Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick took away her team’s locker-room privileges two weeks ago after a loss at Vanderbilt. They were only allowed into the locker room for pregame, halftime and postgame meetings during game days. After getting their locker room back this week, the 10th-ranked Lady Vols responded Thursday by beating Arkansas 70-60 for their third straight victory.
“It’s not a guaranteed thing,” Warlick said. “They’re renters right now. They’re renting the locker room. They can get evicted anytime the landlord feels they can get evicted.”
Tennessee shot 62.2 percent (28 of 45) overall and 7 of 13 from 3-point range against Arkansas. It marked the first time the Lady Vols shot at least 60 percent from the floor since an 85-64 victory over UCLA on Dec. 17, 2011.
Tennessee overcame the absence of starting point guard Ariel Massengale, who missed a second straight game. Massengale hasn’t played since getting hit in the face Jan. 23 while making a steal in an 89-69 triumph over Florida. Warlick said Massengale’s status remains day to day. Another Lady Vol got hurt Thursday when reserve forward Jasmine Jones appeared to pull a muscle in her back in the final minute of the game.
“As she was walking off, she was smiling, so I assume she’s going to be OK,” Warlick said.
Cierra Burdick and Meighan Simmons each scored 16 points for the Lady Vols (17-4, 6-2 SEC). Burdick’s 16-point performance matched a career high, and the 6-foot-2 junior also had seven rebounds and four assists to continue putting an early-season slump behind her.
“I’m just trying to have fun,” Burdick said. “In the beginning of the season, I feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself to do this and that. I’m just out here trying to enjoy my teammates, my coaches. I love this game. For a minute there, I kind of lost sight of what I was doing. I just got back to having fun.”
Isabelle Harrison had 12 points and Andraya Carter added 10 points for Tennessee. Jessica Jackson scored 16 points, Keira Peak had 12, Jhasmin Bowen 11 and Calli Berna 10 for Arkansas, which lost for the fifth time in its last six games.
Arkansas (15-6, 2-6) won its first 13 games of the season, but close losses have put the Razorbacks in the bottom half of the SEC standings, Arkansas’ six conference losses had been decided by a total of 37 points.
“We just have to forget about the last game and move on to the next one,” Bowen said. “We can’t dwell on this loss because we’ll never be able to move forward to the next game.”
The Razorbacks also had a chance to win this one.
Arkansas capitalized on strong shooting to lead by eight points in the first half. The Razorbacks made 13 of their first 19 shots by hitting open jumpers and driving to the basket for easy layups.
But as the Razorbacks finally started to slow down, Tennessee capitalized on its own shooting accuracy and pulled ahead on Jordan Reynolds’ 3-pointer with 12 seconds left in the first half. Tennessee led 38-36 after a first half in which the Lady Vols shot 64 percent (16 of 25) and Arkansas shot 57 percent (16 of 28) in the first half.
Tennessee stayed in front the rest of the way while preventing the easy drives into the lane that Arkansas had enjoyed earlier in the game. After making 13 of its first 19 shots, Arkansas was 12 of 38 the rest of the way.
“We battled,” Warlick said. “We hung tough. And in the second half, we decided to get a little bit serious about our defense.”
Arkansas stayed in the game by outrebounding the taller Lady Vols 31-24, but the Razorbacks didn’t have enough offense to pull the upset. They also couldn’t stop Simmons and Burdick down the stretch. Burdick made both her 3-point attempts Thursday after entering the night 1 of 9 from beyond the arc this season.
“It just seemed like every time we got a little bit close, they made a big shot on us,” Arkansas coach Tom Collen said. “And I thought Burdick was a big part of that.”