Bashaara Graves made a late steal and soon after scored inside with a second left to help No. 12 Tennessee narrowly avert a second-straight upset with a 64-62 victory over LSU on Thursday night.
Coming off a stunning 80-63 loss at Missouri, Tennessee (18-5, 9-1 Southeastern Conference) trailed 62-59 after Theresa Plaisance's baseline jumper put LSU (13-10, 4-6) in position to give coach Nikki Caldwell her first victory over her alma mater in four tries.
Then Graves, a 6-foot-2 freshman who has quickly established herself as one of Tennessee's go-to players, rescued the Lady Vols.
First Graves scored inside in transition to make it 62-61 with 15 seconds left. Tennessee then fouled Plaisance, who uncharacteristically missed the front end of one-and-one free throws.
Tennessee's Cierra Burdick tied it by making one of two free throws with 7 seconds left, then Graves stole the ball as LSU's Bianca Lutley tried to corral an inbound pass. Graves' initial shot was blocked by Plaisance, but Tennessee got her the ball again underneath and her next shot rolled in as she fell backward and teammates started to pile on her in celebration before realizing they still had to defend LSU's final inbound pass. The Lady Vols' lapse allowed Adrienne Webb to get off a desperation shot from just a few feet outside the 3-point line, but it fell short, allowing the Lady Vols to carry on with their celebration as the stunned LSU crowd groaned.
Graves finished with 17 points, a performance made even more impressive by the fact that LSU did not have to defend Tennessee's 6-3 front court player Isabelle Harrison, who averages 10 points and 8.3 rebounds, but missed her third straight game with a knee injury. Meighan Simmons led Tennessee with 18 points and Burdick, in only her third game back from a broken hand, narrowly missed a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.
The finish was a cruel one for Plaisance, who nearly led the Lady Tigers to a thrilling upset with 20 points and nine rebounds.
Lutley had 13 points and Danielle Ballard 10 for LSU, which has lost two straight and three of four.
The lead changed 14 times, there were five ties and neither team led by more than 3 in the second half.
Early on, however, it hardly looked to be a thriller.
The Lady Vols raced to a 9-0 lead while LSU missed its first eight shots.
Plaisance finally got LSU on the board with a basket inside, but Tennessee's lead grew as large as 11 when Simmons' jumper made it 13-2.
It looked like the Lady Vols would have an easy night when suddenly the game turned on its head. Web and Lutley hit consecutive 3s and Kenny added a baseline jumper, sparking a stunning 20-5 LSU run.
Plaisance added a three-point play on a strong inside basket as she was fouled by Burdick, and Ballard's jumper gave the Lady Tigers their first lead at 17-16 with 8:39 left in the opening half.
The rest of the half was close thereafter, with Burdick's bucket in the paint giving the Lady Vols a 28-26 lead going into the locker room.