KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The Lady Vols picked up a historic rivalry for the first time in more than a decade on Thursday night.
At 7 p.m., no. 23 Tennessee tipped off against the no. 3 UConn Lady Huskies. Lady Vols led 31-28 at the half, but couldn't hold onto their momentum, falling to UConn 60-45.
Turnovers doomed Tennessee. The team had 27 in total, one shy of their season high.
Rennia Davis paced Tennessee (15-4, 5-1 SEC) with 16 points and eight rebounds, while sophomore Jazmine Massengill turned in 11 points and five assists.
UConn (17-1, 7-0 ACC) was led by Crystal Dangerfield with 14 and Aubrey Griffin with 13.
Davis poured in five points in the opening minutes to help UT jump out to a 10-4 lead by the 6:12 mark. UConn quickly battled back, trailing just 12-10 by the media timeout. Sophomore Rae Burrell pitched in four points following the break to put the Lady Vols ahead by six with under two minutes remaining in the period, but the Huskies answered with back-to-back buckets to cut the lead to 16-14 to start the second frame.
Freshman Tamari Key was the first to score in the second quarter, and Davis followed it up with a layup to stretch the lead back to six a minute and a half in. Dangerfield put UConn within five with a 10-foot jumper, but Massengill scored six quick points to stretch UT's lead to 26-18 with just over six minutes remaining in the half. The Huskies cut their deficit to five with a Megan Walker 3-pointer before the media break and followed it up with two Griffin free throws and a layup to pull within one by the 3:42 mark. Rae Burrell knocked down a jumper to stop the run and put UT up by three with just over two minutes left in the half. In the final minute UConn converted a Tennessee turnover into three points, but Davis answered with a clutch trey on the other end to put the Lady Vols ahead 31-28 at the half.
Tennessee out-shot the Huskies 43 percent to 31 percent in the first half, holding them to just 11 of 35 from the floor and two of 10 from behind the arc.
The Lady Vols' shooting went cold in the second half, and they were plagued by turnovers. They remained scoreless for nearly four minutes, while UConn took the lead off a 7-0 run before Davis hit a layup to end the drought and bring the score to 35-33. The Huskies kept the pressure on, launching into a 10-0 run before Massengill scored five points on back-to-back possessions to cut the lead to 47-38. Olivia Nelson-Ododa converted on two free throws for the Huskies to close out the period up 49-38.
The teams traded baskets in the opening minutes of the fourth until Nelson-Ododa scored seven-straight points to put UConn up 59-42 with 2:30 left in the game. Burrell scored three points to finish the game, but it wasn't enough as Tennessee fell, 60-45.
Up Next: UT returns to conference play, hosting LSU in a "We Back Pat" game on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
It's the first time the Lady Vols have played UConn since 2007. Then head coach Pat Summitt called off the series between the two teams after tensions with Lady Huskies coach Geno Auriemma came to a head. This marks the 23rd match-up between the two and the first meeting between Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper and Auriemma.
Auriemma reportedly told the Hartford Courant that the rivalry is a thing from the past.
“Back in the day, everybody said that was a marquee match-up because of the significance of each game. Each game carried a lot of weight. And there were always 10 players on the floor that were going to be great WNBA players, and it had all the elements of all that,” Auriemma said recently. “You know, everything’s like a Broadway show. It has its run, and then it’s got to end. And it ended, and I don’t know that you’re going to get that back, and I think college basketball is doing pretty damn good without it.”
After the game, Auriemma said the games weren't the same without Summitt.
Auriemma has recently made comments about the University of Tennessee program after Evina Westbrook, a former player for the Lady Vols, was denied a request for a transfer waiver that would have let her play for UConn immediately.
The game is part of a two-year series, and the proceeds from tonight's game will be donated to both the Pat Summitt Foundation and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. During the 2020-21 season, Tennessee will host UConn with some of the proceeds set to benefit the aforementioned organizations, as well as the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
During halftime, UConn made a $10,000 donation to the Pat Summitt Foundation with Auriemma presenting the check.
Tennessee held a three-game win streak against the Lady Huskies, while overall, UConn held a 13-9 advantage. The Lady Vols went into the game on a four-game win streak following a close game against Alabama thanks to a game-winning three-pointer from Rennia Davis. UConn also went into tonight's match on a four-game winning streak.
The Lady Vols played against UConn at the XL Center.
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