LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Makayla Epps did her part trying to help No. 10 Kentucky beat No. 6 Tennessee with back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minutes to give the Wildcats a chance at the end.
Those shots didn't fall in the final 16 seconds, leaving Kentucky with a 73-72 loss in a game it needed to stay within sight of Southeastern Conference-leading Tennessee.
The Wildcats' 13-game home winning streak also came to an end, though not without some drama at the finish that included Epps. The sophomore guard's 3-pointers brought Kentucky (16-5, 5-3 SEC) within one at 73-72 with 1:16 remaining. But the Wildcats couldn't connect on four field goals in the final 36 seconds, including Epps' jumper in the lane.
Jennifer O'Neill missed a jumper, Jordan Reynolds blocked Alexis Jennings' shot with 2 seconds left and Andraya Carter tipped O'Neill's jumper as time expired. Those missed chances allowed Tennessee (18-3, 8-0) to remain unbeaten in the conference and tied with top-ranked South Carolina atop the standings.
"It was a tough game to lose," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "Tennessee made more plays than we did and played harder in the second half. We didn't play any defense in the second half and so we got beat. It's a tough one to lose."
Epps scored a game-high 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting with 20 coming in the second half. Her performance included 3 of 3 from behind the arc that helped carry the Wildcats in the second half, but they couldn't close the deal.
Epps squatted to the floor after the buzzer as the Lady Vols celebrated a hard-fought victory.
"It was more like a 'dang', a 'shoot' type moment losing by one," she said afterward. "I'd probably rather lose by 25 (points) than one because 25 you have no chance and (by) one, you're right there."
O'Neill and Jennings each scored 12 points for Kentucky, which shot 39 percent and committed 19 turnovers.
Tennessee's frontcourt duo of center Isabelle Harrison and forward Cierra Burdick inflicted most of the damage on Kentucky, combining to score 25 second-half points after totaling 10 between them in the first half.
Harrison scored 13 of her 19 points in the second half, while Burdick added 12 of her 16 in the final 20 minutes as Tennessee earned its first true road win over a top-10 opponent since 2008.
Bashaara Graves added 11 points and Harrison had 10 rebounds as Tennessee shot 67 percent after halftime for its 14th win in 15 games that extended its SEC-best winning streak to 15 games dating to last season.
The Lady Vols also ended their two-game slide in Memorial Coliseum, but it took weathering a furious final sequence in which the Wildcats had several good chances that bounced off the rim.
Motivated to stay within reach of the SEC leaders, the Wildcats figured to make it tough for their biggest rival. Momentum seemed to lean toward Tennessee, thanks to zone defenses that frustrated a Kentucky team that started poorly from the field. The Lady Vols used it to build a 20-15 lead through 15 minutes before Jelleah Sidney's seven points down the stretch, mostly on putbacks, lifted the Wildcats.
O'Neill shook off three initial misses to make three of five attempts for seven points, while Jennings added a putback as Kentucky outscored Tennessee 16-5 en route to a 31-25 halftime lead. Not bad, considering the Wildcats shot just 31 percent.
Tennessee wasn't done, drawing within 54-53 thanks to six straight points by Burdick before Harrison and Arial Massengale each added five. The tone was set and the Lady Vols went on to a big win to stay unbeaten in league play.
Tennessee: Needing three points coming in, Harrison scored six in the first half to become the program's 39th player to surpass 1,000.
Kentucky: Sidney's seven points were a season high and just two off her career best.
Tennessee: Hosts No. 18 Mississippi State on Sunday.
Kentucky: Hosts Georgia on Sunday.