After a three game win-streak, it appeared as if fortunes were turning in favor of the Tennessee women’s basketball team. Then it suffered its worst defeat of the season on Sunday at the hands of No. 6 Mississippi State.
On the verge of another skid, the Lady Vols relied on some strong individual performances to bounce-back against the Auburn Tigers on Thursday night, picking up their fifth conference win with a 73-62 victory.
A stern talking to by head coach Holly Warlick at halftime made all the difference.
“I didn’t draw up anything on the board,” Warlick said. “I just challenged them, in a pretty strong way. That wasn’t Tennessee basketball in the first two quarters, and I wasn’t going to sit and watch it.”
Green is the new Orange
A lot has been made recently about the play of Rennia Davis and Meme Jackson, and rightfully so. Davis recorded yet another double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Jackson led the team in threes made with two.
But it has quietly been the play of the Greens- Cheridene and Zaay- that has led to a lot of the team’s success in the past couple of weeks; this remained the case against Auburn.
Zaay Green was, at times, the only thing Tennessee had working on offense. In almost a five minute stretch in the third quarter, she was the only player to score for her team, a feat she accomplished five times in that span.
She finished with a career high 25 points on a career high 75 percent shooting clip.
“Zaay just couldn’t be stopped,” Davis said. “She’s a very quick athlete, so for her to get up the floor and be able to get those layups up, those are easy baskets… It just gives us another scorer, which sometimes I feel like we need.”
Cheridene Green has established herself as a monster on the boards. Prior to the Auburn game, she recorded double-digit rebounds in seven of the last 10 contests. On Thursday, she had 11, five of which came on the offensive end.
The London, England native was also able to reach a double-double, tacking on 16 points, her fifth of the season.
“I pretty much just do my job,” Cheridene Green said. “Everybody knows I have to play great defense, and box out, and crash the boards. I just do what I’m supposed to.”
Return of Westbrook
In Tennessee’s 91-63 loss to Mississippi State on Sunday, they were without Evina Westbrook. She had to sit out of the entire game due to a violation of team rules, and her absence was certainly felt.
With her gone, the Lady Vols lose their top scorer, and an average of 16 points and five assists. Against Auburn, she made her return to the court, and her impact was obvious.
“Her presence on the court, she gets people the ball,” Warlick said. “She did what a point guard is supposed to do, distribute the basketball… She ran this basketball team tonight. It was great to have her back on the court; we needed her.”
Though her shooting performance may not jump off of the boxscore, as she was just 1-for-11 from the field, the sophomore guard still managed to score nine. Westbrook was a great facilitator as well, leading both teams in assists with 10.
She was responsible for over half of her team’s 16 total assists. A majority of her scoring came from the charity stripe, where she went 6-6. Tennessee will need her playing at a high level if it hopes to close the season strong, and keep its postseason hopes alive.
The Lady Vols have a chance for retribution in their next contest, as they will travel to Columbia, Mo. on Sunday to face the Missouri Tigers. Missouri was able to win the first contest between the two this season, snatching a close 66-64 victory in Knoxville.
Dynamic senior Sophie Cunningham had 20 points in that game, and caused some ruckus after a post-game incident with a member of Tennessee’s staff. She had three three-pointers- contributing almost a third to her team’s total of 10.
Slowing down the hot shooting from beyond the arc will be important if Tennessee hopes to avenge its earlier loss. Tip off is set for 5 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.