After dropping back to back home games to ranked opponents, the Longhorns find themselves in an unfamiliar position. They welcomed No. 9 Tennessee into the Frank Erwin Center and tried to right the wrongs that led to a blowout loss to No. 6 Mississippi State last week.
However, any energy that was absent in the 18-point loss to the Bulldogs was present early Sunday. Texas came out the gates firing on both ends of the court with shots falling early and a swarming defense.
“I feel so much different about their fight,” head coach Karen Aston said. “I didn’t think we had any fight in us last Sunday.”
A majority of the opening period’s success and energy came from guard Audrey Warren. Warren was aggressive from the tip, nearly outscoring the Lady Vols by herself in the first quarter before ending the game with a career-high 21 points.
Texas also got a boost from Joyner Holmes, who returned from injury.
“Joyner getting in this game gave us even more of a boost,” Warren said. “We’ve been wanting her back for so long, and she’s finally back.”
While the Longhorns had the momentum going into the second period, Tennessee proved quickly why it is one of the top programs in the nation. The Lady Vols came back from a 23-14 opening quarter deficit to take the lead, courtesy of a 15-4 run.
With Warren cooling off in the second, Tennessee’s Meme Jackson took that opportunity to put her mark on the game.
Jackson scored 15 of her 20 first half points in the second. She knocked down two threes to close the half and gave Tennessee a five point lead.
“For her to get 33, I’m not surprised,” said Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick. “She’s worked her tail off all summer to perfect her game, and it’s paid dividends.”
The back and forth affair continued in the second half with both teams struggling to get a clear hold on the game.
That all changed at the end of the third when a controversial offensive call was made on Danni Williams. Williams drove on the left side of the floor and drew contact on a layup. The whistle blew, immediately generating cheers from the crowd expecting her to go to the line. But the crowd soon realized the whistle was for a charging call, generating boos across the arena. The foul was also upgraded to an unsportsmanlike foul, adding salt to the wound for Texas and allowing the Lady Vols to capitalize and take a seven-point lead.
“I just tried to go into her and draw contact,” Williams said. “They said I led with my elbow. That’s where the unsportsmanlike came from.”
Texas eventually clawed its way back, but Tennessee’s Meme Jackson and her 33 points allowed the Lady Vols to escape with the 88-82 victory. Despite the six-point loss, Aston is still able to find a silver lining as the No.12 Longhorns drop to 7–2.
“I think we are on track,” Aston said. “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like losing. It’s not the way we lost. It’s just we have to get better.”