BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Jeanne Kenney didn’t sound like a player on a team stuck in a five-game slide.
She was too impressed by the way LSU climbed out of a 21-point halftime hole against No. 10 Tennessee before finally succumbing to its old Southeastern Conference nemesis.
Kenny scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half, including two 3-pointers and the tying free throws during a late 10-0 run before Tennessee regrouped to pull out a 72-67 victory on Thursday night. The defeat left the Lady Tigers in the midst of the program’s longest losing streak in 19 years.
“We came together and that’s something I haven’t seen in a very long time, and I was very proud of how we did come back,” Kenney said. “I couldn’t ask for better teammates for this game.”
Meighan Simmons led Tennessee with 31 points, including a clutch 3 in the final minute.
“That’s her,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “She’s a gutsy kid … and she makes big plays for us.”
Simmons hit five 3s in all and also made a couple of free throws to help seal the victory for the Lady Vols (23-5, 12-2 SEC), who won for the ninth time in 10 games.
“The coaches just told us to attack and I really wasn’t thinking anything. I was just thinking about scoring,” Simmons said. “They were big shots, but I think the coaches for just being confident in me.”
Cierra Burdick added a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Isabelle Harrison 11 points and 11 rebounds for Tennessee, which had to rescue the victory after allowing LSU (18-10, 7-8) to tie the score with 3:28 to go.
“We had our pride at stake,” said LSU forward Theresa Plaisance, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds. “It just took a lot of heart and determination.”
Trailing by 42-21 at halftime, LSU managed to make the game far more competitive over the final 20 minutes, and Tennessee helped by turning the ball over 11 times in the half.
Plaisance, who’d started 2 of 10 form the field, hit a pair of 3s early in the second half, the first capping a 7-0 run to start the period.
Kenney’s second 3 of the half pulled LSU to 59-52 with 5:53 left. Kenny pumped both arms at her side as the crowd rose to its feet. Two possessions later, Kenney buried another 3 from the right corner, and DaShawn Harden’s steal of Andraya Carter’s pass and fast-break layup gave the Lady Tigers eight straight points to make it a one-possession game at 59-57 with 4:35 still left.
Kenney completed the comeback, tying the score on two free throws with 3:28 left.
LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said the second half highlighted her team’s resilience, competitiveness and determination.
“It showed a team that didn’t give up. It showed a team that stayed together and obviously it showed a team that was able to come back from adversity and potentially put themselves in a position to win. So we’re going to focus in on that,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to turn the corner. I believe it’s this game. I saw a different team tonight.”
Simmons’ free throws broke the tie a minute later, and her 3 with 57 seconds left made it 68-63.
“Meighan Simmons made a big play. She’s that type of player,” Caldwell said. “That was pretty gutsy to pull that 3.”
Tennessee had a 10-point lead just more than 4 minutes into the game when Burdick’s 3-point play on a layup as she was fouled made it 12-2. The lead was up to 20 when Simmons’s third 3-pointer of the half made it 28-8.
LSU struggled in seemingly all areas during the opening 20 minutes, when the Lady Tigers shot 22.2 percent (6 of 27), turned the ball over 11 times and were outrebounded 26-14.
By halftime Tennessee appeared to be in complete command. Simmons had 19 points, eclipsing her average of 15.7 points per game, and Burdick has 15, nearly double her average of 8.3 points. Tennessee, meanwhile, had shot 50 percent (17 of 34) as a team in building its big halftime lead.