Tennessee coach Holly Warlick talks with guard Ariel Massengale during Thursday's game against LSU in Knoxville. (AP Photo)
KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee women's basketball team is at risk of digging itself an early hole as it attempts to defend its Southeastern Conference regular-season title.
Just three days after opening SEC competition with an 80-77 home loss to No. 16 LSU, the fifth-ranked Lady Vols (11-2, 0-1) play Sunday at No. 19 Georgia (12-2, 0-1). Tennessee has lost consecutive SEC regular-season games just three times in school history, most recently in 1996-97.
"It's not how we wanted to start the SEC, but it is what it is," Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale said. "We have to learn from it."
Georgia also finds itself needing to bounce back after falling 66-58 at Vanderbilt in its SEC opener Thursday. A loss could send the Lady Bulldogs out of the Top 25 for the first time since the end of the 2010-11 regular season.
It's unusual for these two storied programs to meet under such circumstances. Since the start of the Associated Press poll in 1976-77, Tennessee and Georgia have spent more weeks in the rankings than any other two programs. In all but three of their 60 all-time matchups, at least one of these teams has been ranked in the top 10.
Now they're trying to avoid starting 0-2 in SEC play. Both teams have lost twice in their last three games.
"I think any time a team loses, they want to come out immediately and get back in the win column," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "I would suspect both teams are anxious to do that."
Tennessee wants to erase the defensive lapses that caused the Lady Vols to snap a string of 16 straight victories in SEC openers. UT forced seven turnovers in the last 4½ minutes against LSU while cutting a 16-point deficit to one, but the Lady Tigers had little trouble running their offense before that comeback.
"We just didn't come out ready to play, just plain and simple," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said.
Tennessee has won 13 of its last 14 games with Georgia, which has struggled to take care of the ball lately. The Lady Bulldogs have committed at least 23 turnovers in three straight games.
"They're unforced turnovers, that's the tough part of it," Landers said. "It's decision-making and it's just not good execution in passing and catching."
It's early enough in the season that both teams could rebound from an 0-2 start in SEC play. History shows they know how to bounce back from that kind of adversity.
Tennessee has started 0-2 in SEC play twice before, in 1984-85 and 1996-97. That 1997 team went on to win the national championship. The only other time UT lost two straight conference games at any point in the regular season was in 1986-87, and that team won the national title.
When Georgia dropped out of the Top 25 at the end of the 2010-11 regular season, it bounced back in the postseason to reach the NCAA tournament regional semifinals.
"Just like Coach Holly said in the locker room, it's not the end," Massengale said after the LSU game. "It's a long season and we have plenty of time to get better."
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