With the regular season behind them, the Tennessee women’s basketball team was looking to improve their postseason stock in the SEC Tournament.
There, the Lady Vols split two games, getting a much-needed win against LSU before falling to the top-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs in the quarterfinals, 83-68. Whether or not the showing was enough to convince the NCAA Selection Committee that remains to be seen.
Still, the win over the Tigers on Thursday didn’t hurt, and their ability to once again hang with the Bulldogs for three and a half quarters may help as well.
Here is a closer look at how Tennessee performed in both games:
To have any sort of chance in the SEC Tournament, Tennessee desperately needed its guards to have its best games.
More often than not this past season, the Lady Vols had suffered too much from inconsistency out of the unit, having their best scorers go through slumps that the team could not overcome.
That was not the case on Thursday against LSU.
After scoring 10 or less points in the last three regular season games, sophomore guard Evina Westbrook looked like the player that Tennessee heavily relied on earlier in the season, recording a 20-point showing against the Tigers and following it up with 19 points against Mississippi State.
From the field, Westbrook was a combined 17-of-29 and a combined 3 for 5 from beyond the arc in both games.
Also a factor for the Lady Vols was senior guard Meme Jackson, who tallied nine and 13 points respectively, including a pair of big threes in the first half against Mississippi State.
In limited action, freshman guard Zaay Green only managed a total of five points on Thursday and Friday, which effects the grade here a bit, as well as the fact that out of the 26 turnovers committed by Tennessee against Mississippi State, 15 were given up by guards.
After a strong close to the regular season, the frontcourt was relatively quiet in the SEC Tournament.
That isn’t to say that they didn’t play a part in the win over LSU. In a game where nearly every statistical category was neck-and-neck, Tennessee was outscored in the paint, 36-34, but managed to out rebound the Tigers, 31-28.
Sophomore forward Rennia Davis made the biggest impact for the group, scoring 19 points versus LSU and adding 16 more against Mississippi State.
Senior forward Cheridene Green totaled 16 rebounds and 15 points in both games, while freshman forward Mimi Collins had a solid outing against LSU with 10 points and 3 rebounds.
The Bulldogs dominated the Lady Vols in the paint, however, outscoring them 48-24.
For the first time in what seems like an eternity, Tennessee was able to have multiple players on the floor contributing on the offensive end between Westbrook, Davis and Jackson.
Against LSU and Mississippi State, the Lady Vols shot nearly 50 percent from the floor and more than 47 percent from the perimeter in the loss to the Bulldogs.
What has been a back-breaker for Tennessee throughout the season is long scoring droughts while the other team goes on runs.
That didn’t seem to be a problem in either game as the Lady Vols were the team that closed the game out on a run to top LSU, and were respectable against a Mississippi State team that was just better late in the second half.
But turnovers plagued Tennessee against the Bulldogs, giving the ball away 26 times, leading to 30 points on the other end.
While Tennessee gave up some big threes against LSU in the first half, the Lady Vols recovered to hold the Tigers to just 3-of-11 from three-point range for the game.
Versus Mississippi State, they held the Bulldogs to just 2-of-9 for 22.2-percent.
Mississippi State was able to do its damage, thanks in part to Tennessee turnovers, in the paint, where they were better than 50-percent.
Despite that, the Tennessee defense out-rebounded the Bulldogs offense, 21-13, but could not return the favor in turnover margin as Mississippi State committed just 11.
While the defense did enough to hold off LSU long enough to grab the lead late in the fourth quarter and hold it there, it could not do the same to Mississippi State late in the second half.
Normally, the performance out of Mimi Collins in the LSU game would bode well for the bench players’ grades, but the freshman actually found her way into the starting lineup in both games.
The Lady Vols got a total of four points off of the bench against the Tigers, thanks to two points apiece from Zaay Green and Kasiyahna Kushkituah, despite the bench seeing 55 minutes of action.
In the game against Mississippi State, Rae Burrell notched a few important baskets en route to a four point outing, but the unit was again not a big enough factor to make much of a difference as freshman Jazmine Massengale and Green only added 2 and 3 points respectively.
Tennessee seemed resigned to its fate following a terrible loss to Vanderbilt, but seems to have realized what is at stake in the last three games.
If when things are going bad, the blame ultimately goes to the top, so should the good.
Head Coach Holly Warlick seems to have gotten through to them as of late, at the very least as evidenced by the dominant win at Ole Miss, the close win against LSU and the fight they showed for most of the game against Mississippi State.
Warlick also made the lineup change by putting Collins in over Green, which paid off with Collins scoring 10 points in the win over LSU.
Tennessee will have to wait until next Monday to find out if the last couple of games were enough to sneak them into the NCAA Tournament field.
As of right now, it was enough for ESPN Bracketologist Charlie Creme to put them as a projected 11 seed in the Greensboro, NC Region against Arizona State.
In Greenville, Tennessee played like a team with a purpose for a game and a half, getting some good performances out of Westbrook, Collins, Jackson and Davis while showing that they can hang with the SEC Champion.