The No. 10 ranked Tennessee women’s basketball team flies west to Las Vegas, Nevada, for the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout to take on Kansas and Oklahoma State Friday and Saturday, respectively.
"We're excited about heading to Las Vegas and looking forward to the challenge that will be Kansas and Oklahoma State,” head coach Kellie Harper said. “Obviously, we hope that we're taking some good positive momentum out there, some confidence with how our first four games have gone.”
These next two games will be the second and the third straight contests between Big 12 opponents after Tennessee rose up against Texas in overtime 74-70 on Sunday afternoon.
It's been over 40 years since the Lady Vols played their odds in Vegas, with the last appearance coming in the 1979-1980 season in the Nike Tournament of Champions facing off against Long Beach State and UNLV.
The Big Orange comes into the shootout ranked in the top-10 for the first time since 2018-2019, winning their first four matchups. The Lady Vols have overcome deficits in all four of their previous games versus Southern Illinois, UCF, South Florida and Texas.
"I think right now we feel really good about what we can do. I think we have a lot of confidence in each other that we can make big plays,” Harper said. “There's not been a lot of panic, but a lot of motivation. I think our players have played hard consistently.”
“They're willing to fight for a win. They're willing to be gritty and tough. Those characteristics are really good for a basketball team.”
Tennessee has been without senior guard Rae Burrell ever since she went down with a lower body injury in the season opener. The Las Vegas native will be unable to play in her hometown this weekend.
"We have no new updates with our players,” Harper said. “Still in the same place. She's doing rehab. We just have to take it day by day."
In her absence, Jordan Horston has filled the void left by Burrell. Horston has filled up the stat sheet, scoring in double-figures in the last three games, including racking up two double-doubles in those three games. She leads the team in points per game with 22 and leads the team in rebounding, averaging 11.7 a game.
She was named player of the week by ESPN after posting a combined 52 points, 24 boards and 7 assists against USF and Texas
“Jordan is very coachable, and she is very talented. She has the ability to score, she has the ability to be dominant on the boards. She has the ability to defend,” Harper said. “Right now, we're asking a lot of her, but she is very capable. I'm proud of her.”
“I think she's feeling good about what she can do. She knows she can find teammates, but also now hopefully, she's confident about her consistent ability to score."
In the last game against the Longhorns, the star of the show was Tamari Key. She tallied her second triple-double of her career and the fifth overall in Lady Vol history.
Key etched her name in the history books on Sunday afternoon by becoming the first Lady Vol to record two triple-doubles while lacing it up for the Orange and White.
Key finished the game with 10 points and had a career high in rebounds with 18. Key also tied her career high in blocks with 12.
"I'll be honest with you, I did not know until after the game that she had a triple-double. There were a few other things on my mind during that game,” Harper said. “I'm just so proud of her. Honestly, what a cool accomplishment to have here at Tennessee."
Tennessee’s first opponent of the shootout is Kansas. The Jayhawks enter Vegas with a 4-0 record, but their competition has been lacking compared to the Lady Vols. The Jayhawks have four blowout wins versus Southern-Illinois Edwardsville, Tennessee State, Omaha and Saint Louis.
They are outscoring their opponents by an average margin of 28.3 points, dropping 85.3 a game and only allowing 57 points per game.
Kansas is led by a trio of returning starters, with senior guard Aniya Thomas, sophomore forward Ioanna Chatzileonti and junior guard Zakiyah Franklin, all averaging double figures in points through four games.
“Kansas is coming in with great momentum. They have great experience, all their players are returning,” Harper said. “They have balanced scoring. They've got three players in double figures. Their pace is pretty quick. They're feeling really good about how they play, so they're going to be a big challenge.”
Tennessee’s final opponent is against the Cowboys of Oklahoma State. The Cowboys take on a Green Bay squad on Friday, before taking on the Lady Vols.
They enter the matchup with a record of 3-1, defeating SMU, Missouri State and Rice after dropping the season opener to Colorado.
Oklahoma State is led by junior guard Lauren Fields. She leads the team in scoring, averaging 13.3 points per game. Other than fields, no other Cowboy averages more than 10 points per game. The Cowboys have struggled shooting the ball through four games, only scoring 56 points a game on 36.6% from the field, 24.2% from three and 51.8% from the free throw line. However, their defense has been excellent, only allowing 48.3 points per game on 29.9% shooting from the floor.
“They're a very low mistake team. They take advantage of mismatches. They find the opportunity that they feel like they have an advantage to try and attack on both ends of the court,” Harper said. “They're scouting report heavy, they're well coached. They want to try to take away your strength as the basketball team."
The Lady Vols begin the shootout in Las Vegas on Friday versus Kansas at 6:30 p.m. EST, the same time as their matchup against Oklahoma State on Saturday.