On the back of Rennia Davis, the No. 14 Tennessee women’s basketball team defeated Ole Miss 77-72 in the quarterfinal round of the SEC Tournament Friday night.
The Lady Vols trailed by as many as eight points to start the fourth quarter, but completed the comeback to advance to the semifinal round for the first time since 2016.
Davis was the star of the game. The senior forward tied a career-high of 33 points, and grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds, her ninth double-double of the season and the 38th of her career.
Davis had a brief injury scare in the first quarter, as she fell hard on her ankle and came out of the game. She was back, however, by the second quarter, and never slowed down.
“I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from getting back out there,” Davis said on coming back in the game. “Obviously, my team needs me, and I wanted to be out there. So whatever it took.”
Junior Rae Burrell scored 18 points, including nine in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Jordan Horston was Tennessee’s third leading scorer, filling the stat sheet with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Tennessee started the game with a solid first quarter, taking a 24-16 lead. 10 of Horston’s 12 points came in the first, capped off by a half-court buzzer-beater to end the quarter. Davis added nine points, and Tennessee as a whole played smart basketball, turning the ball over just four times.
The Lady Vols stumbled through the second quarter, a story that’s been told before. Ole Miss played strong defense and kept Tennessee in check. The Rebels forced eight turnovers and five steals in the quarter. Combined with a balanced offensive effort, (seven different Rebels scored in the second), Ole Miss took a 41-37 lead into halftime.
“I think Ole Miss did a really good job of being active defensively,” head coach Kellie Harper said. “They had several deflections that led to steals on their end, or at least turnovers at our part. I thought we got a little carless with the ball at times, and then I thought we had a few decisions that weren’t the best decisions in those moments. Definitely got to give credit to Ole Miss, with their defense and how they were playing.”
The third quarter was more of the same offensive struggles for Tennessee. The Lady Vols scored a game-low 12 points in the third, on 36.4% shooting. Davis and Burrell were the only two Tennessee players to score. Sophomore Tamari Key did not get a shot off, but picked up three personal fouls.
Tennessee had plenty of work to do to, down eight points entering the fourth quarter, but started with an 8-0 run. Senior Kasiyahna Kushkituah scored two quick baskets, and Burrell added a three-pointer and two makes from the charity stripe to tie the game at 57-57.
The game went back and forth down the stretch, with four lead changes after Burrell tied the score. Jordan Walker hit an important three-pointer, her only field goal of the day, to give Tennessee some breathing room at 68-62.
Four minutes later, leading 75-72 and six seconds to go, the Lady Vols got a bit of a break on a potential turnover. The referees reviewed the play, and reversed the original call, giving Tennessee the ball, instead of Ole Miss with a chance to tie. Davis made two free-throws on the next possession, and the Lady Vols survived with a 77-72 win.
“In the fourth quarter, I just felt like we just came together, like we always do,” Davis said. “At the end of the day, winning is so important for this team right now. We have something to prove. We weren’t going to go out like that tonight. I’m just super proud of how we came together, but I knew we would do it anyways.”
With the win, the Lady Vols advance to the semifinal round of the SEC Tournament, and will face the No. 2 seed South Carolina tomorrow night. Tennessee upset the Gamecocks in a 75-67 thriller back in February, ending their streak of 31-straight SEC wins.
While they have confidence on their side, the Lady Vols have plenty they need to clean up for tomorrow, the most pressing matter being turnovers.
Ball control has been a problem for Tennessee all season, one it has been unable to cut down. Tonight, the Lady Vols lost the ball 23 times, one off their season high, but still managed to win. That will not happen against a much stronger team in the Gamecocks.
When the Lady Vols beat South Carolina in February, they turned the ball over 13 times, which was below their season average. For Tennessee to succeed tomorrow night, that same number should be an achievable goal.
Tip off against South Carolina is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPNU.