KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jennifer O’Neill scored 24 points and sparked a comeback as No. 18 Kentucky rallied for a 75-71 victory over No. 8 Tennessee on Sunday, earning the Wildcats’ first win in Knoxville since 1985.
O’Neill had all of Kentucky’s points during a 6-0 run that gave the Wildcats a 72-69 lead in the closing minutes.
Kentucky (19-6, 7-5 SEC) had lost to Tennessee (20-5, 9-3) in its last 16 trips to Knoxville since a 76-72 overtime victory on Jan. 23, 1985, at Stokely Athletics Center. Kentucky had never beaten Tennessee in Thompson-Boling Arena, the Lady Vols’ home since 1987-88.
Kentucky led 73-71 with 13.4 seconds remaining when Janee Thompson missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Tennessee one last chance. After the Lady Vols called timeout with 5.4 seconds left, they threw an inbounds pass to Isabelle Harrison, who lost control of the ball and committed Tennessee’s 22nd turnover. Kastine Evans made the steal and sank two game-clinching free throws.
DeNesha Stallworth had 17 points and nine rebounds for Kentucky, which beat Tennessee for the third time in their last four meetings overall. Kentucky’s previous two wins during that stretch had been in Lexington. Thompson added 15 points and seven assists.
Harrison had 20 points and 16 rebounds for Tennessee, which had a six-game winning streak snapped. Bashaara Graves had 20 points and seven rebounds. Meighan Simmons had 13 points.
Kentucky grabbed a 38-34 halftime lead by capitalizing on foul trouble to Tennessee’s starting backcourt of Simmons and Andraya Carter. Both guards missed much of the first half after picking up two fouls.
The Lady Vols couldn’t afford foul trouble in their backcourt because they already were without point guard Ariel Massengale, who hasn’t played since getting inadvertently hit in the face Jan. 23 in an 89-69 victory over Florida. Massengale has returned to practice and was in uniform Sunday, but she didn’t play.
Tennessee had won the first five games Massengale had missed, but it faced a tougher challenge Sunday from Kentucky’s ball-hawking defense.
The Lady Vols scored their first three baskets of the second half off offensive rebounds to tie the game at 40, but Kentucky grabbed the lead and the momentum later in the second half.
Stallworth scored seven points and O’Neill had five points during a 14-2 run that gave the Wildcats a 56-48 lead. The Lady Vols seemed in even bigger trouble when Carter picked up her fourth foul with 9:02 left, and Bria Goss hit each of the two ensuing free throws to give Kentucky a 60-52 advantage.
The Lady Vols responded with a 15-4 spurt and took a 65-64 lead on Harrison’s putback with 5:44 remaining. Kentucky managed just one basket over a five-minute stretch as Tennessee mounted its comeback.
But Kentucky wouldn’t go away.
Kentucky trailed 69-66 when O’Neill banked in a jumper as the shot clock was about to expire with 3:21 remaining. She added a layup after a Simmons turnover that put Kentucky ahead for good with 2:23 left and capped a 6-0 spurt by sinking a jumper with 1:39 remaining.
Kentucky barely hung on from there.