It was a welcome sight for fans of the Tennessee women’s basketball team, but it could have been sweeter for Mercedes Russell.
Following two games in which the No. 11 Lady Vols struggled to put away lower-ranked opponents, besting Vanderbilt 74-64 and Arkansas 90-85, Tennessee found a quick rhythm and never looked back in its 62-46 win over No. 18 Georgia on Sunday.
“We’ve got to treat teams that are not ranked just like we treat Georgia because the people in the bottom of the SEC keep getting better,” head coach Holly Warlick said. “I think (based on) our performance here and how we’ve handled in the past, I think (the players are) going to get the message.”
Part of Tennessee’s strong performance was due to the play of redshirt senior center Russell. She recorded her 1,000th career rebound in the second period and ended one point shy of another milestone, 1,500 points, at the conclusion of the contest.
With the rebound mark, Russell becomes just the sixth player in program history to accomplish the feat.
“It was awesome (to get the 1,000 rebounds),” Russell said. “I’m pretty sure the other five players on that list are probably very noted players, so it’s extremely humbling, and it’s definitely an honor, so I’m very excited to get that.”
Tennessee and Georgia paced each other during the first quarter, with the Lady Vols leading 17-13 at the conclusion of the period. Tennessee’s 3-point shooting, an area that the team has struggled with throughout the season, was sharp throughout the quarter, with the squad notching a 3-of-5 mark from long distance.
The Lady Vols found an avenue to pull away in the second period, holding Georgia to just six total points in the quarter while scoring 19 of their own and going ahead 36-19 by halftime.
But the Lady Vols didn’t allow the large advantage at the half to weaken their competitive strength in the final two quarters.
“For us, (it didn’t lessen the pressure) in particular because we did know that Georgia was a good team coming in,” freshman forward Rennia Davis said. “So we just wanted to stay consistent on the defensive end.”
Tennessee’s lead wasn’t in jeopardy throughout the course of the third quarter, as the Lady Vols led 55-37 at the end of the period. Reserves Kasiyahna Kushkituah, who aided Tennessee’s effort in the first half with scoring and rebounding, Kortney Dunbar and Kamera Harris saw action on the floor in the fourth quarter as the Lady Vols cruised to the 62-46 win.
Senior forward Jaime Nared led Tennessee with 15 points and also grabbed nine rebounds. Russell finished with 13 points and 15 boards.
The win puts Tennessee at 21-4 on the year, with a 9-3 record in SEC play. With the victory, the Lady Vols have surpassed the 20 total wins they notched during last year’s 20-12 season.
Tennessee also holds a 12-1 overall record in games played on its home court this season, with the singular loss coming against then-No. 3 Mississippi State.
“Home court advantage is huge,” Russell said. “Our fans were awesome today. We had a really good crowd. It was really loud in there. But credit to Georgia. They’re a really good team. They just dropped to 8-3 in the league, which that’s huge. But I think we just came out and we played tougher. And I think we played hard for the full 40 minutes.”
The Lady Vols will host Alabama at Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday, looking to notch 10 SEC wins in the regular season. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.