KNOXVILLE — On a day when both teams had all kinds of trouble scoring from anywhere else, No. 5 Tennessee survived by feasting from the free-throw line.
The fifth-ranked Lady Vols made their first 20 free throws Sunday and finished 20 of 21 from the line in a 59-51 victory over No. 22 Georgia. Had Isabelle Harrison not misfired on Tennessee’s final free throw with 46 seconds remaining, the Lady Vols would have set a Southeastern Conference single-game record for most free throws made without a single miss.
“If we don’t hit big free throws, we don’t win the game,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said.
Jordan Reynolds scored a career-high 15 points as Tennessee (17-3, 7-0 SEC) maintained its perfect home record inflicting a loss that could prove costly for Georgia (17-4, 5-3).
Georgia guard/forward Shacobia Barbee was injured with less than three minutes left in the first half, later went to the locker room on crutches and didn’t return to the game. There was no immediate word on the severity of the junior’s injury. If Barbee misses a significant length of time, it would create some tremendous pressure for the Georgia’s roster. She entered the day as the Lady Bulldogs’ top scorer, 12 ppg, and second-leading rebounder, with seven per contest.
“She’s one of our main leaders,” said Mackenzie Engram, who led Georgia Sunday with 14 points. “I think some of us are going to have to step up, some young ones are going to have to step up and become the leaders that she (has been).”
The free-throw disparity made the difference in a game of spurts that featured extended scoring droughts by each team.
While Tennessee was 20-of-21 from the line, Georgia was 3-of-7. Harrison’s three-point play with 5:51 left put Tennessee ahead for good and started a 12-1 run.
“Both teams probably did what they wanted to do defensively for the most part,” Georgia coach and Blount County native Andy Landers said. “I thought Tennessee defended well and made it hard for us to score. I thought we defended well and made it hard for them to score except, when they scored, we took unnecessary risk and ended up fouling them and putting them at the free-throw line so much that it affected the game big-time.
“I’m really upset with the way that we fouled. We didn’t affect anything. They have five, six 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 went on a 14-3 run to grab a 22-14 lead late in the first half. Tennessee responded with 14 straight points and led 30-25 at halftime. Georgia started the second half on a 10-0 run to go ahead 35-30, but Tennessee scored the next 12 points.
Tennessee missed its first 12 shots of the second half before Cierra Burdick’s putback with 11:52 remaining. Georgia later went scoreless for a stretch of 6 minutes, 45 seconds.
TIP-INS: Georgia — Although the Lady Vols lead the all-time series 46-15 or 47-15, depending on which school’s doing the accounting (Tennessee counts a 1969 victory that isn’t included in Georgia’s records), Georgia’s 15 wins are tied for the second-most of any team over Tennessee. Maryville College also has 15 wins over Tennessee, and Louisiana Tech leads with 17.
Tennessee — The Lady Vols beat Georgia for the seventh straight time and the 15th time in their last 16 meetings. Georgia’s only win in that stretch was a 53-50 decision in Athens on Jan. 21, 2010.
TESTING DEPTH: Georgia lost Barbee late in the first half and had other key players battling foul trouble. Tennessee’s two leading scorers — Ariel Massengale and Harrison — were both held scoreless for the first 28 minutes. That forced both teams to rely on unusual contributors as each team’s bench recorded 25 points.
“Our bench kept us in the game the first half,” Warlick said. “We keep preaching to them your time is coming. It’s coming. Today, the time (came). They stepped up and did some big things.”
NEXT UP: Georgia travels to No. 14 Kentucky on Feb. 1. Tennessee visits Kentucky on Thursday.