The No. 9 Lady Vols boast an unbeaten record eight games into the season and are looking to keep their win streak alive with some key games coming up.
A major key to success for Tennessee has been its ability to come up with production in all parts of its lineup.
“I just think it says that we're really about each other,” freshman forward Sara Puckett said. “We go out there and we play for each other, for the coaches, for the staff, and we're just all in it together. We're not necessarily focused on just what we do individually, but how the team does and that personally is my main mindset.”
Puckett is coming off a breakout game where she scored 15 points on 7-11 shooting in Tennessee’s win last Sunday against Virginia Tech.
“One thing that we saw at Virginia Tech, they were playing a guard on Sara (Puckett), and we were able to post her up with that guard,” head coach Kellie Harper said. “She can post up post players. She can take them out in the court, out on the floor. We just get to use her versatility.”
Puckett credits her recent success off the bench to getting some crucial experience.
“I feel having eight games under my belt has been very beneficial. This is because I get to kind of see how college basketball is, how I fit into the system and how it goes. I've really enjoyed it, and I just can't wait to take this experience and keep growing with my team.”
A big part of utilizing the team’s entire lineup has been the absence of guard Rae Burrell, who is still out with an injury.
“We have a lot of players that have stepped up,” Harper said. “I think what you see is just some grit and toughness and maybe a chip on some shoulders, and that is good. I like a team with a little chip on their shoulder."
“I think the challenge now is to continue to have that. When you're 8-0, sometimes you relax. The one thing that we have not seen from this team is that.”
There is no timeline on Burrell at the moment, but Harper is hopeful for a return in the coming weeks.
Tennessee had a week off to prepare for Sunday’s opponent, Georgia State (4-4). The Panthers have had a rocky season thus far, but play solid defense, forcing plenty of turnovers every game.
“I think for us, when we talk about turnovers, it's to take care of basketball,” Harper said. “Sometimes we want to do too much. We try to force something that's not there. So, we have to be aggressive, but it's also being a little bit more patient, offensively.”
The Lady Vols not only had a week off from play – they also wrapped up finals this week, giving the team a chance to focus only on basketball.
“When you finish finals, the weight is off your shoulders,” Harper said. “They get to be a little bit more free. This is their time to feel what it is like to be a pro. It's what it feels like right now - they play basketball, eat, sleep, play basketball. And they're excited about this time.”