A lackluster loss on the road to No. 5 Mississippi State a week ago had knocked the Tennessee women’s basketball team out of virtually all of the NCAA Tournament projections.
According to the experts, the Lady Vols desperately needed to rattle off another win streak to climb back into the conversation.
So far, mission accomplished.
Tennessee responded to that Mississippi State loss in a big way by beating Auburn on Thursday and then turning around and downing Missouri late at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. to split the season series.
Here is how the Lady Vols performed in both wins.
Tennessee really needed someone not named Evina Westbrook to step up in the backcourt.
The sophomore is the Lady Vols’ leading scorer, and even with the team’s struggles, had managed to post double-digit scoring figures in seven of Tennessee’s first 10 conference games.
In short, when Westbrook wasn’t scoring, Tennessee was usually not successful.
Versus Auburn, freshman Zaay Green came through in a big way, reaching a career-high 25 points, while Westbrook only had 9.
Senior guard Meme Jackson proved to be a factor as well, knocking down two threes in the second half.
While Green and Jackson added just 6 and 4 points apiece against Missouri, Westbrook was able to return to form with an 18-point showing.
The gritty Auburn and Missouri wins were decided in the paint, and the performances from the Lady Vols’ post players proved crucial in both games.
Senior forward Cheridene Green notched a double-double in the Auburn game with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while sophomore forward Rennia Davis had one of her own with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The group put together another standout performance versus Missouri.
Tennessee crashed the boards, out-rebounding the Tigers 41-30 and scoring 22 second chance points.
Freshman Mimi Collins was one of the difference makers with 11 points and 6 rebounds. Her biggest play, however was a corner three to give the Lady Vols a 58-56 lead with three minutes left in the game.
On the offensive end, Tennessee didn’t shoot lights out in either game, but they limited turnovers and came up with big rebounds.
Against Auburn, the Lady Vols’ offense accounted for 12 turnovers, but out-rebounded the Tigers’ defense, 17-10.
Versus Missouri, they had just 10 turnovers while snagging 17 offensive rebounds to Missouri’s 8 on defense. The 22 points scored off of second chance points were paramount in a game that was decided by two points.
Tennessee shot 42 percent and 53 percent from the field against Auburn and Missouri, respectively.
While the Lady Vols have managed to hit big shots in crunch time, the offense is still struggling to string together points during long periods. That will have to improve, but they’ve done enough to grind out wins as of late.
Tennessee dominated the boards on defense versus Auburn, out-rebounding the Tigers, 28-10.
The Lady Vols also forced 13 turnovers while converting those turnovers into 13 points on the other end of the floor.
Their biggest accomplishment out of the two games was holding Missouri guard Sophie Cunningham to just 1-for-8 from beyond the arc, and just 13 points total. Cunningham scored 20 points and shot over 60 percent from three in the last game.
Defense is where Tennessee makes its living, and while the unit took a hit against Mississippi State, it followed it up with some pretty solid performances.
With so much youth on the roster, Tennessee has had to turn to its bench on several occasions, but has not gotten much in return.
Bench players accounted for just two total points in the win over Auburn, both coming from Jazmine Massengill.
Collins, however, was a force off of the bench against Missouri, scoring 11 of its 12 total points.
This far into the season, the Lady Vols should be getting more out of their reserves besides the occasional breakout performances.
Collins coming up big in the clutch against Missouri improves their grade a little bit.
Credit has to be given to Holly Warlick for preventing another losing skid after the Mississippi State loss.
Tennessee can again take a realistic look at its postseason after the last week, but it isn’t a lock yet.
While the team has shown that it can crumble under adversity this season, the coaching staff managed to right the ship, especially in a back-and-forth game against Missouri.
Going forward, Warlick needs to ensure that the Lady Vols can keep up the style of play from the last two games consistently.
After losing six-straight earlier in the SEC play, Tennessee was able to win three before falling to Mississippi State.
The last two performances have to do a lot in the way of confidence for the Lady Vols. With back-to-back games against No. 22 Texas A&M and No. 11 South Carolina looming, Tennessee will need to stick to its formula to have a chance at some marquee wins.
The room for improvement remains, however.