Tennessee's Alexa Middleton (33) right, steals the ball from Alabama's Sharin Rivers (33) left, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Patrick Murphy-Racey)
Patrick Murphy-Racey
February 19, 2015

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee easily passed its first test since losing star center Isabelle Harrison to a knee injury.

A much tougher challenge is on the way.

Ariel Massengale scored 17 points and shot 5 of 11 from 3-point range Thursday night as the sixth-ranked Lady Vols beat Alabama 77-56 to remain unbeaten in Southeastern Conference play.

''So many people are doubting us, saying we're out of the run and Tennessee's off the map now and we're not going to get to (the Final Four in) Tampa and we're going to lose our No. 1 seed,'' Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick said. ''We just use that as motivation. It's all noise right now.''

Tennessee (23-3, 13-0), which next visits No. 2 South Carolina on Monday, beat Alabama for the 41st straight time. The Tide (13-15, 2-11) hasn't beaten Tennessee since the 1984 Southeastern Conference tournament and has never defeated the Lady Vols in Knoxville.

Harrison, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee Sunday during a 72-58 victory over No. 11 Kentucky, watched from the bench as Tennessee earned its 19th straight home win and 20th consecutive SEC triumph. Harrison, a first-team all-SEC selection and the SEC tournament MVP last season, was averaging 12.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Burdick had 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Bashaara Graves added 14 points and Nia Moore had six points, seven rebounds and six blocks. The Lady Vols were a perfect 18 of 18 from the free throw line and led by as many as 36 points.

''We talked about this being a statement game and just playing hard,'' Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. ''I talk about that all the time. I thought the Kentucky game we played hard, and I wanted to carry that over to this game. I thought we did some really good things.''

Ashley Williams had 18 points, Hannah Cook scored 11 and Quanetria Bolton added 10 for Alabama, which has lost six of seven and 11 of its last 13.

Tennessee raced to a 16-2 lead as Alabama missed 12 of its first 13 shots. Alabama regrouped well enough to get within 11 points early in the second half, but Tennessee went on a 20-2 run to put the game away.

''That's happened to us a lot,'' Alabama coach Kristy Curry said of Tennessee's second-half spurt. ''You have to credit them. They did a great job of making plays, and we came down and missed some shots. Making shots will heal a lot of ills in those situations.''

TIP-INS

Alabama: The Crimson Tide capitalized on Harrison's absence to outscore Tennessee 34-24 in the paint, but Alabama's shooting woes prevented it from staying close. Williams shot 8 of 11, while her teammates combined to go 13 of 48.

Tennessee: Tennessee's 41-game winning streak over Alabama is the third-longest active winning streak by one team over a conference rival. Stanford has beaten Pac-12 foe Washington State 59 straight times, and Liberty has 44 straight wins over Big South rival Coastal Carolina.

NEW LINEUP

Tennessee shuffled its lineup by having Massengale, Moore and Jaime Nared join usual starters Andraya Carter and Burdick. Nared was making her first start since Nov. 21 and Moore was starting for the first time since Dec. 7. Although Harrison's injury has left Massengale as Tennessee's top remaining scorer, the senior guard was making just her third start of the season.

''I thought it was a great game for us to experiment a little bit and get Nia in and get her some playing (time) with the starting group,'' Warlick said.

STAT LINES

Tennessee set a school record for most free throws made in a single game without any misses. ... Tennessee hasn't lost a home game or an SEC game since falling 75-71 to Kentucky on Feb. 16, 2014.

NEXT UP

Alabama: Hosts No. 14 Mississippi State on Sunday.

Tennessee: At No. 2 South Carolina on Monday.

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