Salary v Kentucky- Lady Vols

Tennessee's Destiny Salary (2) is guarded by Kentucky's Chasity Patterson (15) during an NCAA women’s basketball game between the Tennessee Lady Vols and the Kentucky Wildcats Knoxville, Tenn. on Sunday, January 24, 2021.

The University of Tennessee women’s basketball team was put through the wringer this past week.

After enjoying three wins during a four-game homestead, the No. 16/19 Lady Vols have dropped their first two matches of a three-game road trip. The first was a 71-56 loss to No. 20/18 Kentucky. This past Sunday, they fell to No. 6/5 Texas A&M, 80-70. Tennessee currently sits at 12-5 on the season and 6-3 in the SEC.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at how the Lady Vols played over last week’s stretch of games.

Guards

Tennessee changed their lineup for their match against Kentucky, as senior captain Rennia Davis did not travel with the team due to medical reasons. With the late scratch, Jordan Horston and Jordan Walker held down the backcourt for the Lady Vols.

Horston was the second-leading scorer on Tennessee’s roster against Kentucky as she dropped 11 points, but she did it on an inefficient 4-15 shooting. However, she also finished with seven boards, three assists and two blocks.

Walker struggled to find any rhythm on offense. The redshirt junior hit just one shot on six attempts and was unable to find any teammates to help get the offensive moving. Walker did, however, grab a team-high nine boards and stole two balls.

On Sunday, the Lady Vols went back to their big lineup against the Aggies, as Horston was the only starting guard.

She took a step back from her match against Kentucky. The sophomore guard went 1-10 from the field and tallied just two points. The offense didn’t stall out despite Horston’s rough shooting. She doled out seven assists and only turned the ball over three times.

Offense was not the name of the game for Tennessee’s backcourt this week. Combined, Horston and Walker made just six shots and went 3-of-10 from the charity stripe. The lack of offense from these two positions dug the Lady Vols into a hole that they were unable to escape from.

Grade: C

Forwards

Like the guards, the lineup for Tennessee’s forwards changed in between games with Rae Burrell acting as the only forward against Kentucky.

Burrell did her part to keep her team in the match against the Wildcats. The junior scored a team-high of 22 points and nailed 50% of her shots from behind the arc. Burrell contributed on the glass with six boards and tallied one assist and a block. Not everything was good though, she hit 39% of her shots from the field and turned the ball over four times.

The game against A&M showcased a much better Burrell as the presence of Davis was probably to thank for that.

Burrell was second on the team in scoring with 18 and did that on just 12 shots, six makes. She also grabbed five rebounds and turned the ball over just twice.

Davis came back with a vengeance after having to miss the match against Kentucky. The Lady Vols’ senior captain recorded a team-high 25 points on 10-19 shooting, four boards and an assist.

Both Davis and Burrell were the only ones to score in the final stanza of their loss to A&M. Davis recorded 13 points and Burrell tallied eight points, while all the other Lady Vols combined to go 0-6 from the field.

The only glaring negative that Burrell and Davis committed was not rebounding at their usual clips. Davis has 8.6 rebounds per contest this year and Burrell is sitting at 4.2 rebounds per game. A nitpick, per usual with these two.

Grade: A-

Centers

Tamari Key and Kasiyahna Kushkituah stood in as the Lady Vols’ enforcers over the past week, and they did just that.

Key scored nine points for Tennessee on just five shots. The sophomore big also grabbed nine boards, but her game-high six blocks were the eye-popping number of the night. She even found an open teammate and corralled a loose ball, but she did lose the ball on three separate occasions.

Kushkituah didn’t find the same success on offense, six points on 2-7 shooting, but she stood in as the support for Key. The Georgia native grabbed eight rebounds (four offensive and four defensive) and also found the open teammate twice.

Tennessee’s bigs rose to the occasion again against A&M.

Key finished with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, and she finished with another blocked shot. Over her last nine games, she has reached the double figures in scoring seven times.

Kushkituah increased her point total with eight after shooting 40% from the floor. She again acted as a mirror image of Key on the glass. The senior big grabbed 10 boards (five offensive and five defensive).

Tennessee saw their two bigs dominate the glass in both games this past week. The Lady Vols out-rebounded Kentucky, 42-38. Tennessee finished their game against the Aggies with a +11 rebound differential.

Grade: B+

Bench

It was a dismal week for Tennessee’s bench, even accounting for the fact that they competed against two of the top teams in the nation.

Against the Wildcats, Tennessee scored just six points off of the bench. Destiny Salary and Tess Darby both contributed three points. However, the bench had more turnovers (7) than points or shots.

Their performance against the Aggies improved a little bit as the game continued. They finished the game with seven points; Marta Suárez scored six of them. They also tallied four assists, a block and a steal, to just three turnovers.

However, despite the improvement in the second game from the first, this week left plenty to be desired. The Lady Vols’ bench was out-scored 43-13, and if Tennessee wants to be a top tier team, they need more from their reserve players.

Grade: D+

Offense

Tennessee suffered more downs than ups this past week from the offensive end of the floor.

In their match against Kentucky, they shot just 35.5% as a unit, 27.3% from three and 50% from the free-throw line. They shot 23.8% from the field in the opening quarter, but did rebound and eventually found great success in the third. During that time, the Lady Vols nailed 50% of their shots and outscored Kentucky 21-9. However, they followed that up by making just four shots in the final stanza, where the game was ultimately decided.

The Lady Vols started much stronger against A&M. The Lady Vols shot 45.2% from the field in the first half. However, A&M made the right adjustments at the half and slowed Tennessee down enough to pull out the win. Tennessee shot 35.3% from the field in the third quarter, and 38.9% in the final frame, plus a 12.5% stroke from behind the arc.

Tennessee’s lack of accuracy from three-point land and their lack of attempts on the free-throw line spelled their end against Kentucky and A&M. The Lady Vols showed again that they were unable to finish ball games. This week, they were -26 in fourth quarter-point differential.

Grade: C-

Defense

The defense, much like the offense, finished the week with more things they did wrong than what they did right.

The Kentucky game started on the right foot. The Tennessee defense held Kentucky to just five makes from the floor in the opening quarter. After that, the Wildcats exploded for 24 points in the second quarter.

The right halftime adjustments were made for the Lady Vols as they held the Wildcats for just four made shots. However, Kentucky prevailed in the fourth and dropped 25 points on 10-16 shooting, including 5-5 from deep.

Texas A&M didn’t experience a “bad” quarter during their match against Tennessee. The Aggies shot 33.3% from the floor in the first quarter, but that didn’t last long. A&M would shoot 53.3%, 54.5% and 62.5% from the floor in the preceding quarters. They would also take 22 shots from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, sinking 17 of them.

Tennessee struggled to consistently pressure opposing offenses over the past week, without committing penalties. Despite winning the battles in the paint, Tennessee couldn’t stop the fast break with Kentucky scoring 16 more points off of the break, and the Aggies scoring five more.

Grade: C-

Overall

Any week where you lose all of your games is never good, no matter who you play. Tennessee was given a week to make a statement to the rest of the country, and they failed. The good news is that the Lady Vols are set to close out their road trip against 8-6 Mississippi State on Tuesday.

However, if they do fail to get back on track early this week, they won’t catch a break in the back half. They are scheduled to play No. 1 South Carolina on Thursday in Thompson-Boling Arena, and No. 24 Georgia in Athens.

The week was disappointing, but it’s up to Tennessee to decide how they’re viewed next week. Do they change their perception, finish ball games and rise as a top team in the country, or do they show they’re tournament fakers with a lack of depth and inability to play 40 minutes?

We’ll see in one week.

Grade: C-

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