KNOXVILLE, Tenn. –The Lady Volunteers fell 84-67 to No. 5 Connecticut on Thursday night during a highly physical match in a crowded Thompson-Boling Arena.
College GameDay was present, among nearly 14,000 Tennessee fans. It was the largest crowd since Tennessee’s 2015 season, and despite the loss, head coach Kellie Harper made sure to address the fans and their support before anything else following the game.
“At one point (during the second quarter) I was so excited for our team that they were really experiencing that environment,” Harper said. “That’s what you come to Tennessee for.”
Senior Jordan Horston, despite recovering from an illness, was the lead scorer for Tennessee with 27 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and one steal.
“She’s competitive. She wants to win. You know you’re always gonna get that from her,” Harper said. “She wants it. She wants it bad.”
Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma also commented on Horston following the game, saying “She’s a terrific player and she has a variety of ways to score points. I’m not surprised by anything that she does.”
Horston, being a highly sought-out athlete entering her collegiate career, turned down UConn, among other impressive offers, for Tennessee. In Thursday’s matchup, Tennessee may not have ended the game with more points, but Horston specifically scored more than any player on either team.
“Obviously, we recruited Jordan and it went all the way down to the end and she chose Tennessee,” Auriemma said. “Those kids tend to have great games against us.”
The first quarter was a struggle for Tennessee on both ends of the court. Connecticut raced ahead early with 33 points in the first quarter to Tennessee’s 17.
“I feel like they were two steps ahead of us,” said Horston. “They started off strong, and we just had to settle in.”
The Lady Volunteers definitely found a way to do so in the second quarter, where they held the Huskies to only seven points and they scored 19. However, after the first half, Tennessee was not able to outscore Connecticut, falling behind after their smallest deficit of two.
Tennessee typically is able to gain from players such as Tess Darby and Sara Puckett with their successful three-point shooting, but UConn was able to secure better looks from the arc, shooting 57.1% to Tennessee’s 35.7%.
“They were making about every open shot they had,” Harper said. “They had a few too many open shots, but they were making some tough shots as well.”
UConn’s senior forward Lou Lopez Senechal went 4-6 from the arc, scoring 26 points in total throughout the night. Her efforts were definitely included in the open shots Harper referred to following the game.
“She’s gonna make a great pro for somebody,” Auriemma said.
Turnovers rose to be a threat early in the game when Tennessee lost the ball 3 times in the first 5 minutes. By the end of the game, UConn had scored 20 points from turnovers, while Tennessee only had 8. However, the Lady Volunteers did beat the Huskies on the boards 41-30, a statistic that certainly is credited to the program’s culture and history.
It’s no secret that the Tennessee-Connecticut rivalry in collegiate women’s basketball is deep-rooted, especially between Auriemma and the late Pat Summitt. Therefore, there’s no one better than Harper, a Tennessee athlete coached by Summitt, to go into this iconic matchup with an idea of importance and determination.
“She (Harper) has a lot of Pat’s mannerisms,” Auriemma said. “If you’re going to emulate somebody, why not her…she has a lot of Pat’s similarities, but she has her own style, and she has her own way of doing things, which I think is important.”
The Lady Volunteers take on LSU next, and it’s a road game that Harper and the team haven’t quite looked at before tonight, but are hoping to rebound from the loss during.
“We just need to see how we can be a better basketball team. (LSU)’s a really good team, that’s another level,” Harper said. “We have improved. Anyone who has seen us play knows that we are very capable, and we can play. What we want to do is take it another step.”
With hopes to remain undefeated in SEC play, Tennessee faces No. 4 LSU this Sunday in Baton Rouge. The game will air at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN2.