The Tennessee women’s basketball team has had a rough go of it the past couple of weeks. After looking like it finally had its season turned around,it set off on a three game losing streak to close the season that was capped off with a loss to Vanderbilt, a team that currently occupies last place in the conference.
The Lady Vols did answer that skid with a season-ending win over Ole Miss on Sunday, though, beating the Rebels 81-56. Now they face the SEC Tournament, where a second round matchup against LSU awaits.
Here are the grades from the past two games.
Tennessee’s guards have dropped off of the radar in the past couple of weeks. The team’s leading scorer, Evina Westbrook, failed to reach double-digit scoring in either of the past two wins. She had a combined 13 points against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.
The only significant scoring contribution from the backcourt came against Vanderbilt, as senior Meme Jackson laid-in 20 points. It was her first time breaking the 20 point barrier in over a month. She was the only guard to finish in double-digits in either game.
Despite the lack of scoring, the guards did a nice job of spreading the ball around. In the win over Ole Miss, they tallied 20 assists, led by Westbrook’s nine, to just seven turnovers. They had 11 more dimes against Vanderbilt.
This offense is predicated upon getting points in the paint, and the frontcourt finds the ball in their hands on almost every single possession. In the past week, they’ve done a good job of capitalizing off of the opportunities they’ve been given.
Three different members of the front court had significant offensive production in the past week. Freshman Mimi Collins had a nice game against Vanderbilt, scoring 14 points. Rennia Davis averaged 13.5 points in the past two games, and Cheridene Green led all scorers against the Commodores, with 20 points.
Rebounding has been a huge aspect of this team’s identity, as well, and that’s something the forwards and the post players tend to do well. Vanderbilt was the exception, where Tennessee got out-rebounded 34-22. 17 of those 22 rebounds came from the frontcourt though.
If the Lady Vols want to find success in the postseason, they might want to feed their players down low more.
Tennessee had one of its worst, and one of its best, offensive performances in the past week. They were only able to put 69 points on the board against Vanderbilt at home. For reference, the same Tennessee team scored 82 points against the same Commodores team earlier this season.
The Lady Vols’ shooting percentage wasn’t actually bad against Vanderbilt- they hit shots at a 47 percent clip. Still, it wasn’t enough production to pick up the win, and it marked the fourth game in a row that they scored less than 70 points.
The offense saw a huge uptick against Ole Miss, though. At times it appeared as if Tennessee could get whatever it wanted on the way to scoring 81 points, the second highest mark in conference play this season.
It finished shooting 51 percent from the field, including 57 percent from three-point range. It hit eight threes. The offense needs to find more consistency if the team hopes to find any success in the coming tournaments, though.
Tennessee’s defense struggled at times against Vanderbilt, and especially in the paint. It allowed forward Mariella Fasoula to score 19 points on 9 for 13 shooting. The Commodores hit 53 percent of their buckets in that contest.
The defense got in foul trouble that game as well, notching 24 total fouls. Green fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, and Westbrook followed her not long afterwards.
Like the offense, the Lady Vols’ defensive efforts saw significant improvement against Ole Miss. They held the Rebels to just 28 percent shooting, leading to just 56 points. They forced 15 turnovers as well, eight of which were steals.
Collins was a big factor off of the bench in the Vanderbilt loss, as she had 14 points. Due to an injury to post Kasiyahna Kushkituah, Collins got a starting nod against Ole Miss, the first start of her career.
Outside of her, the rest of the bench had adequate performances. Zaay Green had nine points off of the bench against the Rebels, and Jazmine Massengill had seven against Vanderbilt. Zaay Green led the team in rebounding on Sunday, posting eight boards.
For a team without much depth, Tennessee’s reserve players have to have bigger performances for the team to find any success.
Losing to Vanderbilt is certainly reflects poorly on the coaching staff, especially since it was Vanderbilt’s first-ever win in Knoxville. It was the cherry on top of a three game losing streak that featured some bad blowout losses.
Most teams would have given up at that point, and it would not have been surprising if the Lady Vols looked sluggish and uninspired against Ole Miss. The coaches deserve the benefit of the doubt, though, for rallying the team to one of its best performances this season.
The coaching needs to get significantly better, though, for Tennessee is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee finished the season with one of its worst showings ever, posting a losing conference record for the first time in the team’s history. The loss to Vanderbilt was historically bad, and the Lady Vols may miss out on the NCAA Tournament.
This season, and the past week, will go down as a forgettable one, unless they can make a deep run in the SEC Tournament.