SEC WOMEN:

Tennessee asserts itself in 2nd half

By: RICK HARVEY SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Arkansas senior Sarah Watkins and Tennessee freshman Bashaara Graves vie for a rebound during the second half on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Arkansas senior Sarah Watkins and Tennessee freshman Bashaara Graves vie for a rebound during the second half on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

— Tennessee is accustomed to getting a foe’s best effort, so a nine-point half time deficit to the Arkansas women wasn’t a cause for panic Sunday.

“We’re going after an SEC championship,” Lady Volunteers junior guard Meighan Simmons said. “We knew we just needed to play Tennessee basketball.”

It didn’t take long for No. 11 Tennessee to do that, overcoming an 11-point second half deficit to beat Arkansas 60-54 in front of 2,758 at Walton Arena.

“We had a good conversation and made some adjustments at halftime,” Tennessee Coach Holly Warlick said. “We stepped up, played with more passion in the second half and got the job done.”

Arkansas (17-10, 5-9) forced 13 Tennessee turnovers and led 28-19 at the half. Then, Jhasmin Bowen connected on a short jumper to start the second half and gave the Razorbacks a 30-19 lead.

Tennessee (22-5, 13-1) went to work from there, utilizing a tenacious trapping defense to outscore Arkansas 24-6 over a 7:48 stretch for a 43-36 lead with 12:12 remaining.

“We talked about making a statement at halftime and we came out and pressed, we turned them over on the traps, we got steals out of the press,” Warlick said. “It was a key stretch.”

Arkansas got within a point twice in the final 12 minutes. A three-pointer from Calli Berna and a Keira Peak’s layup made it 43-41 with 11:28 left; back-to back baskets from Quistelle Williams and Sarah Watkins pulled the Razorbacks within 51-50 with 3:32 remaining.

But Tennessee got key rebounds, forced turnovers and made enough free throws in the final five minutes to maintain the lead. The Lady Vols made 17 of 22 foul shots. Arkansas (2 of 4) made its first trip to the foul line with 1:13 remaining.

“We got up on them and after them in the first half, and in the second half we settled into a half-court game,” Arkansas Coach Tom Collen said. “I saw a lot of effort, just not a lot of finishes, and we turned the ball over a lot in the second half.”

The victory left the Lady Vols in sole possession of first place in the SEC and avenged last year’s upset home loss to the Razorbacks, Arkansas’ first victory in Knoxville, Tenn. Arkansas, meanwhile, dropped its seventh game to a ranked opponent, and sixth by six points or less.

“I’ve been going back and forth trying to decide whether we are overachieving or underachieving,” Collen said. “I choose to think we are overachieving because I think this was supposed to have been a bit of a rebuilding year for us and we’ve actually put ourselves in positions to battle with the best of them. We just haven’t had many breaks to get over the hump.”

Tennessee led 14-7 with 9:59 left in the first half before Arkansas forced five Tennessee turnovers and built a 19-16 lead.

Tennessee tied the game at 19-19 before Arkansas outscored Tennessee 9-0 over the final 3:42 of the half. Arkansas got two layups from Peak, a three-pointer from Williams and took advantage of four more Tennessee turnovers to build the 28-19 halftime lead.

SUNDAY’S GAMES

Tennessee 60, Arkansas 54 Georgia 73, Mississippi 54 Florida 67, Alabama 61 Auburn 67, Missouri 59 LSU 77, Kentucky 72 South Carolina 58, Mississippi St. 43 Vanderbilt 61, Texas A&M 51

Sports, Pages 13 on 02/25/2013

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