The Lady Vols and first-year coach Kellie Harper begin their 2019-2020 season with high aspirations with many players talking about an SEC championship as the goal.
Tennessee will be looking to improve on a disappointing 2018-2019 season which resulted in the firing of head coach Holly Warlick.
The Lady Vols struggled to a 19-13 overall record and a 7-9 finish against conference foes, finishing eighth in the SEC. In the postseason, Tennessee managed to win a single game in the SEC tournament against LSU before falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to UCLA.
The most notable matchup on the schedule features the Lady Vols traveling to face national power and old rival UConn on Jan. 23 in Hartford, Connecticut. Other notable road trips for Tennessee include at Notre Dame on Nov. 11 and at Stanford on Dec. 18.
The Lady Vols will host Air Force on Dec. 1 in a “Salute to Service” game, and one week later on Dec. 8, UT of the East meets UT of the West as Texas comes to Knoxville as part of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge. Other teams coming to Rocky Top this non-conference season include Tennessee State, Stetston, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Colorado State and Howard.
Tennessee opens their conference slate at home against Missouri on Jan 2. The Lady Vols will hold “We Back Pat” night on Jan. 5 when LSU comes to town.
Senior Night for Tennessee will be Thursday, Feb. 27 against the Lady Rebels of Ole Miss, while the regular season concludes the following weekend with the Lady Vols traveling to Auburn on Sunday, March 1.
As is usual, Tennessee will face permanent rival Vanderbilt twice, once in Nashville on Jan. 30, and then the return leg in Knoxville, also “Live Pink, Bleed Orange” night, on Feb 23. In addition to Vanderbilt, Tennessee will also play LSU and Ole Miss twice this season, while the other five conference teams visiting Thompson-Boling Arena will be Missouri, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi State and Texas A&M.
Meme Jackson and Cheridene Green both graduated last season after solid Tennessee careers, averaging 10.8 and 9.0 points a game, respectively.
Evina Westbook transferred to UConn, but the NCAA denied her request for a waiver to play this year. UConn is appealing the ruling, so there’s a chance Westbrook could still face the Lady Vols come Jan. 23. Mimi Collins transferred to Maryland and is expected to take a redshirt year.
Rennia Davis enters after a stellar sophomore season, leading UT in scoring, rebounding and free throw percentage. She also garnered All-SEC Second Team for both the coaches and media, as well as being named WBCA All-America Honorable Mention team.
“I'm excited for this season,” Davis said about the team’s media day. “I'm really excited. It's an opportunity for me to do something different, be more vocal, help our team and do what I'm capable of doing.”
Tennessee’s offense continues to be a question mark this season as the Lady Vols will be working in plenty of new pieces and replacing plenty of scoring this season.
"Our offense needs to get better, period," Harper said. "But we know that is a work in progress. I think right now our spacing, timing and passing - all of those things - can improve, and that would improve our offense. When those things get a little bit better, I think our shooting percentage will go up.
Zaay Green started 24 games and saw action in all 32 games as a freshman. Green was only the 22nd Lady Vol freshman to start the season opener. Last season, Green earned Freshman of the Week honors twice culminating in being named to the SEC All-Freshman team at the end of the year.
“We've been practicing really hard,” Green said. “And we've been working really hard since they (new staff) got here. We just have to show it when we play”
Other Returning Players
Kasiyahna Kushkituah appeared in 28 games last season, with her scoring reaching into double digits in four of the first five games, but she suffered a knee injury that sidelined her for three games and seemingly hampered her throughout the season.
Rae Burrell played in all 32 games of her freshman season a year ago, scoring in 21 games, and scored double digits five times. Burrell had nine games where she earned five for more rebounds.
Jazmine Massengill played in every game last year and was primarily deployed as the backup point guard, likely to be the starting point guard this season. Massengill was the assists leader among the backups, and was tied for the lowest turnover among regular contributors but will look for her role to expand on the offensive end this season.
“I definitely worked on my defense and offensively being more aggressive," Massengill said. "Just working on being more of a scoring point guard and not being as passive as I usually am.”
Kamera Harris played 19 games last year, a career high. The senior will look to make the most of her final season in Knoxville.
"I think the biggest thing for us in terms of our rotation is just knowing the minute limitations for some of our players," Harper said. "I think there are some of them that are maybe two-minute max or two-to-three minute max. And it is not that their conditioning is bad, it's just the level of focus that is required to be successful at this level is tough.
Lou Brown, the Australian graduate transfer from Washington State, came to Tennessee last fall but was out all season with a knee injury. After being awarded an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA, Brown will be ready to see action again.
Jaiden McCoy is a redshirt-junior transfer from Northwest Florida State College, who was originally from Farragut High School in nearby Farragut, Tennessee. Last season, McCoy lead her team to the NJCAA Elite Eight and was named First Team All-Conference.
Jordan Horston and Tamari Key were both five-star players, #2 and #46 overall players respectively, and are huge additions to the program. Both are expected to be important contributors this season.
Emily Saunders comes to Tennessee as a four-star recruit, the #88 overall player, and the 2018-2019 West Virginia Player of the Year. Rounding out the roster is Jessie Rennie; the freshman comes to Knoxville all the way from Bendigo, Australia.
Kellie Harper, a 1999 graduate of the University of Tennessee, was a member of the Lady Vols basketball team in the late nineties playing on three national championship teams and is taking over for her first season as Tennessee’s head coach.
“Just how excited I am for this opportunity and just how much it means to me, and I know how much it means to a lot of people. It’s something I don’t take lightly,” Harper said about her excitement in returning to Knoxville.
Harper replaces Holly Warlick, who was fired at the end of last season after spending eight years leading the Lady Vols.
Prior to being a head coach, Harper served as an assistant at Auburn and Chattanooga. Past head coaching jobs include Western Carolina, NC State and Missouri State. Altogether, she has 258-208 (.578) career record and 163-101 (.617) record in conference play.
“I think it's been important ... for me to be out in the community and out visiting with our fans … and hopefully they'll be just as excited as we were back then about this upcoming season,” Harper said.
Preseason Honors and Predictions
The Lady Vols will be looking to prove the media wrong, having been selected to finish sixth in the conference in the SEC media poll. Tennessee, though, did have one player named to an all-SEC team, as guard/forward Rennia Davis was selected to the second team.
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