The No. 25 Tennessee women’s basketball team look to get back in the win column when it hosts No. 12 Kentucky on Sunday afternoon. With a loss last Thursday, the Lady Vols now sit at a 9-3 (3-1 SEC) record, while the Wildcats enter play sporting an 11-3 (4-2 SEC) mark.
Here are three things to know before the game.
Last time out
Last Thursday, the Lady Vols lost a heartbreaking matchup against No. 3 UConn, in the second and final game of the Hall of Fame Revival Series. Tennessee had a game plan that made the Huskies uncomfortable, and entered the fourth quarter with the lead, but ultimately came up short, 67-61.
“It stings for several reasons,” senior Rennia Davis said. “Obviously, we were right there with them. Obviously, we feel like we are a better team than them. We just didn't do some things the right way. I still feel like we were close.”
In total, there were several positives that Tennessee can take away from the disappointing loss. Four Lady Vols scored in double figures, with junior Rae Burrell leading the way with 18 points and eight rebounds. Behind her were Davis, with eleven points and nine rebounds, sophomore Tamari Key (ten points, nine rebounds and three blocks), and freshman Marta Suárez (ten points, six rebounds and a steal).
Tennessee’s defense was solid, holding UConn to just 67 points, its lowest total of the season. The Huskies shot well under their season averages as well, 41% on field goals and 28% on three pointers, compared to season averages of 53.1% and 34.7%, respectively.
“Obviously, Connecticut is a really good basketball team,” head coach Kellie Harper said after the game. “They're so solid. They pass the ball well. They shot the ball well. For us, we're just disappointed that we couldn't come out of her with the win.”
Tennessee’s wild card
Sophomore Jordan Horston had Tennessee’s most disappointing performance against UConn. She shot an almost unbelievable 9% (1-11) from the field, 0-2 on three pointers, turned the ball over four times and got into early foul trouble.
Of every player on Tennessee’s roster, she is the biggest wild card. Horston has started in the past eight games, and has played at a high level lately, scoring double figures in four consecutive contests before Thursday. All told, the Columbus, Ohio native is averaging 8.9 ppg, and leads the team with 3.9 apg. and 1.7 steals per game.
The talent is obviously there for Horston, she just turned in her best outing of the season, 14 points and seven rebounds in the rout of Alabama last week. But she also has had her share of struggles. Horston leads the team with 35 turnovers and has been in foul trouble often, her 27 fouls are second among the Lady Vols.
It is not uncommon for young players to go through ups and downs as the season progresses. And better players than her have struggled against Geno Auriemma and the Huskies. Horston has shown a lot of potential, she was an SEC All-Freshman just a year ago.
How she responds will be crucial, given the team Tennessee will face in Kentucky. Learning from the losses, a mantra Harper repeated Thursday night, is more important now for Horston than ever.
“The good thing is that the losses that we have had, we have come out of those better,” Harper said. “We have handled them very well. We have had growth after both of those. I'm hopeful that we can do the same this time. I don't ever want to get complacent and accustomed to losing, so that's not what I'm talking about. But afterwards, does it make you a better basketball team? Can we grow from it? We've been able to do that, so hopefully we can continue.”
Scouting the Wildcats
Kentucky comes to Knoxville fresh off a close 76-71 win over Auburn. Blair Green paced the Wildcats with 18 points, three rebounds and an assist, just days after she set a new career high in points (22) against Vanderbilt.
Also in double figures were Rhyne Howard (14 points, five rebounds, four assists), Robyn Benton (10 points and three rebounds) and Dre'una Edwards (10 points and five rebounds).
In several instances Sunday at Auburn, Kentucky took a large lead, only to allow the Tigers to get right back in it. A 10-2 run in the third quarter, and a 7-1 run in the fourth made the game much closer than the Wildcats liked, but they survived and earned the win.
In her first season as Kentucky’s head coach, former Lady Vol Kyra Elzy has a trio of players leading her talented squad. Howard is Kentucky’s superstar player. She was the 2019-20 SEC Player of the Year, and more recently named to the Wooden Award Midseason List.
Howard is averaging 19.8 ppg. and 6.9 rpg., though she sat out of the Vanderbilt game with a day-to-day ankle injury. Chastity Patterson is second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.9 ppg., and Edwards, a former high school teammate of Burrell, is averaging 12.6 ppg.
“(Kentucky’s) a pretty good team,” Davis said. “Every team in the SEC is pretty good. They're a pretty good defensive team; offensively, they have some pretty good players over there. We just have to play our game.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN2.