Lady Vols Basketball vs Mississippi State
Head Coach of the Lady Vols, Kellie Harper, coaches her players from the sidelines during the game against Mississippi State on Thursday, February 6, 2020 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The 2019-20 NCAA women’s basketball season was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but that does not mean that fans can’t take a look back on what happened during the season, and how this team will look during the 2020-21 season. 

Freshmen’s futures

The 2019-20 rendition of the Lady Vols spotlighted youth and excitement. Jordan Horston, Tamari Key, Jessie Rennie and Emily Saunders were all newcomers to women’s college basketball, with Horston, Key and Rennie seeing consistent minutes throughout this past season. 

Horston was the Lady Vols standout addition this season. The guard averaged 10.1 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, while playing 26 minutes per game. Horston finished with a team high 143 assists, which also ranked fifth in the SEC, and she topped Tennessee in steals with 39. The freshman also finished with the most turnovers on the Lady Vols roster, with 134, second in the SEC.

In her first season, Horston earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team, and also earned SEC Freshman of the Week, back in January. During the week, she averaged 14 points, six rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.5 blocks and a steal.

Horston finished the season on the bench, but was able to shine in the role and was one of Tennessee’s most productive players during her time as a sub. Horston will have an opportunity to fight for the starting spot next season, it just depends on who stands outs in a crowded backcourt.

Key had an up and down freshman year but showed tons of potential throughout the year. She averaged just 7.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, which is uninspiring given her height, 6-foot-5. However, Key finished the season with 86 blocks, which ranked first in the SEC. 

The biggest concerns for Key is her aggressiveness and fundamentals, which have been brought up by coach Kellie Harper. If she can get these two things worked out, she will be one of the best centers in women’s college basketball. 

Rennie played in 30 games this past season, and averaged 12.5 minutes per contest. She finished with just 2.7 points and 0.8 rebounds per game, but her contributions are made from her long distance shooting off the bench. Rennie went 25-for-54 (.463) from deep and tallied five against Howard early in the year. 

The Aussie native will presumably continue her quick punch scoring off of the bench in the 2020-21 season for the Lady Vols. 

Saunders played in only 10 games for Tennessee, while averaging 8.2 minutes per appearance. She averaged 3.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. 

Saunders is blocked by Key since they both play the center position. She will look to earn more playing time during the offseason, and will hope to utilize her 6-foot-5 frame to the best of her ability.

Lady Vol leaders

Tennessee was led by Rennia Davis all year on the court. Rae Burrell burst onto the scene halfway into the season to become the Lady Vols’ second option. Coach Harper, in her first season as Tennessee’s head coach, earned her stripes. 

Rennia Davis was tasked with leading a young team this season and she delivered every step of the way. 

The junior averaged 18.0 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, both team-highs. Her scoring average is third in the SEC and her rebounding average places her in fifth in the conference. For program history, her scoring average and rebound averaged put her in sixth and seventh place, respectively. 

The Lady Vols’ captain recorded 11 double-doubles this season, which is good for seventh most by a Tennessee junior all time. She scored in double figures in 28 consecutive matches and scored 15 plus in 25 games, while also having six games of scoring 20 or more. 

Throughout the season, she earned a plethora of accolades. Davis made the Cheryl Miller Award Top 10 and the John R. Wooden Top 20. She earned the SEC Player of the Week three times. USBWA also recognized her by naming her the USBWA National Player of the Week, once during the season. 

Davis helped to improve this team in plenty of ways, and will no doubt make them even better in her final season at Rocky Top next year. 

Burrell replaced a struggling Horston midway through the season and did not look back.

The sophomore averaged 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, both of which are good for second on the team (excluding Zaay Green’s scoring average because she played in just two games). Burrell started the final nine games of the season for the Lady Vols and helped her team advance to the third round of the SEC Tournament after dropping a team-high 16 points against Missouri. 

Burrell showed plenty of growth during the final stretch of the season. She became a double-double machine and rivaled the production of Davis, while sometimes surpassing it. Burrell earned a starting spot for next season.

Coach Harper coached 15 years before finally getting a shot to coach at her alma mater. 

In her introductory year, Harper coached the Lady Vols to a 21-10 record, along with a 10-6 conference record. Tennessee played extremely well at home, winning 13 out of 16 games. Their away record, while it was above .500, stood at just 7-6. 

Tennessee’s most impressive win came against No. 15 Notre Dame, on November 11. The Lady Vols won, 74-63, and outscored Notre Dame in every quarter but the fourth. Davis scored 33 points in that game, which tied a career-high. 

The Lady Vols also qualified for the SEC Tournament after finishing tied for third in the conference. They earned a first round bye and eventually defeated Missouri, 64-51, in the second round. They fell to their next opponent, Kentucky, by 21 points to close out their season. 

Harper brought in quality talent like Horston, Key, Rennie and Saunders to start the season, but also made noise during the early signing period. Tess Darby and Destiny Salary submitted National Letters of Intent from both players. The guards are both four-star perimeter players. 

Teams are only as successful as the people running them, and Tennessee found a winner in Kellie Harper. This second season will be a big test to see if the rose colored glasses can stay on a little longer.  

Additions and Subtractions

Tennessee will lose Lou Brown and Kamera Harris for next season as both of the women will graduate. However, other than the new recruits, Tennessee will gain Zaay Green back from her torn ACL in November. 

Brown was a starter for the Lady Vols who stood as a big three-and-defense presence for Tennessee. She averaged 4.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Her shot from behind the arc will be missed, as she shot 33% from deep, converting 22 of 67 shots. 

Harris played in 28 games for the Lady Vols and appeared almost exclusively from off the bench. She averaged 10.9 minutes per game.

Zaay Green tore her ACL, two games into the season. The 2018-19 SEC All-Freshman Team recipient was averaging 13.0 points and 4.5 rebounds per game before her injury. In the first game of the season, she scored a team high 17 points against ETSU.

Tennessee will be happy to get back Green. It is still undecided if she will be ready for when the season starts, but even if she is able to come back and play off the bench initially, the Lady Vols will be even deeper than they were this year.

All in all, the 2019-20 campaign for the Lady Vols showed tons of potential for the not so distant future. 

Tennessee is bringing back crucial veteran leadership in Davis and Burrell. They will be able to lean on Horston and Key even more after their first season. The additions made from recruiting and injury will be a boon. Plus, Harper will have another year to implement her system and get more comfortable with being Tennessee’s head coach. 

While the remainder of the season was unexpectedly canned, the play that was displayed should be exciting for many fans during the offseason. Anticipation could not get any higher for the Lady Vols.

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