KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Danielle Ballard matched a career high with 25 points, and No. 16 LSU held off No. 5 Tennessee 80-77 on Thursday night after squandering most of a 16-point lead in the last 4½ minutes.
LSU (11-2, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) ended a seven-game losing streak in the rivalry and snapped the Lady Vols’ string of 16 consecutive victories in SEC openers.
Tennessee, which trailed 75-59 with 4:37 left, had a chance to tie the score in the closing seconds. LSU was clinging to a 78-77 lead when Tennessee’s Isabelle Harrison missed the second of two free throws with 15.9 seconds left.
After Raigyne Moncrief made two free throws, Andraya Carter missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
Before the game, Tennessee (11-2, 0-1) retired the No. 3 jersey of Candace Parker, who led Tennessee to national titles in 2007 and ’08.
LSU coach Nikki Caldwell was a Tennessee assistant during Parker’s college career. Caldwell played on Tennessee’s 1991 national championship team and was born in Oak Ridge, Tenn., about 25 miles from Thompson-Boling Arena.
Before the game, Parker said it was appropriate the ceremony came when the Lady Vols played LSU because it gave her an opportunity to reunite with Caldwell.
DaShawn Harden had 17 points and shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range for LSU, which also got 15 points from Theresa Plaisance and 14 from Jeanne Kenney.
Harrison matched a career high with 26 points for Tennessee, which has lost two of its past three. Ariel Massengale added 10 points and 12 assists, while Meighan Simmons scored 15.
The game seemed out of reach for Tennessee with 4:37 remaining when Simmons and Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick each picked up technical fouls after Simmons was called for a personal foul. The sequence caused Simmons to foul out of the game, and Kenney made four straight free throws to give LSU a 75-59 advantage.
But the Lady Vols stormed back by turning up the defensive pressure and forcing LSU into numerous turnovers.
Tennessee grabbed a 44-40 halftime lead despite losing starting forward Bashaara Graves to an apparent leg injury early in the first half. Graves returned in the second half with an orange sleeve on her right leg but only played 17 minutes. The Lady Vols took the lead by going on a 12-0 run that gave them a 35-28 advantage.
LSU pulled ahead by going on an 11-2 spurt to open the second half. Plaisance scored seven points during that surge, including a 3-pointer that put the Tigers in front 45-44 with 19:14 remaining.
Tennessee clawed back and tied it at 55 when Jasmine Jones had a putback off Mercedes Russell’s missed free throw with 10:46 left, but LSU responded with a 20-4 run that featured three 3-pointers from Harden.