No. 1 Tennessee hangs on against UNC

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- No. 1 Tennessee held on for a 83-79 win over No. 4 North Carolina after almost letting a double-digit lead evaporate over the closing minutes.

UNC cut a 11-point lead down to three, and even had a shot to tie the game with five seconds left when Tennessee's Alexis Hornbuckle fouled UNC freshman Rebecca Gray's 3-point attempt. Gray hit the first free throw, but her second shot was short and to the left. She tried to intentionally miss her third attempt, but failed to hit the rim giving UT the ball. Lady Vols' forward Nicky Anosike threw it to half court to a wide open Hornbuckle for a layup and the win.

"I should have let it go," Hornbuckle said about Gray's 3-point attempt. "I would have been heart broken if that was the reason we lost."

UT had double digit leads on three separate occasions, but UNC found a way to bounce back each time.

"We can’t get frazzled," UT's Candace Parker said. "We went up and then we let them come back. All of us need to be put in situations in practice to work on that.”

The Tar Heels only converted eight of their 15 free throw attempts and was one of the factors of the game according to North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell.

"The foul line was the difference, the numbers don't lie," Hatchell said.

The game was a rematch of last season's national semifinal matchup that featured a eight-point second half comeback by the Lady Vols en route to a 56-50 win. It looked like UNC might return the favor for much of the second half, but couldn't find a way to gain the lead.

Despite the loss Hatchell said that she was proud of her team's effort.

"I hope you were impressed with my team tonight, because I sure was," she said.

The Tar Heels dominated the paint for most of the game. They finished with a 57-39 advantage on rebounds and a 60-32 margin on points in the paint. Forward Erlana Larkins led UNC with 22 points and 15 rebounds and was a force down low all night.

"We didn't have (an) answer for Larkins," UT coach Pat Summitt said.

Summitt had center Nicky Anosike on Larkins for much of the game, but after picking up her fourth foul only minutes into the second half Anosike was forced to the bench. The senior came back in late in the game and provided UT with a solid defender down low.

“Nicky is what we call the ‘X-factor,’" Hatchell said. "She’s really good at passing the ball and finding open players. She really helps when she’s out on the floor. I think she is one of their best players, and I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves.”

The Lady Vols were led by Hornbuckle's 25 points on 9 of 11 shooting. Though Hornbuckle could have cost the Lady Vols with her late foul, she helped pace the offense early on accounting for 15 of her team's 42 points in the first half.

"She looked for good shots and didn’t force things," Summitt said. "That is the difference between this year and last year. It is about being efficient."

The win wasn't all good news for the Lady Vols though. The team announced that 6-foot-6 freshman Kelley Cain will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on her right knee. Cain has experienced swelling in the irritation in the knee since she she stepped on a defender's foot in a practice. Her rehabilitation time is estimated for eight months.

Player of the game: Alexis Hornbuckle: She almost allowed North Carolina to get back into the game by fouling UNC freshman Rebecca Gray on a late 3-point attempt, but sealed the Lady Vols win with a final layup. The senior finished with a game high 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting.

Play of the game: UNC guard Rebecca Gray missed the second of her three free-throws with five seconds remaining with the Tar Heels down by three sealing the UT win.

Next up for North Carolina: vs. Wofford, Dec. 9.

Next up for Tenenssee: vs. Old Dominion, Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.

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