Oral Roberts knew it would take a near-perfect game for the 15-seed beat the second seeded Tennessee Lady Volunteers in Knoxville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. A dominant defensive performance in the first half gave the Golden Eagles (18-13) a chance, but a scoring drought was too much to overcome as Tennessee (25-7) claimed the 83-62 victory and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The loss brings to a close the careers of seniors Savanna Buck, Kevi Luper and Jaci Bigham. While Tennessee moved to 51-0 in home NCAA Tournament games.
"We started behind the 8-ball today," said ORU Head Coach Misti Cussen. "When you come into Knoxville, Tenn., you already have a very small margin of error just because of the quality of this program and playing a first round game on their home court. What a fantastic job by Coach (Holly) Warlick and her players. They were ready to go and we didn't have the legs to match them today. I'm very proud of the effort today."
Luper led the offense for ORU, posting another 20-point effort, the 82nd of her illustrious career and moving into 14th place on the NCAA's career scoring list with 2,867 career points. Savanna Buck and Taylor Cooper each had 15 points, while Sarah Shelton aided the cause in other ways with 10 rebounds and a career-high six blocks.
Shelton's blocks were part of a 10-block effort by the ORU defense, tying a Brittney Griner-led Baylor team for the Thompson-Boiling Arena record for a Tennessee opponent.
Tennessee got 18 points from Meighan Simmons, while Ariel Massengale and Cierra Burdick each added 13 and Bashaara Graves had 11 points.
ORU shot 31 percent (21-66) for the game and were plagued by 20 turnovers in the loss. As ORU struggled to hit shots to start the second half, UT used the momentum and caught fire hitting 53 percent (14-26) in the second half, finishing at 43 percent (28-65) for the game.
Despite getting out-rebounded 48-39 by a taller Tennessee team, ORU grabbed 18 offensive rebounds, tying for the second most by the Golden Eagles this season.
Buck led the way for the Golden Eagles early, scoring the first four points of the game and the first six for ORU as the Golden Eagles took an early 6-2 lead.
Shelton's fourth block in the first seven minutes of the game led to a Bigham 3-pointer that halted what had turned into an 8-0 Tennessee run, all by Simmons, as the Lady Vols took a 13-7 lead. Bigham's trey could not halt the Lady Vols' momentum though, and they extended it to a 15-3 scoring spurt to take a 20-10 lead.
After weathering the storm from the home team, five-straight points from Cooper cut it back to a five point game at 29-24. Just as quickly as ORU climbed back into the game, UT posted another 7-0 spurt to keep the Golden Eagles at arm's-length.
A drought from the field that extended from the 1:23 mark at the end of the first half into the first part of the second helped UT extend the lead out to as many as 24, 55-31 more than five minutes into the second half. In all, the drought was 7:07 without a field goal until Key and Luper hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
The Tennessee lead hit 26 with 6:03 to play in the game, but the Golden Eagles never quit and cut into the lead in the final minutes, but the deficit was too much to overcome on the road against one of the nation's best teams.
Tennessee will put its 51-game home winning streak on the line against No. 10 Creighton on Monday night in the second round.
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