The No. (14-16) Tennessee women’s basketball team earned the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament over the weekend. They defeated Ole Miss 77-72 in the quarter-finals, but fell to No. (7-7) South Carolina 67-52 in the semi-finals.
While the Lady Vols await their seeding from the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on March 15, let’s look at how they graded out in the SEC Tournament.
Jordan Walker held down the guard position for Tennessee in its two tournament games over the weekend.
Walker struggled in her game against the Rebels. The redshirt junior scored just five points and grabbed only two rebounds. In the game, she turned the ball over five times.
Tennessee’s starting guard performed much better in the team’s loss to the Gamecocks. Walker sunk a team-high 11 points and also recorded five rebounds, a block and a steal.
Walker found success on Saturday when nearly every other player on Tennessee’s roster did not. However, she wasn’t able to find her footing against Ole Miss, matching her point total to her rebound total, and even against South Carolina, she shot an inefficient four-of-11 from the floor.
Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell had a rare inconsistent week with both players booming in the SEC quarterfinals before they struggled in the semifinals.
Davis recorded a 33 point, 14 rebound double-double against Ole Miss. Davis’ point total tied her career-high and she extended her streak of 20+ scoring games to six, which is the longest streak of said nature since the 2007 season when Candace Parker accomplished the feat.
Burrell played the perfect complement as she finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and two assists. The junior went two-of-four from three and a perfect six-of-six from the charity stripe.
Saturday’s match against South Carolina showed an unseen side to Tennessee’s dynamic duo as both players scored just nine points. Davis went three-for-12 from the field to gain her nine points, she also notched a team-high six boards and two assists.
Burrell didn’t shoot much better, finishing up with three makes-off on 11 attempts. Tennessee’s starting guard tallied five boards and three assists as well.
It was an up and down tournament for the Lady Vols’ two best players. They looked at their best against Ole Miss and looked their worst against South Carolina. One consistency in their game was turnovers, as Davis lost the ball a combined nine times, including a team-high six against the Rebels. Burrell committed four turnovers in the semifinal matchup, six over the two-game span.
Tamari Key and Kasiyahna Kushkituah were slowed down considerably compared to how well they played down the stretch during the regular season.
Key tallied two points on four shots while snagging three boards and rejecting one shot. She played for just 19 minutes. Kushkituah was a little better, finishing with seven points on six shots, three rebounds, two steals and a block.
The first tournament game jitters for Key seemed to dissipate a little in her match against South Carolina. In the game, Key drained three shots, good for eight points and remained active on the glass, grabbing a team-high six boards. She also blocked four shots.
Kushkituah got pushed around early and lasted just 11 minutes. The senior big finished her abbreviated start with two points, a rebound and a turnover.
Tennessee’s bigs crumbled this weekend with disappointing matches in both games. They were unable to stop Aliyah Boston of South Carolina, who finished with 15 points and 11 boards. Kushkituah’s time with the Lady Vols will end this season, but this will be an experience that Key would like to use as motivation for next season.
The Tennessee bench was the Jordan Horston show. The sophomore guard ultimately acted as the Lady Vols’ sixth starter, clocking in 37 minutes against Ole Miss and 31 minutes against South Carolina.
Horston was the only bench player to take a shot against the Rebels. She ended the game with 12 points on 50% shooting, seven rebounds and five assists. She did however commit five turnovers. Marta Suárez tallied three rebounds and an assist in her 13 minutes of play.
Against the Gamecocks, Horston led the charge off of the bench. She totaled 11 points on 10 shots, with three rebounds, three blocks, two steals and an assist. Tennessee put five other players in the game against South Carolina and they combined for two points on one-of-three shooting, three boards, an assist and one turnover.
The bench play for the Lady Vols had been a problem leading up to the SEC Tournament, and it proved troublesome once again. Horston was the only contributor from the bench. In both games, the Tennessee bench was outscored 27-12, and 15-13, respectively. Tennessee saw their starters struggle and was unable to look to anyone for help, that is a recipe for disaster.
Much like other aspects of Tennessee’s game this weekend, its offense was inconsistent.
Against Ole Miss, the Lady Vols shot 41.4% from the field and 70% from three, including hitting 22-of-25 tries from the free-throw line. Their best quarter was in the fourth, where they outscored the Rebels 28-15 and hit 50% of their shots. The Lady Vols even dominated in most of the secondary scoring stats including, points in the paint (32-26), points off turnovers (16-14), second-chance points (19-7) and fast-break points (13-4).
The Tennessee offense against South Carolina finished with 52 points, its lowest mark of the season. The Lady Vols reached that infamous milestone by shooting 36.4% from the floor and 14.3% from behind the arc. They also took a step back from the free-throw line, hitting just 10-of-15 attempts.
Tennessee played some of its most efficient and effective basketball against Ole Miss, and then followed it up with nonexistent offense against South Carolina. Over the weekend, the Lady Vols turned the ball over a total of 36 times compared to just 25 assists. This is just a microcosm of the larger picture.
The defense, as opposed to the offense, was a much different story for the Lady Vols.
In Friday’s matchup, Tennessee held Ole Miss to 72 points, which sits slightly above its season average (70.9). They also performed better in three-point shooting making six during the game compared to 4.4 throughout the year.
However, the bigger story is the rebounding. The Rebels average 38.7 rebounds per game and hold a +3.2 margin over their opponents. Tennessee out-muscled them and held them to just 25 rebounds, good for a -20 differential. This helped Tennessee to win the battle in points (32-26) in the paint and second-chance buckets (19-7).
The Lady Vols played even better against the Gamecocks, as they held one of the best offensive teams in the nation at bay.
South Carolina averages 77.2 points per game, a far cry from the 67 they scored Saturday night. The Gamecocks also nail their field goals at a 44% clip, however, they were accurate only 36.5% of the time against Tennessee.
They did however improve in three-point shooting compared to their season averages. Throughout the year, South Carolina makes 4.4 threes at a 33.3% clip. On Saturday, they made seven shots from deep on a 43.8% stroke.
The defense for Tennessee did more than could have been asked against two of the SEC’s top offenses. They didn’t play perfectly on the less glamorous side of the court, but they held Ole Miss to most of its season averages and kept the high-powered Gamecock offense at bay from inside the arc.
It stings to lose in the playoffs, no matter if you entered as the top seed or you’re at the very bottom. The Lady Vols defeated a team in Ole Miss who gave them trouble early in SEC play and they did it with a strong finish, something they struggled to do at times. They were then asked to repeat a surprise upset that they performed against South Carolina just a few weeks ago, and while they performed admirably at times, lighting didn’t strike twice for them.
The Lady Vols now sit and wait to see where they will be seeded in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, happening in San Antonio, Texas from March 21 through April 4. Tennessee will hope to use these next two weeks to get refocused for preparation against the nation’s top talent.