Stellar free-throw shooting lifts Tennessee in win against Georgia
The serenity of the free throw line became Tennessee's salvation Sunday afternoon.
The unusual circumstances of a hard-fought Southeastern Conference basketball game against Georgia couldn't infringe on this space. Five different Lady Vols went through their varied routines there and achieved the same result.
They made shot after shot until Isabelle Harrison missed her final attempt with 46 seconds left. By then, Tennessee was 20-for-21, completing an otherwise sketchy offensive performance. The uncanny accuracy assured a 59-51 victory before a crowd of 13,428 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The free-throw exhibition was Tennessee's best since making all 20 attempts against LSU in 1988.
"Free throws are always very important, especially in tight games like this," said UT guard Jordan Reynolds, who was 5-for-5 from the line. "We shot very well from the free throw line, but had we not, we probably would have lost the game.
"Our coaches are always telling us that free throws are free points and no one is distracting you. You just have to get up to the line and focus."
Reynolds' free throws were part of her career-high 15 points to lead No. 5 Tennessee (17-3, 7-0 SEC). Fellow guard Ariel Massengale scored 10. She was 2-for-12 on 3-pointers and 3-for-15 from the field overall.
Forward Mackenzie Engram came off the bench to score a team-high 14 points for No. 22 Georgia (17-4, 5-3), which made three more field goals than UT (21-18). Forward Krista Donald scored 12.
The Lady Bulldogs lost guard Shacobia Barbee, the team's leading scorer, with a right leg injury in the first half. She had to be carried off the floor. Georgia coach Andy Landers had no update afterward on the severity of Barbee's injury.
The Lady Vols put together scoring runs of 12 and 14 points. Yet they went without a point for the first 8:12 of the second half. They trailed by as many as eight points in the first half but led 30-25 at the break. They fell behind again, 35-30, at the start of second half but eventually led by 11 after Harrison's final made free throw.
"My problem with us in the first half and probably a large part of the night was we shot the ball quickly," UT coach Holly Warlick said. "... if we are not shooting the ball well, come out, make them play defense, move it around and get a good shot. When you are not hitting and scoring you just can't shoot the ball quickly."
After shooting a season-best 55.6 percent from the floor Thursday against LSU, the Lady Vols cooled off to 34 percent (18-for-53), their third-lowest accuracy this season.
For starters, getting shots was more of a problem than making them. The Lady Vols had five turnovers before the first media timeout and finished with 18 overall, which tied for their second highest season total.
"I know our turnovers hurt us," said forward Cierra Burdick, who committed four. "I'll take blame for that. I turned the ball over way too much. As a senior, I can't do that."
After falling behind 22-14, Tennessee's freshmen came to the rescue, scoring 11 of UT's 13 points at one point. Kortney Dunbar swished a 3-pointer for her first points since Dec. 7 against Lipscomb. Jaime Nared and Alexa Middleton, meanwhile, converted conventional three-point plays.
|Near Perfect Lady Vols|
|Tennesee combined for 20-21 from the line.|
"I think we were extremely active; we were communicating," Burdick said. "I felt like I was having a conversation with Izzy and Bashaara [Graves] out there."
The ultimate relief came from the free throw line. Landers lamented his team's part in UT's procession.
"I'm really upset with the way that we fouled," he said. "We didn't affect anything. They have five, six (conventional) three-point baskets. They hit the shot. We couldn't have fouled them very hard. We're out of position and we're fouling someone for no reason whatsoever."
Georgia guard Marjorie Butler, the former Webb School standout, played 40 minutes, recording six points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals.
This article was written by Dan Fleser from Knoxville News Sentinel and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.