KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The defense that carried No. 18 Mississippi State to the Top 25 was missing Sunday.
Cierra Burdick scored a career-high 24 points and had eight rebounds and six assists to help No. 6 Tennessee beat Mississippi State 79-67.
The Lady Volunteers shot a season-high 56.9 percent against Mississippi State, which had allowed only three other opponents to shoot above 45 percent this season.
"We gave up a lot of uncontested shots," Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer said. "That's really unusual for us. We didn't quite have the ball pressure that we typically have."
Tennessee has won all 36 of its meetings with Mississippi State (22-3, 7-3 SEC), but this game was more competitive than most of their previous matchups.
Victoria Vivians kept the game close early on by scoring 13 points of her team-high 17 points in the first 11 minutes of the game. The first half alone featured 12 ties, and Tennessee's 36-31 advantage at the intermission matched the largest lead either team had owned up to that point.
After trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half, Mississippi State clawed within five before the Lady Vols put the game away.
"I walk out of here thinking 'Hey, we're pretty good,'" Schaefer said. "We probably are a Top 20 basketball team and I don't think many people would disagree with that."
Tennessee (19-3, 9-0) had broken the game open by making 11 of its first 12 shots in the second half. Bashaara Graves scored nine straight points during an 11-0 run that extended Tennessee's lead to 59-44. Kendra Grant's jumper cut the deficit to 70-65 with 3:19 left, but that's as close as the Bulldogs got.
The Lady Vols' frontcourt of Burdick, Graves and Isabelle Harrison eventually wore Mississippi State down. Graves scored 17 points, while Harrison had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Breanna Richardson scored all 13 of her points in the second half for Mississippi State. Kendra Grant had 11, and Jerica James 10.
This game began a grueling stretch for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs host No. 12 Texas A&M on Feb. 8 and follow that up by visiting No. 10 Kentucky on Feb. 12.
Their performance Sunday showed they can at least compete with the SEC's traditional powers.
"They're very deserving of their ranking because I think they do exactly what (Schaefer) wants them to do and they play as hard as they can play," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are two wins shy of matching their school record for victories in a season. Mississippi State entered Sunday having won four straight conference games, the first time it had done that since 2006-07.
Tennessee: The Lady Vols are 9-0 in conference play for the first time since 2010-11. That team finished a perfect 16-0 in SEC competition.
GRAVES HITS 1,000
Graves' 17 points increased her career total to 1,001. She reached the milestone in front of numerous family members, including her mother, grandmother and great grandmother. "None of them knew I was even close (to 1,000), I don't think," Graves said. "It was great for them to be here and to share this moment with them."
This marked the second straight game in which a Lady Vol hit the 1,000-point mark. Harrison reached that milestone Thursday in a 73-72 victory at No. 10 Kentucky. Senior guard Ariel Massengale has 991 points.
This was the first Tennessee-Mississippi State matchup between two ranked teams since the 2003 SEC tournament. ... Graves scored her 17 points on only six field-goal attempts. She was 5 of 6 from the floor and 7 of 7 from the free-throw line.
Mississippi State hosts No. 12 Texas A&M on Feb. 8.
Tennessee is at Florida on Feb. 8.