Women's Basketball vs. Vanderbilt

Head Coach Kellie Harper looks on at Alexus Dye, No.2, in Thompson-Boling Arena on February 13th, 2022. 

The Lady Vols already had a challenge going against the best team in the country on Sunday, but losing their all-around star Jordan Horston the Thursday prior, made the challenge even more daunting. 

Despite losing their leader in points, rebounds, assists and steals, the Lady Vols battled throughout, holding the lead early in the game and came within striking distance on multiple occasions. 

Ultimately, No. 1 South Carolina was too much to handle for the Lady Vols, as they defeated Tennessee 67-53. 

“I thought our players played really hard,” head coach Kellie Harper said. “I thought we battled the best we could. We at times were a little limited with our size in the paint. When you’re playing South Carolina, they’re so good, you just can’t make many mistakes and come out with a win. They’re an excellent basketball team, but I’m proud of our team’s fight today.”

Even in a losing effort, the Lady Vols were a part of something spectacular to help elevate the game of women’s basketball. 

For the first time in 11 years, ESPN’s College Gameday was on site for a women’s game before the matchup today. ABC broadcasted the contest, which made it the second time a college women’s basketball game was on the channel. 

The sold out crowd only added to the eclectic atmosphere both teams were able to take part in. 

“It’s a great atmosphere, especially for women’s basketball,” Rae Burrell said. “It’s one of the reasons why I came to Tennessee is for games like this. We were excited, honestly. We knew there were going to be a lot of people here and we were going to need to bring our own energy. We were just excited to have a great environment for women’s basketball.”

Early in the game, it was evident the nerves present for both teams. 

Neither had a productive shooting performance in the first half, as Tennessee shot 29.4% from the floor and the Gamecocks shot 30.8% from the field.

The Lady Vols at one point in the first period held the lead at 11-8, but it would be the only lead the Gamecocks would relinquish. 

Tennessee was only down nine at the break, but South Carolina came out firing in the third period. 

The Gamecocks finished the quarter with 25 points, shooting 52.6% from the floor. On the other side, Tennessee had their best scoring quarter all afternoon, dropping 17 points, on 36.8% shooting from the floor. 

The rest of the way, the Lady Vols couldn’t contain Aliyah Boston and the rest of the Gamecocks, as they led at one point by 18, before winning the game by 14. 

The potential national player of the year, Boston, recorded her 19th straight double-double, with 16 points and 12 boards. 

“She’s so good,” Harper said. “She’s so strong, so mobile and so skilled with great hands. To be honest with you, I love her personality. I love watching her play. She is super talented. She deserves every award she’s gonna get.”

The Lady Vols fought all afternoon despite not having Horston. They were within striking distance most of the game, UT was just unable to string together buckets on the offensive end along with stops on the defensive end. 

Tennessee turned Burrell to fill the void left by Horston, and she stepped up in her absence. The senior guard tallied a team-high 14 points and added 3 boards and a block. 

“We really brought effort tonight,” Burrell said. “We were just being really tough and trying to be aggressive and get good looks. I think our aggressiveness and toughness got us good offense.”

Tamari Key racked up her second straight double-double the hard way. The center dropped 10 points and tallied 10 blocks against South Carolina. 

With her performance on Sunday, she now sits second all-time in career blocks for Tennessee (257), trailing Candace Parker by 18 for the all-time lead. She also tied Parker with 99 blocks in a single-season, only trailing Kellie Cain by 14. 

“She’s able to affect so many shots,” Harper said. “She helps our defense, she stabilizes our defense, she's the anchor of our defense. She’s been that way all season. I’m really proud of her effort and what she’s been able to do this year. 

Where the Lady Vols lost this game was on fast break points and on rebounding. 

Carolina was constantly out in front of Tennessee’s defense, catching them napping and capitalizing on those mistakes, scoring 16 points compared to UT’s zero. 

Both of these teams were ranked in the top-two in the country in rebounding, but that was not the case on Sunday. The Lady Vols were outmatched on the glass, outrebounded 59-38, including allowing 31 offensive rebounds. 

“There were several possessions where we were in great positions, did the best we could and couldn’t come up with the ball,” Harper said. “I do believe there were some breakdowns during the game where we didn’t do our job. There will be some learning from this and there were some where we just high-five them and move on.”

Right now the goal for this team is to just keep their spirits up, heading into the final week of the regular season. 

“I told our team that I’ll be strong for them if they need someone strong. I got them,” Harper said. “They’ve had a rough few weeks. It’s been tough. Been a lot of stress and a lot of pressure in that locker room. A lot of emotions now losing teammates that they love. That’s when you gotta remember why you play. They love their teammates, absolutely love their teammates and they are fighting for them right now.”

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