Kushkituah- Lady Vols

Tennessee's Kasiyahna Kushkituah (11) gets an open shot at the basket during an NCAA women’s basketball game between the Tennessee Lady Vols and Auburn Tigers in Knoxville, Tenn. on Sunday, February 28, 2021.

The No. 14 Tennessee women’s basketball team finished the regular season on the right note, defeating both Missouri and Auburn last week. After the 78-73 win against Mizzou and an 88-54 victory against the Tigers, Tennessee enters the SEC Tournament with a 15-6 record and a 9-4 SEC record. 

Here is how the Vols played against their final two opponents of the season.

Guards

Jordan Walker was the lone guard for the Lady Vols this past week. She struggled to find her rhythm in both games. 

Walker’s best game was against Mizzou. During the Thursday night matchup, the guard recorded just five points on seven shots but tallied a game-high 10 rebounds. However, she turned the ball over a game-high five times. 

The red-shirt junior had an even tougher time against Auburn. She finished with just three points and five boards. Her assists went up and her turnovers went down to four and three, respectively. 

Walker continues to do enough to garner a starting spot in the Lady Vols’ rotation, even while Jordan Horston continues to drop quality numbers from the bench (more on her later). Tennessee may be able to move past that again in its first game in the SEC Tournament, but a starting guard finishing with the same amount of points as turnovers is not championship-worthy. 

Grade: C-

Forwards

Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell are the duo that can take this team all the way. 

Davis took control in the fourth quarter of game against Missouri. In the fourth quarter alone, she scored 20 points, all of them were instrumental in a narrow, 78-73 victory. Overall, Davis finished with a game-high 26 points, seven boards and three assists. This was the seventh time that Davis has dropped 20+ points this season. 

Davis was even better in her final regular-season game as a Lady Vol. The senior captain tallied a double-double of 23 points and 11 boards. After recording her 37th double-double, Davis is now fourth all-time among Lady Vols after passing Glory Johnson. 

Burrell was almost in perfect lockstep with her teammate. Against Mizzou, she scored 23 points and finished with eight boards. This was Burrell’s sixth 20+ point game of the season, and ninth of her career. 

The junior forward took a step back in the Sunday matinee against Auburn, but she still contributed at a high level. Burrell recorded 14 points on five-of-11 shooting (two-of-four from three), along with four rebounds and four assists. 

Davis and Burrell are the definitions of consistent greatness. They have helped bring Tennessee to a top 15 finish in the rankings and No. 3 in the SEC. The Lady Vols go as they do, and if what was just mentioned is true, they will go a far way.

Grade: A+

Centers

Hall of Famer, Tamika Catchings, called the game against Auburn on Sunday and kept referring to Tamari Key and Kasiyahna Kushkituah as the “Twin Towers,” and they played larger this past week than they have all season. 

Key swatted away three shots against Missouri, giving her an average of 4.9 blocks per game over her past six contests. She also increased her total blocks to 142, ranking eighth all-time among Lady Vols. She is just in her second year. The sophomore big also recorded eight points and eight rebounds. 

The match against Auburn saw key going a perfect five-for-five from the field, helping to finish with 10 points and also finished with 10 boards, good for her third double-double of the year. She also tallied two assists and a game-high four blocks. 

Kushkituah got better and better as the week went on. Against Mizzou, she finished with a modest seven points, eight boards, two assists and a steal. She had a career day against Auburn.

In the Sunday matchup, Kushkituah left everything on the court for Senior Day. The senior from Atlanta, Georgia, finished with a career-high 19 points, with eight rebounds, two blocks, a steal and an assist. 

If Davis and Burrell are the foundation, then Key and Kushkituah truly earned the moniker of the “Twin Towers.” The two bigs can establish a paint presence that can’t be replicated by any other team in the SEC. With their size, Key (6-foot-5’) and Kushkituah (6-foot-4’), along with their numbers, 5.8 rebounds per game and 2.9 blocks per game for Key and 6.4 rebounds per game for Kushkituah, they can move mountains. 

Grade: A+

Bench

The Tennessee bench was the Jordan Horston show over the past two games, despite a production spike on Sunday. 

Horston was the lone player on the Lady Vols’ bench to record anything against Missouri. She scored nine points on four-of-11 shooting and dished out a game-high six assists. Destiny Salary, Jessie Rennie and Marta Suárez saw action in Sunday’s contest and combined to go zero-for-five over 16 minutes of play. 

The star of the bench, was again, Horston who was one assist away from a double-double. The sophomore guard dropped 12 points and nine assists. Tess Darby and Emily Saunders contributed three and two points, respectively. 

Horston was great, everyone else was not. Overall, the bench was outscored 38-25 this past week, against two sub .500 teams. The addition of a starting type player like Horston is incredibly beneficial, but players like Suárez, who started at the beginning of the year, and Rennie, who was a three-point specialist last season, need to provide some additional spark for this team to go far. 

Grade: C+

Offense

The Tennessee offense was scoring at ease in every phase of the game this past week. 

The Lady Vols finished with a 47.1% shooting percentage, a 31.6% three-point percentage and an 80% stroke from the free-throw line against Missouri. Tennessee never shot below 40%, they shot 40.9% in the third quarter. While they were outscored in the first three quarters, they dominated in the final stanza, winning that quarter, 23-13. 

Tennessee also won battles in the paint and secondary scoring categories. They outscored Mizzou 38-28 in the paint, 15-10 on second-chance points, and 14-10 on the fast break. They were, however, outscored 9-22 compared to the Tigers’ bench. 

The weekend brought an even better Tennessee offense to the hardwood. The Lady Vols shot 57.6% from the field, including an absurd 72.2% stroke from the field in the fourth quarter. Tennessee also hit 60% of its shots from three. 

The Lady Vols outperformed Auburn in multiple aspects of the game. They outscored the Tigers 54-26 points in the paint, 19-11 on second-chance points, 14-4 on fast breakpoints and 19-16 from the bench. 

Tennessee won’t play teams as porous on defense as they did this past week, but they should enjoy the success they had and carry that momentum in their opening game of the SEC Tournament. 

Grades: A

Defense

The defensive side of Tennessee matched its offensive side throughout the week, the momentum they will like to carry into the SEC Tournament. 

Against Mizzou, the Lady Vols surrendered a 45.9% shot from the floor and 40.0% from three. They were outperformed in every quarter, but they made the right adjustments in the final quarter to hold the Tigers to just five baskets. Tennessee outrebounded Missouri 46-25 and created 10 turnovers. 

The defense was stingier against Auburn. The Tigers nailed just 31.3% of their shots and just hit 20% from beyond the arc. To open the game, Tennessee surrendered just eight points, and gave up a quarter-high 17, in the final frame. 

Tennessee played well against Missouri who averages 96 points per game this season and even better against Auburn who averages 82 points per game. They’ll hope to carry that swagger into the SEC Tournament, where they will face off against one of the best offensive teams in the SEC. 

Grade: A

Overall

The Lady Vols capped off the regular season with an impressive 2-0 week against Missouri and Auburn. They defeated a top-tier offensive team in Missouri and they sharpened their skills against a young Auburn team. Tennessee will play either Ole Miss or Arkansas in the Quarterfinals on March 5 of the SEC Tournament. Safe to say, they should be entering the Tournament feeling themselves. 

Grade: A-

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