The No. 16 Tennessee women’s basketball team was upset by No. 20 Kentucky 71-56 Thursday night. With the loss, the Lady Vols fell to 12-4 (6-2 SEC) for the year, while the Wildcats improved to 14-5 (7-4 SEC).
Here are three takeaways.
Showing some rust
As a result of the COVID-19 pause, the Lady Vols had not played a game in 11 days entering the night, and had just a few limited practices. In the first half, it was apparent that Tennessee had some rust to shake off.
The Lady Vols could not get much going in the first half, shooting just 31.4% and one of six from deep. After scoring the first basket of the game, Tennessee played a sloppy quarter to a 13-11 deficit.
The Lady Vols shot a game-low 23.8% (5-21) from the field, while going 0-3 from three-point range and 1-5 from the free throw line.
The second quarter was not much of an improvement for Tennessee, as it was outscored 24-15. Its shooting percentage was better (42.9%), but its ball control was much worse.
The Lady Vols committed nine turnovers in the second, resulting in 13 points for Kentucky. The Wildcats had seven steals in the frame, with Rhyne Howard grabbing five of them.
After halftime, the Lady Vols played cleaner basketball, with fewer mistakes. But as has happened several time this season, Tennessee put itself in a tough spot with a large deficit to overcome.
“I will never excuse a loss,” head coach Kellie Harper said. “So they’re going to have to feel bad about it tonight. That’s fine. I need them too. I need them to chew on it a little bit, figure out what we can do better. And then tomorrow, we’ve got to bounce back. We have to bounce back. And I think that’s got to be our mindset.”
Davis’ absence hurt
Tennessee was without its star player tonight. Senior Rennia Davis, the team’s second leading scorer and a projected All-SEC First Team pick, did not travel with the team tonight in what Harper said was part of “COVID-19 protocol.”
Without their senior leader, the Lady Vols looked lost for the majority of the night. Junior Rae Burrell was the team’s top scorer, with 22 points and six rebounds, but turned the ball over four times. Sophomore Jordan Horston followed Burrell, totaling 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Outside of those two, no one else could get much going.
Sophomore Tamari Key, who had been the hottest Lady Vol heading into the game, was held to nine points, six rebounds and six blocks, and fouled out in the fourth quarter. Starting for the second time this season, senior Kasiyahna Kushkituah scored six points with eight rebounds, but made just two of seven field goals.
Graduate transfer Jordan Walker started in place of Davis, but did not have a great game. In 30 minutes, she scored just two points, making one of six field goals, while going 0-2 from deep and 0-4 from the free throw line.
“It’s a big blow to not have (Davis) out there, for sure,” Harper said. “Especially what she was able to do in this game in Thompson-Boling Area. We were missing quite a few points and boards without her being out there. And just some steady confidence in that player.”
Though Harper expects Davis to be available soon, it’s not a guarantee that she will be game-ready for Texas A&M on Sunday. If she is limited, or even out again, the Lady Vols will need some other scorers to step up.
Unable to complete comeback
The Lady Vols came out of halftime and looked like a totally different team. Entering the second half down 11, they dominated the quarter, thanks to a five minute, 15-0 run to take the lead into the final frame.
In the fourth quarter, the Lady Vols ran out of energy. They scored just nine points, shooting just 30.8% from the field. Tennessee did not help itself out from the charity stripe, making just one of four attempts.
The Lady Vols turned the ball over three times, leading to five Kentucky points. They were outrebounded nine to seven, and just two second chance points in the quarter.
Tennessee needed a strong defensive performance in the final minutes to keep itself in the game, but it never came. UT allowed the Wildcats to hit 62.5% of field goals and a perfect five of five on three-point attempts as Kentucky ran away with the contest.
“They had three’s a variety of ways,” Harper said. “You know, they had a fast break three, they had some kick out three’s, and it was different people, you know, making those. Credit to them for knocking those down, at the same time we were just struggling to get that ball to go into the basket.”
Tennessee took a one-point lead into the fourth, but stumbled into a 15-point loss. With a difficult road trip ahead (at Texas A&M, at Mississippi State), the Lady Vols will need to clean up their fundamentals and play strong for forty minutes if they want to hold their ground in the conference.
Tennessee will travel to College Station on Feb. 14 for a Valentine’s Day matchup with No. 6 Texas A&M. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.