ATHENS, Ga.----The 19th-ranked Georgia Lady Bulldogs fell to the No. 5 Tennessee Lady Volunteers 85-70 Sunday afternoon in Stegeman Coliseum. The Lady Bulldogs fall to 12-3 on the season and 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference.
Krista Donald led Georgia in scoring with a season-high 18 points, while Donald and Merritt Hempe collected six rebounds each to lead the home team. Tiaria Griffin added 15 points, Hempe chipped in 13 and Shacobia Barbee added 12.
Tennessee's junior point guard Ariel Massengale led all scorers with 28 points, including going 10-of-10 from the free-throw line. The Lady Volunteers hit 30-of-33 shots from the free-throw line.
"They definitely took advantage of our mistakes in the second half," Georgia head coach Andy Landers said. "But I was really proud of them for most of the game because despite everything they never dragged their feet. They just fought the fight but struggled to make things happen at times."
The Lady Bulldogs jumped out to an early 4-0 lead, but three turnovers allowed Tennessee to pull back into the contest before three Meighan Simmons free throws gave the visiting Lady Volunteers a slim edge.
While Georgia initially struggled to come to terms with Tennessee's height in the post, the Lady Bulldogs' ability to share the ball allowed them to continually pin back the Lady Volunteers with Hempe collecting six points and Barbee adding four in the first 10 minutes.
Griffin's impact off the bench was immediately felt with 10:35 remaining in the first half. She hit two free throws to bring Georgia level for the first time since the 16:22 mark. After a Massengale 3-pointer, Erika Ford answered with a deep ball of her own that tied the game at 17-17.
The Lady Bulldogs found themselves in foul trouble for a large portion of the first period as they committed their seventh foul with 8:30 left before halftime. The Lady Volunteers ended the stanza with 16 points from the charity stripe.
Georgia's first half struggle to match-up to Tennessee's height was highlighted by 6-3 junior Isabelle Harrison's 18 points. Georgia was led in the opening period by Barbee who recorded eight points and three rebounds to lead the Lady Bulldogs in both categories.
Tennessee came out of the halftime break with a purpose as they successfully disrupted Georgia's offense and, led by Massengale, were able to turn the screw early going on a 13-0 run between the 17:18 and 13:44 mark.
Georgia was unable to stem the tide against a relentless Tennessee offense that saw the increasingly dominant Massengale notch 17 points in the first 10 minutes of the half. She would finish the half with 23 points.
Despite the deficit, the Lady Bulldogs continued fighting with 3-pointers from Griffin and Khaalidah Miller closing the gap. Griffin and Donald provided the second half spark for Georgia as they scored 13 and 14 points respectively in the second stanza.
Donald and Griffin led a late Lady Bulldogs rally that brought some electricity to the season-high 6,571 fans inside Stegeman Coliseum.
Georgia capitalized on a 19-0 run over 5:48 late in the second half to close the gap to six points following two Hempe free throws but the reintroduction of Massengale and some costly fouls and turnovers prevented the Lady Bulldogs from completing a memorable comeback as Tennessee closed the game on a 9-0 run.
Donald led the Lady Bulldogs in the second half with 14 points and five rebounds. Hempe also collected five second-half boards.
Landers reserved special praise for Donald, Hempe and Miller.
"You can't talk about one without the other two, Krista Donald and Khaalidah Miller played with a lot of pride today. They were very determined; those three stand out to me," Landers said. "Hempe was excellent starting but was in a situation where she was actually undersized but did a good job defensively, probably gave up a couple offensively but did a great job."
Georgia returns to action Thursday night as the Lady Bulldogs travel to Columbia, Mo., to face the Missouri Tigers at 8 PM ET.
The Lady Bulldogs then return home for a two game homestand beginning with Texas A&M on Sunday. The game will tip off at 2 PM ET and be televised live on SEC TV.