 seconds to play, setting up the final possession.
“Credit Kentucky defensively, they made us play fast at times, they made us rush, so the combination of that and the tempo that the game was being played,” Warlick said. “We were playing too fast and we didn’t make plays.”
The last time these two teams played in the SEC Tournament, the Lady Vols routed the Wildcats by 25. This one looked to be different from the start between the two schools that have many ties on the coaching staff on both sides.
Tennessee used a 10-2 run midway through the first half to take a 20-18 lead before both teams went cold for the next five minutes, combining to miss 25 consecutive shots and commit 12 turnovers before Mathies grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a putback to end the cold snap.
The Lady Vols’ struggles continued. Alicia Manning hit the second of two free throws, but a bucket by Keyla Snowden gave Kentucky a 25-21 halftime lead as Tennessee finished the half with 16 straight misses and eight turnovers.
Johnson’s 8-footer in the lane on the team’s first shot of the second half ended the span of nearly 11 minutes without a field goal, but Kentucky would still build a 50-38 lead behind Mathies and Snowden before Tennessee’s furious rally.
“We dug ourselves in a hole, we battled back and you can’t do that; you can’t do that against good teams,” Warlick said.