BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU guard Alexis Morris showcased her speed, shooting touch, and veteran savvy, punishing Tennessee for its apparent preoccupation with dominant Tigers post player Angel Reese.
Morris scored a career-high 31 points, stirring a raucous sellout crowd with a series of clutch transition layups in the fourth quarter, and third-ranked LSU remained unbeaten with a 76-68 victory over Tennessee on Monday night.
“I had to be the player to stay poised because I’m experienced. I’ve been here before,” Morris said. “I got my first few transition buckets and was like, ‘OK, this is pretty easy. I might as well use it to my advantage.’ And that’s what I did tonight, push it in transition and put the pressure on them.”
Reese had 18 points and 17 rebounds for her program-record 21st-straight double-double for LSU (21-0, 9-0 SEC). Reese’s highlights included a transition layup while being fouled during a pivotal 11-0 run after the Lady Vols had pulled as close as 53-52 in the fourth quarter.
Jordan Walker scored 19 points and Rickea Jackson added 17 for Tennessee (16-8, 8-1), which has lost two straight, albeit to two top-five teams (No. 5 UConn being the other).
Jordan Horston scored 11 for Tennessee, which nearly rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half before the Tigers’ final surge kept the Lady Vols at arm’s length in the final minutes.
“It was competitive — got away from us there in the second half,” Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said. “Obviously, Alexis Morris made some really, really tough shots and put up a lot of points.”
Reese was held to just four points and four rebounds in the first half when she was trying to avoid foul trouble. She ramped up her aggression after that.
“With her, it’s really difficult to keep her completely off the boards,” Harper said. “With her length and her strength, she just has position early, and it’s really difficult because she has such a knack for the ball.”
LSU led by as many as nine in the first half after Last-Tear Poa’s 3 made it 32-23 late in the second quarter.
Tennessee closed to 34-31 after Jackson scored inside to open the second half. But 3s by Jasmine Carson and Morris helped LSU start to pull away again. Morris’ free throws ignited an 8-0 run, capped by Reese’s driving layup that made it 48-34 in the middle of the third quarter.
Tennessee went more than four minutes without scoring before Jackson’s layup made it 48-36.
Tennessee then began defending the entire length of the court. That disrupted the Tigers, who did not hit a field goal for the last 5:45 of the third, allowing Tennessee to pull to 50-47 on Puckett’s 3 in the final minute of the period.
The Vols were as close as 53-52 after Jackson’s free throw, but Morris responded with a driving leaner while being fouled for a three-point play. Soon after, Reese converted a steal into a transition layup as she was fouled. Morris then scored twice more in transition, sending the crowd, and LSU coach Kim Mulkey, into a triumphant frenzy.
“Everybody in the SEC picked Tennessee to finish ahead of us,” Mulkey noted. “If I’m a competitor, I take that as a challenge.”
The crowd of 15,157 was the largest since the 2005 renovation of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Mulkey called the atmosphere in the arena “everything young people need to experience in college.”
Added Reese, a Maryland transfer, “I’ve never been a part of this type of environment. … To come to a school where they support women’s basketball, sometimes even more than the men, is amazing and you don’t see that very often.”
Harper said it was so loud at times that “it was really difficult to communicate with our team” while the ball was in play.
“Sometimes,” Haper added, “it was hard to even communicate in the huddle.”
Tennessee: The Lady Vols continued to be a victim of their difficult schedule. They now have a half-dozen losses against ranked teams and most of those losing margins were single digits. … Tennessee shot 8 of 19 from 3-point range to keep the game close, but was outperformed inside in the second half.
LSU: Led for all but a few minutes and always had a response for each Tennessee push. LSU outrebounded Tennessee 45-38, outscored the Lady Vols in the paint 38-30 and scored 23 points at the foul line to Tennessee’s six.
Tennessee: Hosts Mississippi on Thursday.
LSU: Hosts Georgia on Thursday.