KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee started the season with its eyes on a returning to the Final Four. Now the 10th-ranked Lady Volunteers are scrambling to figure out what's going wrong with just one game left in the regular season.
Their latest stumble came with a 72-71 overtime loss to Arkansas on Thursday night, marking their third home loss this season — a program record.
"It is frustrating because I know their ability and what they can do," associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "We just continue to dig ourselves a hole, and we've got to climb out of it."
The Lady Volunteers (20-8, 11-4 Southeastern Conference) are running out of opportunities to do that. With the loss, they dropped to second in the SEC, clearing the way for Kentucky to claim the conference title with a win against Mississippi State on Sunday, the final day of the regular season.
Tennessee has lost each game that's come down to the final few possessions, including both overtime games its played, and has struggled on the road this season. The Lady Vols close the season at home on Sunday against Florida.
They're are under pressure to avoid missing out on the Final Four for a fourth straight season while wanting to win a national title to honor coach Pat Summitt, who announced in August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia.
After coming from behind against the Lady Razorbacks in the second half, they couldn't make the plays to seal a win. Arkansas got its first win ever in Knoxville, the second SEC team to accomplish that feat this season. South Carolina logged its first win in Knoxville on Feb. 2.
Shekinna Stricklen hit a layup for Tennessee with 48 seconds left to play to cut Arkansas' lead to 70-69, but missed two free throws on the following possession after Keira Peak turned the ball over and then bumped Stricklen while trying to guard her.
Kamiko Williams fouled Lyndsay Harris, who sealed the win for Arkansas (21-6, 10-5) by hitting a pair of foul shots with 6 seconds left.
Peak then fouled Ariel Massengale to keep the Lady Vols from attempting a 3-pointer to tie the game. Massengale hit both of her foul shots, and Quistelle Williams missed a pair of free throws for Arkansas with 3 seconds left, but Stricklen couldn't get a half-court shot off before the buzzer.
"I have to sink the free throws," Stricklen said. "We had a bad first half, but we came back in the second half. We fought. We just had to step up, and we didn't make the free throws in the end."
The Lady Vols held a 62-60 lead with 48 seconds left in regulation, but let C'eira Ricketts run right by them and dish the ball to Sarah Watkins, who hit a layup to tie the game at 62 with 9 seconds left and force overtime.
Harris led Arkansas with 20 points, Watkins had 18, and Ricketts finished with 16.
Stricklen led Tennessee with 17 points, all scored after halftime. Glory Johnson scored all 13 of her points in the second half.
The Lady Vols' defense had some success frustrating the Lady Razorbacks, who committed four shot-clock violations.
But when Arkansas could get a shot off, it often was a good one. The Lady Razorbacks shot 11 of 19 in the first half and finished 50 percent from the floor.
Watkins drained a 3-point shot and followed with a long jumper to give Arkansas a 21-16 lead with 7:29 in the first half, and the Lady Razorbacks entered halftime with a 31-26 lead — nearly matching their points total in their 69-38 loss to the Lady Vols on Jan. 8.
Arkansas managed to keep Tennessee off the boards and out of the paint in the first half. The Lady Razorbacks outrebounded the Lady Vols 14-8 and limited them to 9-for-20 shooting before halftime.
Tennessee found some life after halftime from Stricklen and Johnson, who were a combined 0 for 4 with no rebounds in the first half.
Stricklen sank a pair of 3s to pull Tennessee within two points, and Massengale stole the ball from Ricketts and hit a layup to tie it at 44 with 12:08 to go. Johnson came up with key rebounds and found her way to the rim and free-throw line to help the Lady Vols keep a slight edge until just before the end of regulation.
"We dug ourselves a hole in the first half," Warlick said. "You can't have two of your best players not scoring and not rebounding."