Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) Fifth-ranked Tennessee suffered its first home loss in 15 games as the Lady Vols were upset by #16 LSU, 80-77, in a heartbreaker. The loss marked the first victory for former Lady Vols star and Nikki Caldwell as a head coach against her alma mater.
With the game tied at 55-55 midway through the second half, LSU surged on a 20-4 run to take a 75-59 lead with 4:37 left in the game. That lead of 16 proved to be too much for the Lady Vols.
On a night that Tennessee retired Candace Parker's jersey No. 3 prior to the game, the Lady Vols made a furious comeback in the final minutes. Tennessee used an 18-3 run to get within one point in the final seconds.
Isabelle Harrison (career-high tying 26 points) hit short jumper to make it a two-point game, 78-76 with 44 seconds left. With a chance to tie the game at 78, Harrison missed the second of two free throws with 15.9 seconds remaining. LSU's Raigyne Moncrief grabbed the rebound and called timeout with 13.9 left.
Moncrief then made a pair of foul shots to regain a three-point Tigers' lead, 80-77 with 12 seconds left. Tennessee had a chance to tie the game but Andraya Carter's 3-point attempt at the buzzer rimmed out.
The Lady Vols (11-2 overall) dropped an SEC opener for the first time in 17 years, winning every lid-lifter since 1996-97. LSU also moved to 11-2.
LSU's Danielle Ballard equalled her career-high with 25 points as four Tigers scored in double-figures. Dashawn Harden keyed the second-half surge with (12) of her 17 points over the final 11 minutes. Theresa Plaisance added 15 points before fouling out while Jeanne Kenney tallied 14.
Senior Meighan Simmons scored 15 while Ariel Massengale had second double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 assists. Jasmine Jones had eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The game was within seven points for the first 33 minutes prior to a 3-pointer by Harden, which gave LSU the largest lead of the game at 65-56. A minute later Harden added a pair of free throws for the first double-digit margin of the game, 67-57.
LSU continued on a 15-2 run as Harden nailed her fourth 3-pointer of the game with 5:21 left in regulation for a 70-57 lead.
Simmons was called for a technical foul after her fourth personal foul, which disqualified her from the game. Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick was also whistled for a technical foul and LSU proceeded to make 5-of-6 free throws with 4:37 on the clock to take a commanding 75-59 lead. That burst of points pushed LSU's run to 20-4.
The Lady Vols had tied the game at 55 on a short outback jumper by Jones with 10:46 left in the game. But LSU reeled off the next seven points to lead 62-55 with nine minutes remaining.
The first half saw the Lady Vols' Simmons (15) and LSU's Ballard (17) dual on the scoreboard as Tennessee held a 44-40 lead at intermission. Harrison closed the half in dramatic fashion with a layup as time expired.
Down 28-23, the Lady Vols ripped off 12 points in a row to take a 34-28 on a 3-point play by Harrison and layup by Russell with 4:45 left in the half. During that stretch, LSU missed 11 field goal attempts in a row as the UT defense buckled down.
LSU took a 20-19 lead on a layup by Ballard with 10:37 left in the first half. That was the Lady Tigers' first lead since scoring the first bucket of the game.
Tennessee had won seven straight in the series and now leads the overall series, 44-13.
Prior to the game, Tennessee retired Parker's jersey No. 3. The legendary player ranks third all-time at Tennessee in scoring (2,137) and sixth in rebounding (972). She led the Lady Vols to a pair of National Championships in 2007 and 2008.
The Lady Vols head to Georgia for their first SEC road contest on Sunday at 4 p.m., That game airs on SportSouth and can be heard on the Lady Vol Network.