The Tennessee women’s basketball team’s now infamous rough streak was almost made worse in the loss to Arkansas. Incumbent starter Meme Jackson went down early with an ankle injury and did not return to the game.
In the coming days, her status was in question with no real indication as to the severity of her injury, or the timetable for her return. It would be two and a half games before Jackson found her way back on the court against Florida, making a return that was welcomed by the ranks of the Lady Vols for a plethora of reasons.
“I enjoyed having Meme back,” forward Cheridene Green said. “She’s got great energy, and she’s always in my ear telling me what I need to do and what I shouldn’t do, so that’s good to know.”
Jackson did not exactly shine in her return against the Gators, playing a limited 17 minutes. She finished 2-for-6 from the field for just four points. That mark included 0-3 from beyond the arc, the area that she has made her name known in.
Against Vanderbilt, though, Tennessee fans saw a return to form for the Murfreesboro, Tennessee, native. She was an important part in her team’s third straight win, scoring 17 points. She also played for almost the entire game, logging 35 minutes.
Against the Commodores, Jackson shot 5-of-16 from the field, and hit her first three point shot since the Georgia game on January 13.
“I was just trying to be patient, let the game come to me,” Jackson said. “I wasn’t trying to force anything … I was just trying to play hard.”
Jackson ranks third on the team in scoring, averaging 12 points per game. She also leads the team in both three-pointers attempted and three-pointers made, with 115 and 40 respectively. Her percentage from beyond the arc takes second place marks, at a 34.8-percent clip.
But it isn’t just her on-court performances that makes this return an important one. She is one of the leaders of this team, and a veteran presence that Tennessee lacks in her absence. Though Cheridene Green is the other senior, she has only spent a couple of years with the program.
Jackson has been a factor for this team since her freshman season in 2015. She’s played in 105 career games for the Lady Vols, starting in 70 of them. She is the only player on this roster that has been a steady contributor for more than two years.
The younger players also turn to her for guidance, and she has mentored the likes of Evina Westbrook and Rennia Davis. This young team also gets her back at a time that they are most likely to need her.
Tennessee’s remaining schedule is one of the toughest in the nation, and having a veteran presence like Jackson’s should do nothing but help. In the last seven games of the season, her squad faces road trips to No. 6 Mississippi State and No. 18 Texas A&M, as well as a homestand against No. 12 South Carolina.
But Jackson feels confident in the Lady Vols’ ability to close out the season, especially on the heels of a three-game win streak.
“I think we’ve been more focused in practice,” Jackson said. “Just staying together, and focusing on the game at hand. We’ve been playing very hard, and our coaches haven’t been having to coach effort.”