Needing a reprieve after a tough stretch that resulted in a 1-3 record over four games, No. 10 Tennessee found no remedy for its weariness on Thursday night.
Instead, the Lady Vols struggled to pull away from Ole Miss through three quarters of its 75-66 win at Thompson-Boling Arena, finally finding strength to muster a sizeable lead in the fourth period.
Part of Tennessee’s struggle was due to junior guard Madinah Muhammad, who damaged the Lady Vols from beyond the arch. She finished the game 7-of-10 on three-pointers, scoring 33 total points.
“I’m just real proud of her,” Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell said. “I wish more people would talk about her. I’ll continue to talk to about her, and I’ll continue to tell people she’s one of the best guards in this league. She sliced up Tennessee as well as probably anybody has all year from the guard spot.”
Meanwhile, Tennessee almost seemed unable to hit shots from long-distance, ending the contest 2-of-11 on 3-point attempts. The Lady Vols have had problems with three-point shooting as of late, and those manifested again on Thursday.
“We’ve just got to keep working on it,” freshman guard Anastasia Hayes said. “We have really good three-point shooters, so I guess in practices (we should) just keep working on having the confidence to know that you’re going to make the three. And just keep working on shooting threes.”
The Lady Vols notched a decent advantage during the game’s first quarter but allowed Ole Miss to cut it down by to a ten-point deficit, 30-20, by the conclusion of the period. The Rebels were paced by Muhammad especially in the second quarter, with the sharpshooter scoring 22 points and shooting 6-of-7 on three-pointers in the first half.
Tennessee led 40-38 at the half.
“I would say the first half for us was borderline horrible,” freshman forward Rennis Davis said. “(Muhammad) had about 20 points in the first half. That’s unacceptable for us. We knew she would score the ball well, but I don’t think that we were finding her quick enough. She’s a great shooter, that she showed.
“The first half, we just weren’t playing hard on defensive game.”
Tennessee’s struggle to pull away from the Rebels continued into the third quarter, but the team did find some success, with the Lady Vols leading Ole Miss 57-51 at the end of the period. Hayes sparked the Lady Vols in the fourth quarter, hitting the team’s only three-point makes and helping them finally carve a strong advantage to end the game.
The win gives Tennessee a 17-3 overall record and a 5-2 mark in SEC play.
Davis led Tennessee in scoring with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting. She was followed by Hayes with 16 points, who was also on 6-of-8 from the floor. Senior forward Jaime Nared notched a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“Jaime’s kind of our do-everything player,” head coach Holly Warlick said. “She was at the point at one time in the second quarter. I thought Jaime did a great job of taking good shots, making sure the team is where they need to be. She was very in tuned with our coaching staff. She makes us go.
“(The rebounds) were huge for us, especially on the defensive end. Proud of her effort, and we had to use her a lot of different ways … I thought she stepped up and obviously helped us big time.”
The Lady Vols will travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Sunday to face LSU. The Tigers are 12-6 on the year, with a 4-3 record in SEC play.