Tennessee finally felt the effects of playing without injured point guard Ariel Massengale.
The eighth-ranked Lady Vols committed 22 turnovers and struggled down the stretch Sunday in a 75-71 loss to Kentucky that snapped a six-game winning streak. Kentucky (19-6, 7-5 SEC) beat Tennessee (20-5, 9-3) in Knoxville for the first time since 1985.
Tennessee had won its first five games without Massengale, who hasn't played since inadvertently getting hit in the face Jan. 23 during an 89-69 victory over Florida. But the Lady Vols faced a much tougher test Sunday against Kentucky's ball-hawking defense.
Massengale returned to practice last week, though she didn't participate in any drills that required contact. She was in uniform Sunday but didn't play as Kentucky closed the game on a 9-2 run by continually forcing turnovers.
"We were getting frustrated," said Tennessee center Isabelle Harrison, who led the Lady Vols with 20 points and 16 rebounds. "If we would have had a little more composure, we would have been fine."
Kentucky had lost to Tennessee in its last 16 trips to Knoxville since a 76-72 overtime victory on Jan. 23, 1985, at Stokely Athletics Center. Kentucky had never beaten Tennessee in Thompson-Boling Arena, the Lady Vols' home floor since 1987-88.
The Wildcats led 73-71 with 13.4 seconds remaining when Janee Thompson missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Tennessee one last chance.
After the Lady Vols called timeout with 5.4 seconds left, they threw an inbounds pass to Isabelle Harrison, who had 20 points and 16 rebounds. DeNesha Stallworth knocked the ball away from Harrison to cause Tennessee's 22nd turnover. Kastine Evans grabbed the loose ball and sank two game-clinching free throws.
"We were trying to get the ball inside to Izzy," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "We got what we wanted. They just knocked the ball out of our hands."
Jennifer O'Neill scored 24 points and had Kentucky's first six points during a 7-0 run that turned a 69-66 deficit into a 73-69 advantage.
Stallworth had 17 points and nine rebounds for Kentucky, which beat Tennessee for the third time in their last four meetings overall. Kentucky's previous two wins during that stretch had been in Lexington. Thompson added 15 points and seven assists.
Bashaara Graves had 20 points and seven rebounds for Tennessee. Meighan Simmons had 13 points but missed a potential game-tying 3-point attempt with 38 seconds remaining. Simmons said after the game she believed she got fouled on the play.
Kentucky grabbed a 38-34 halftime lead by capitalizing on foul trouble to Tennessee's starting backcourt of Simmons and Andraya Carter. Simmons played just seven minutes and Carter played 10 minutes in the first half. Carter ended up fouling out and playing only 22 minutes.
Their foul trouble hurt a backcourt that already was dealing with Massengale's absence. Kentucky made the most of the situation.
"We haven't been able to full-court press this year the way that we'd like to, and so the last couple of weeks we've tried to become the most ferocious half-court man-to-man defense that we can be," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I thought they did that today."
Tennessee seemed in deep trouble when Carter picked up her fourth foul with just over nine minutes left. Bria Goss hit each of the two ensuing free throws to give Kentucky a 60-52 advantage.
The Lady Vols responded with a 15-4 spurt to grab a 67-64 lead, but Kentucky wouldn't go away.
Kentucky trailed 69-66 when O'Neill banked in a jumper with 3:21 remaining. She added a layup after a Simmons turnover that put Kentucky ahead for good with 2:23 left and sank a jumper with 1:39 remaining. Evans made one of two free throws to give Kentucky a 73-69 lead with 35 seconds left.
Kentucky barely hung on from there.
"We didn't come out and defend very well," Warlick said. "Kentucky hit big shots and I just think defense wasn't important for us today. So, that's about it."
This represented Tennessee's annual "Live Pink, Bleed Orange" game to fight breast cancer as part of women's college basketball's "Play4Kay" initiative for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Both teams wore uniforms in different shades of pink.
Before the game, Warlick handed a game ball to Suzanne Barbre Singleton, who played for the Lady Vols from 1974-78 and is battling breast cancer. Warlick also embraced breast cancer survivor and longtime Lady Vols beat reporter Maria Cornelius at courtside and handed her an autographed pink basketball. Warlick then leaned into the first row of the stands and hugged her sister, breast cancer survivor Marion Ferrill.