The Lady Volunteers had a hard fought battle with the No. 9 Hokies in Thompson-Boling arena Sunday afternoon. Tennessee crawled back from 17-5 Virginia Tech lead to start the game, boxing out on rebounds and exploding in the paint, but ultimately falling 59-56.
Doubts circled the Lady Vols and their ability to pull out a win in their third AP-Top 10 matchup of the season before the game had even begun. Three Lady Vols were missing on the court during pregame warmups. Jasmine Franklin and Jillian Hollingshead have been ruled out with concussions, and are on a day to day recovery schedule. Devastating news for Lady Vols fans, coach Kellie Harper has confirmed star transfer Rickea Jackson has been ruled out indefinitely.
Jackson has been a keystone offensive weapon for Tennessee this season, posting 141 points, 53 rebounds,15 assists and nine steals for the Lady Vols in just eight games.
“Everybody has to step up,” Harper said. “We are trying to set that up with play calling to put our players in positions to be successful and take advantage of every matchup. We’ve got players that will be able to do that.”
In the absence of Jackson, Tennessee’s roster depth showed strength again as Tamari Key stepped in as a main scorer and contributor for the Lady Vols both offensively and defensively. Key capitalized every inch of her 6-foot-6 frame in the paint, scoring 11 points and securing seven rebounds with three blocks. Key held ACC Player of the Year and Hokies’ lead scorer Elizabeth Kitley to just six points.
“Today she pushed through, because there wasn’t a lot of choice,” Harper said. “She had to push through for us. Our coaching staff did a good job of getting her subbed in and out at the right times. We were strategic with our rest periods. She showed some toughness and grit.”
Jordan Horston had an incredible performance against Virginia Tech, boasting a double-double, scoring 26 points with 11 rebounds and two assists. Horston’s quick decision making and quick feet have won her numerous prestigious awards throughout her four years in Tennessee, but her humility and desire to set teammates up to score is what sets her apart as one of the best players in women’s college basketball. Horston had two assists to Key, both of which converted into an additional two points on Tennessee’s scoreboard.
“Jordan Horston, she poured her heart out,” Harper said. “She gave us everything she had. I’m proud of her and proud of her effort. She was being a leader.”
Jasmine Powell set the tone for a fast-paced Lady Vols offense that was quick to set and swift in transitions. The 5-foot-6 guard was one of Tennessee’s most efficient bodies in the paint, scoring nine points with five rebounds and six assists.
The Lady Vols did what they do best in Sunday’s game and dominated the boards, out rebounding the Hokies 46 to 31.
“Physical. Extremely physical,” Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said. “(Tennessee) went through a really big lineup. This may have been one of the very few times in my career that we were smaller than them in a junction of a game, smaller than them in every position.”
Tennessee looks to bounce back from a tough loss, hosting Chattanooga at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Thompson-Boling arena.
“This took a lot out of them. Physically, but emotionally as well,” Harper said. “To come up short there, I know it’s hard on them. They’re proud of their effort, I know that. Now I need to be ready to get them up physically and mentally and emotionally for Tuesday.”
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