The No. 3 seed Tennessee women’s basketball team blew past in-state rival Middle Tennessee 87-62 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Lady Vols (17-7) advanced to the second round with head coach Kellie Harper’s first Tournament win at her alma mater.
Leading Tennessee’s scoring, like always, was the duo of Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell, who combined for 46 points. Davis recorded her tenth double-double of the season with 24 points and 14 rebounds, and Burrell was right behind her with 22 points and seven rebounds.
“These are two dynamic players,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said of Davis and Burrell. “They’ve been really good for us all season long. Two of the best guards, we’ve got a pretty good combo there, with these players. I thought they played really well downhill . . . and when they play downhill, they are really hard to guard.”
The Lady Vols had a more balanced attack today than in recent games. Post players Tamari Key and Kasi Kushkituah helped control MTSU underneath the goal. Key totaled 13 points, two rebounds and three blocks. Kushkituah scored 10 along with eight boards, five of which came on offense.
The Jordan’s were quite impressive too. Jordan Walker scored nine and grabbed 14 rebounds, a career-high. Jordan Horston filled the stat sheet with six points, six boards, six assists, three steals and two blocks.
There was little going on for MTSU (17-8) outside of the Hayes sisters. Anastasia Hayes, the older sister and former Lady Vol, led the game with 26 points. Her younger sister, Aislynn Hayes, scored 15 points. No other Lady Raider had more than seven points.
The Lady Vols’ first half was not necessarily bad, just inconsistent. They jumped out to an early 6-0 lead, before letting MTSU pull within three, 8-5. This trend continued for the remainder of the first. Tennessee would pull ahead, but lose momentum and let the Lady Raiders get close. At the end of one, Tennessee led 21-18.
The second quarter was just as close as the first, as both teams continued to score at a high rate but couldn’t pull away. Anastasia Hayes in particular was great, dropping 16 in the first half. Middle Tennessee made six from three-point range and caught up with Tennessee, 39-39 at halftime.
“We didn’t make a lot of adjustments, we just got better at our game plan,” Harper said on her halftime message. “We set the tone in the third quarter about how we were going to guard. I thought that was the biggest change from the first half.”
Harper’s message resonated with her team, as they came out on fire in the third quarter. The Lady Vols opened with a 10-2 run, and outscored Middle Tennessee 23-10 in the quarter.
Tennessee’s defense shined in the third. The Lady Vols switched to zone defense, which limited the looks MTSU got. The Lady Raiders could not find the same offensive production they had in the first half. They made just three field goals in the third quarter and four three-pointers in the second half.
“I thought the second half, we were able to contain better,” Davis said. “Just making a team like that put the ball on the floor, that's much better for us than giving them wide open three’s.”
MTSU cut Tennessee’s lead to as little as 11, thanks to several quick baskets to start the fourth quarter, but never got closer than that. Tennessee responded with 11-0 run to extend its lead to 22, before the Lady Raiders scored again.
The Lady Vols kept their foot on the gas and closed out an 87-62 win.
Tennessee’s size was its biggest advantage today. The Lady Vols dominated the paint, outscoring MTSU there 48-26.
Tennessee also outrebounded MTSU, 56-21. The 35 board margin was Tennessee’s largest of the season. If the Lady Raiders missed a shot, which they did often, shooting at 33.8%, they would not get another opportunity, as the Lady Vols grabbed the rebound. Tennessee scored 21 second chance points to the Lady Raiders’ six.
Even Tennessee’s shortest starter Walker, at 5-foot-8, tied with Davis for a game-high 14 boards.
With the win, the Lady Vols advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. They will face the No. 6 seed Michigan, who defeated No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast 87-66. The game will be on Tuesday, but the time, location and television network are still to be determined.