After suffering its first-ever loss to Vanderbilt in Knoxville, the Tennessee women’s basketball team managed to close out its regular season slate with a dominating win over the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford, Miss., on Sunday.
Behind senior guard Meme Jackson’s 20-point, six assist showing, the Lady Vols (18-11, 7-9 SEC) used a big run late in the first quarter and never looked back in an 81-56 decision over the Rebels (9-21, 3-14 SEC) at The Pavilion.
“We were really worried about this game because of Ole Miss’ ability to score,” Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said. “This game was nothing for us except a lot of heart. That’s all we talked about before the game. We have a group of young ladies that came out and fought.”
Ole Miss took a quick 5-0 lead in the opening period, until sophomore guard Rennia Davis put Tennessee in front with back-to-back scores to make it a 6-5 Lady Vols advantage.
The Rebels would take the lead back, 13-10 late in the first, but Tennessee fired off a 13-0 run in the last two minutes of the quarter to take a 10-point, 23-13 lead into the second.
For Warlick, the key to the run was rebounding, especially on the defensive end, where the Lady Vols outrebounded the Rebels, 28-9 for the game.
“It was our defensive rebounding,” Warlick said. “I’ve been preaching it and preaching it, and I challenged Meme Jackson to step up her game, defensively. And we got easy buckets, and we scored in the paint and didn’t take bad shots.”
A jumper from Ole Miss guard La’Karis Salter briefly answered Tennessee’s run in the early-going of the second quarter, but freshman forward Rae Burrell clapped right back with two-straight scores to kickstart another run for the Lady Vols, eventually taking a 43-19 lead into the half.
“When you get steals, you usually generate easy buckets,” Warlick said. “That’s just a great combination, and great things are going to happen when you’re taking easy shots. It starts with the defense.”
There were no signs of letup for Tennessee in the second half, either. In the first five minutes of the third quarter, the Lady Vols outscored Ole Miss, 14-6 to go up 57-25, with Davis scoring six points from the free throw line in that span.
Ole Miss made an attempt to get back into the game, scoring 16 points early in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough, as the Tennessee defense held the Rebel scoreless in the last three minutes of play to secure the win.
Jackson’s 20 points were the most since scoring 27 at Auburn back on Jan. 3 to open SEC play.
“(This season) has been ups and downs,” Jackson said. “But we have to just cherish the moment. There’s been games where we’ve lost and we’ve just had to keep our heads up and move forward and focus on the next game ahead.”
Davis and senior forward Cheridene Green also tallied double-digit performances with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Tennessee now turns its attention to Greenville, SC where it will play in the second round of the SEC Tournament as an 8 seed against the 9-seeded LSU Tigers.
The Lady Vols defeated the Tigers, 74-65 in their lone regular season meeting on Jan. 27 at Thompson-Boling Arena.