For 26 minutes and 53 seconds, the ninth ranked and undefeated (7-0) Tennessee women’s basketball team trailed the one-win Stetson Hatters (1-7) from the ASUN Conference on Wednesday. At one point in the contest, Stetson had a 20-point lead.
It took a stellar second half performance for the Lady Vols to avoid one of the biggest upsets in the team’s history, eventually winning 65-55.
“It was a tale of two halves,” head coach Holly Warlick said. “Our defense, the first two quarters, was nonexistent, and offense was stagnant… We’ve got to get off to a better start.”
First half woes
To say it was a rough start for the Lady Vols would be a gross understatement. They failed to score on their first two possessions, allowing Stetson to open the game on a 5-0 run, and things didn’t get much better.
The Lady Vols were stone-cold from beyond the arc, making just one of their six total attempts. Meanwhile, the Hatters made their money from 3-point range, converting on 60 percent of their shots.
Trailing 23-15 after the first ten minutes of play, it appeared as if things could not get worse for Tennessee.
It took approximately seven minutes for the Lady Vols to score their first field goal in the second quarter. Until that point, they had a few points off of free throws. They only attempted nine total shots, scoring on just two of them.
“We weren’t there defensively, so offensively, we weren’t there either,” Evina Westbrook said.
With just seven points total in the second quarter, they trailed Stetson by 16-points at the half, 38-22, for their largest, and fourth straight, halftime deficit this season. Tennessee was only aided by a…
Second half surge
Things quite obviously looked bleak at the start of the second half for the Lady Vols, and with Stetson opening the third quarter on a 4-0 run to extend its lead to 20 points, it wasn’t getting any better.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the light turned on for an offensive effort that had been almost non-existent the entire game. Gradually closing the gap, Tennessee utilized a 22-0 run to take its first lead of the game, 44-42, over seven minutes into the third quarter.
From that point on, the Lady Vols would not trail.
“We tried to forget how not as good the first half was,” Rennia Davis said. “We knew we could play better. Just getting out there in the second half and competing, and playing defense, and playing Tennessee basketball, that’s just all we were focused on.”
Sophomores Westbrook and Davis took over the game in the second half. They were responsible for 30 of the team’s 43 points in the final 20 minutes, scoring with both scoring 15.
Davis finished just one board away from a double-double to go with her 24 total points.
Sophomore post Kasiyahnah Kushkituah missed the game with what appeared to be a left knee injury. She’s made a surge in her second year, averaging about 10 points and six boards per game.
Warlick says her injury is one to monitor in the coming days.
“Kasi, she’s still day-to-day,” Warlick said. “We just go by what our trainers are saying. She’s rehabbing, and it’s a day-to-day decision.”
The Lady Vols will hit the road for the third time in four games, this time to face No. 12 Texas on Sunday. The two teams have recent history, facing off in Knoxville last season. Tennessee got the better of that match, winning 82-75 over the Longhorns, the No. 4 team in the nation at the time.
The Lady Vols won’t have Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell, who scored 38 of the team’s points in last season’s victory, when they travel to Austin this season. It will be a huge early season test for this young squad.
“Texas is good,” Warlick said. “Very athletic, we always have a pretty tough game with them. I think two similar teams- athletic, run the ball, rely on defense, rely on rebounding. It’ll be a challenge.”