The ninth ranked Tennessee women’s basketball team’s (9-1) Friday night showdown against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers (2-11) had all the makings of a trap game.
The non-conference matchup against a two-win member of the Southern Conference was sandwiched between a top 10 showdown against No. 8 Stanford, Tennessee’s first loss of the year, and Christmas, just a few days later.
Though the Lady Vols did look sluggish on offense for a majority of the game, they did just enough to avoid the trap against ETSU, rebounding after the loss to Stanford 80-61.
“Big difference in our effort tonight, from Stanford to tonight,” head coach Holly Warlick said. “I thought tonight, we had really good energy and effort.”
In its loss to Stanford, Tennessee was able to put 85 points on the board. In college basketball, this mark is normally sufficient enough for a victory, provided a team plays adequate defense- something the Lady Vols did not do.
Not only did Stanford score 95 points, a majority of those points came off of largely uncontested threes- the Cardinal went 14/24 from three-point range- Warlick’s biggest gripe following the loss. Overall, Stanford finished shooting at a 55-percent clip.
The defense looked much improved against the Buccaneers.
“I think the effort was better, definitely,” Rennia Davis said. “I still think we have defense to work on, as a whole, as a team. But the effort was definitely better this game.”
ETSU was held to 10 total baskets in the first half, including just two threes, for a 30.3-percent shooting mark. It was 2-for-10 from beyond the arc. Despite that, the Buccaneers still trailed by just 10 at the half due to a sluggish offensive showing from the Lady Vols.
While the offense began to gain steam in the second half, Tennessee’s defense remained constant, allowing the Lady Vols to open up a large lead they never gave back. The Buccanneers were held to just 32.4-percent shooting in the second half, including just five buckets in the fourth quarter.
Freshman Jazmine Massengill had an impressive showing on the defensive end. She led Tennessee in both blocked shots, with five, and steals, with two. She accounted for over half of the team’s blocks, and just under half its steals. She also led in rebounding, with nine, seven of which came on the defensive end.
“Jaz had the opportunity to play a lot of minutes,” Warlick said. “Jaz is a point guard. She’s a great leader… She had five blocks. I didn’t know she had those hops.”
Jackson posts career day
The past few games, Evina Westbrook has been the spark for the Lady Vols. She posted four straight 20+ point games, the first to do it for Tennessee since Candace Parker, including two career-high marks of 29.
On Friday, though, another guard was responsible for a majority of the Lady Vols’ offensive momentum. She led all scorers with 23 points, just her second game this season eclipsing 20 points.
The way she earned those points is even more notable.
Jackson had eight total made shots; seven of them were three-pointers. 21 of her 23 total points came from beyond the arc. Those seven three-pointers broke her career high of five and came just one short of the all-time Tennessee record.
Her career three-point shooting percentage currently stands at 33.2. She attempted 12 threes against the Buccaneers, good for a 58.3-percent mark.
The Murfreesboro native’s ability to hit threes opened up the offense, as well.
“It opens up for all of us,” Mimi Collins said. “After she made her fourth three, everybody was like ‘Okay, let’s just go guard Meme’, and it just opened it up for all of us. All of us just started scoring just because of what she did. She just became a threat.”
Tennessee will return to the Summitt for their third straight home game next Friday against Murray State. The matchup against the Racers will mark the second to last game on the slate before conference play begins.
The 4-6 Riders, of the Ohio Valley Conference, have experience against SEC teams this season, with an 88-49 loss to No. 18 Kentucky on Friday. The Lady Vols will be their second SEC opponent in a row.
Murray State posted an 11-19 record last year, exiting their conference tournament in the first round. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network+.