For Tennessee, there was no way more perfect to finish the regular-season. Seniors Rennia Davis and Kasiyahna Kushkituah led the No. 20 Lady Vols’ basketball team to an 88-54 blowout over Auburn on Senior Day.
With the win, the Lady Vols finish the regular-season with a 15-6 (9-4 SEC) record and third place in the conference. The Tigers lost their 16th consecutive game, finishing the year at 5-18 (0-15 SEC).
Five Lady Vols scored in double figures this afternoon. Davis led the group with 23 points and 11 rebounds. That marked her eighth double-double of the season and her 37th of her career, passing Glory Johnson for fourth all-time in Tennessee history.
Kushkituah set a career-high with 19 points, and picked up eight rebounds and two blocks. Additionally, junior Rae Burrell scored 14 points, sophomore Jordan Horston tallied 12 points and nine rebounds and sophomore Tamari Key recorded her third double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“I'm really happy to be able to play a lot of people,” head coach Kellie Harper said on Tennessee’s balanced scoring. “I do think that we've been in a really good space mentally, and I think if that carries over, and I hope that it will, that gives me great confidence going into the SEC Tournament.”
Tennessee jumped out to an early 17-8 lead in the first quarter. Key was hot early, scoring six points in the first. Davis and Kushkituah both added four, as the Lady Vols took the early advantage.
Halfway through the second quarter, the Lady Vols had grown their lead to 28-9. Auburn was suffering from a nearly 10-minute stretch back to the first quarter without a field goal.
The Tigers picked up some steam, however, and closed Tennessee’s lead to just ten points at the half, 31-21.
Tennessee refocused its game plan at halftime, and came out of the break red-hot. The Lady Vols put up 25 points in the third quarter. Davis continued to score, and Burrell made eight of her 14 points in the third.
“I thought we got a little lax,” Harper said on the adjustments made at halftime. “The biggest message was, 'Continue to do what works. We don't have to do anything fancy. If what we're doing is working, continue to do it.'”
The Lady Vols’ best all around quarter came in the fourth. They put up 32 points, a season-high for a single quarter, shooting 72.2% from the field and perfect (3-3) from deep.
Kushkituah led Tennessee with 11 points in the fourth, bringing her to a new career-high.
“Everything about this day was beyond anything I've ever wanted,” Kishkituah said. “It was just a great day. They had my back throughout the entire game. I missed a couple free throws, and they told me I got it. They showed me how to adjust, and they just kept my head up high. We've continued to grow as a team.”
On the day, Tennessee shot at a season-high rate from the field (57.6%) as well as from three-point range (60%). The Lady Vols outrebounded Auburn 47-29 and put up 54 points in the paint.
As emotional as the day was for Tennessee’s three seniors Davis, Kushkituah and Jaiden McCoy, who has been out for most of the year with a head injury, they know that it is not the end. Tennessee has an extremely high ceiling, and figures to play a lot more basketball, both in the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
“Obviously, I was sad about it being my last game in (Thompson-Boling Arena), but I truly feel like this team has so much more basketball left to play,” Davis said. “The fans here, the atmosphere, and the culture that has been built here, everything has just been great. It was just a great ride.”
For the first time in years the Lady Vols controlled their own destiny entering the season’s final game. This time, they took care of business, finishing with a dominating win and clinching the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament next week, their highest seed since 2015.
Tennessee will have an ample amount of time to rest, before heading to Greeneville, South Carolina for the Tournament. The Lady Vols will face the winner of Game 5, either No. 6 Arkansas or No. 11 Florida, both teams they handled thoroughly in the regular-season.
Tennessee’s game is scheduled for Friday, March 5. It will tip off 25 minutes following the end of the game before it, likely giving Tennessee’s contest an 8:30 p.m. ET start time. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.