Not long into No. 9 Tennessee’s bout with the Stetson Hatters, the Lady Vols found themselves in territory that has been all too familiar as of late.
With upset in mind, the Hatters jumped out to a quick and early lead, which they held for two and a half quarters. But if the last four games have taught Tennessee anything, it has been that resilience is key in coming-from-behind, which they did yet again on Wednesday with a 65-55 win to remain undefeated.
The Lady Vols trailed by as much as 20 in the second half before storming back.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said. “We’ve just got to get off to a better start. Our team is relisilent. We made some corrections at halftime and we made defense a priority.”
Stetson made good use of the three-point line early, jumping out to a 7-2 lead behind guard Addi Walters, who quickly grabbed 13 first half points.
Timely shooting wasn’t the only thing going their way, either. The Hatters took full advantage of free-throw shooting as well, going 100-percent from the charity stripe in the first half.
For Tennessee, there was no answer. While the Lady Vols defense struggled to slow down Stetson, the offense struggled score points, shooting just over 22-percent in the second quarter, going 2-for-9 in field goals.
Tennessee went into the half facing their fourth-straight halftime deficit, as well as their largest deficit this season, trailing 38-22.
“Our defense was non-existent (in the first half),” Warlick said. “Our offense was stagnant. We turned the ball over too many times. We had three-second calls and a lot of push-off calls.”
The opening minutes of the second half seemed to be taking a similar path, as Stetson scored two quick baskets to extend their lead to twenty, 42-22. But from there, the Lady Vols launched into an unprecedented run that would eventually carry them to victory and it started with defense.
“When you go into the second half and you get 13 stops in a row, you understand the importance of defense,” Warlick said. “You understand the importance of rebounding and attacking the basket.”
Over a span of over seven minutes during the third quarter, Tennessee dominated amid a 22-0 run. Guard Rennia Davis’ three with just over two minutes to go in the quarter gave the Lady Vols their first lead of the game at 44-42.
The three was just one of a season-high 24 points on the night for the sophomore, who has scored in double figures in six-straight contests, and was paramount in Tennessee’s comeback.
“This is probably the most competitive team I’ve ever played on,” Davis said. “We started getting more aggressive in the third quarter and fourth quarter so the game got easier for us.”
The Lady Vols also seemed to have found a remedy for their free throw shooting struggles in the second half as well, as they finished with a season-best 25-of-30 for an 83.3-percentage.
Sophomore guard Evina Westbrook, coming off of a strong showing against Oklahoma State last week, was a perfect 9-for-9 from the charity stripe, while Davis finished 11-of-12, with most of those shots coming in the second half.
“What has been our Achilles’ heel was one of the best things we did today,” Warlick said. “I’m really proud of them for stepping up at the line and knocking shots down.”
For Davis, the improvement at the free-throw line is a testimony to their practices.
“Just getting up extra reps as a whole team,” Davis said. “We work on our free-throw shots every week, so I think those reps have really paid off for us.”
Tennessee had two players, Davis and Westbrook, score in double figures, with 24 and 20 points, respectively. Freshmen Zaay Green, Mimi Collins and Jazmine Massengill also contributed on the offensive end.
The Lady Vols will hit the road again as they prepare for a top-15 battle with the No. 12 Texas Longhorns in Austin on Sunday. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.