Women's Basketball vs. Mississippi State

Alexus Dye, 2, during the Lady Vols vs Mississippi State game on Feb. 24, 2022 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Tennessee was eliminated from the SEC Tournament Saturday night after dropping its semifinal game against Kentucky, 83-74.

The Wildcats are arguably one of the hottest teams in the country right now, defeating Mississippi State Thursday and upsetting LSU Friday on their way to the semifinals. 

Kentucky didn’t cool down Saturday, torching the Lady Vols from deep with 12 three pointers on 50% from deep. 

“Obviously you don’t want to give a team nine threes in the first half,” head coach Kellie Harper said. “That’s pretty tough to overcome.”

The Wildcats weren’t just getting lucky shots from deep. They were finding open looks – usually due to offensive boards that left shooters open. 

“I thought we had some breakdowns defensively,” Harper said. “It’s one thing to make contested threes, it’s another to make open threes. I thought we gave up too many open threes.”

Despite another impressive scoring display from Alexus Dye who had 26 points and 10 boards, Tennessee’s offense couldn’t keep up. Dye finished with 42 points and 24 rebounds across Tennessee’s two SEC Tournament games. 

“I wanted to help my team win a ring,” Dye said. “I’m all about winning. It just turns me up even more that I have to be there for my team and I have to push myself extra in order to help my team succeed.”

The Wildcats got out to a 10 point lead early and Tennessee was never able to fully bounce back. The Lady Vols brought it within a basket or two several times in the second half, but their efforts were always quickly negated with a Kentucky run. 

Tennessee’s offense was outplayed on Saturday, but it probably would’ve been good enough to win most games. The Lady Vols were an efficient 47% from the field and 37% from deep. 

“Statistically, offensively we had a pretty good showing,” Harper said. “74 points and 47% from the field. Other than making a few more free throws, statistically we were pretty good offensively. Defensively is the area we weren’t able to win tonight. Our offense is better but it’s going to be hard for us to score more than 83 so, that’s where your defense has got to be a little tighter.”

Rae Burrell was another leader on offense for the Lady Vols with 16 points. 

“My team has been putting me in some great positions to get some points,” Burrell said. “That’s helped a lot.”

A positive the Lady Vols can take from the SEC Tournament has been their ability to share the ball well. Tennessee struggled making plays a lot of the season, but 22 assists on Saturday is a step in the right direction. 

“We’ve been sharing the ball great, we’ve been moving it well,” Burrell said. “It’s definitely a positive for us moving forward.”

Kentucky was once again led by Rhyne Howard, who had 33 Friday night against LSU. Howard had 24 points against Tennessee Saturday.  

Foul trouble plagued the Lady Vols in Saturday’s contest, as defensive leader Tamari Key was limited to just 20 minutes on the game. 

The Wildcats will take on South Carolina in Sunday’s SEC Championship game.

Tennessee still has basketball to be played this season, and Harper will use the next two weeks to get her team better.

“I talked to our team about taking this time – and it’s not huge, we don’t have to overhaul things – but just a few more plays here and there could really be the difference in one more ball game,” Harper said.

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