FAYETTEVILLE – On Senior Night, Dominique Washington decided she wanted to play just a little bit longer. The 5-8 senior guard from Pensacola, Fla., drained a 20-footer from the deep corner with four seconds remaining to send the University of Arkansas into overtime against the second-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols.
“I thought if I had the chance, it was going in,” Washington said. “I got it, and it did.”
In the overtime, sophomore all-American Candace Parker and UT recovered from the blows they suffered all night to Arkansas to rally to a 75-68 win.
Arkansas, 18-11, dropped to 3-11 in SEC play while UT, 26-2, advanced to within a game of an undefeated league title at 13-0.
However for the majority of the opening 40 minutes it appeared that head coach Susie Gardner’s Lady’Backs would score the greatest upset in the 31-year history of the program.
“This game didn’t surprise me,” Gardner said. “I felt like if we could keep it close, we would have a good chance. We kept it close and got into overtime, and I am very proud of our team.”
“I give credit to Arkansas for their intensity,” UT head coach Pat Summitt said. “Susie got them well prepared, and this was one game I was very concerned about. If Arkansas would have played that way all season, they would not have the record they have now.”
Arkansas defense gave UT a game-long dose of the same game that pushed No. 7 LSU into the final minutes a week earlier.
“We were playing for pride tonight,” UA senior Sarah Pfeifer said. “We gave them more than they wanted.”
Behind the early flash of freshman Tanisha Smith and powerful inside rebounding by junior Lauren Ervin, Arkansas rocked Tennessee from the tip, building a quick 7-2 lead.
The Lady Vols battled to achieve small leads in the first half, but each time Arkansas had an answer. Washington heated up in the late minutes of the first, and her three-pointer with 2:57 left gave the home team a nine-point, 25-16, lead.
A 7-0 run by UT closed by a layup from Parker brought the Lady Vols close at halftime, 25-23.
“We’ve got to be able to sustain a lead, and we did that most of the game,” Gardner said. “We just have to keep gearing up for tournament play, and keep our heads up for a run next week.”
Arkansas did not flinch in the second, quickly rebuilding its lead off defensive plays from Ervin and three-pointers from Washington. Fellow senior Pfeifer joined in with short jumpers and Arkansas regained its nine-point spread, 36-27, with 14:27 to go.
Each Tennessee rally was met by a key Arkansas bucket, several by seniors Washington and Pfeifer down the stretch. A pair of Pfeifer free throws put Arkansas back to nine, 45-36, at 7:19.
Tennessee struck with a 10-0 burst, the first six points in only 24 seconds, to regain the lead, 45-44.
Smith responded for Arkansas with a driving layup, and the battle for the lead was on for the next three minutes. The teams exchanged the lead five times before a three-pointer by Shannon Bobbitt put UT ahead, 53-52.
Arkansas battled back at the free throw line, hitting seven of eight without the clock moving in the last three minutes, while the Lady’Back defense frustrated UT’s inside game.
Tennessee led by seven with 1:15 left in the game, but Arkansas’ 7-0 run capped by Washington’s three-pointer with four seconds left sent the game to overtime.
The overtime was a defensive struggle as the two teams combined for a single field goal in the first minute and a half. Tennessee had a 5-0 start, but it took 3:45 to build the run.
“We could tell on the bench that Dominique was fatigued, and Brittney played all 45 minutes,” Gardner said. “They gave it all they had, and we battled to the end.”
Arkansas got back on track in the final minute of the OT, cutting the lead to three, 69-66, with 39 seconds left. Forced to foul, the Lady’Backs did not catch a break from UT as the Lady Vols hit six straight free throws in the last 31 seconds to keep Arkansas at bay.
Parker finished the game leading all scorers with 29 points and 17 rebounds.
Arkansas’ defense held Tennessee to only 29.4% in the first half and 36% for the game, forcing 19 turnovers and blocking five shots.
Ervin led the defense with all five of the blocks plus five steals.
Washington led Arkansas with 21 points, all from seven three-pointers, while Smith added 13, a SEC game high for the freshman.
Arkansas played the game without freshman Donica Cosby, who was suspended for one game earlier in the week for breaking departmental policies.
The Lady’Backs head to Georgia to finish the regular season on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.