Kellie Harper put together a gauntlet for the Lady Vols with the hopes that her team would show growth.
In the first half, Tennessee faced six AP top-25 teams. Four of those teams currently sit in the top 10. The Lady Vols lost all six of their ranked matchups.
On Sunday against No. 2 Stanford, it looked like the growth that Harper was seeking had finally come. For about 30 minutes, the Lady Vols played up to their potential.
“We played hard,” guard Jordan Horston said. “I felt like we played really hard. We stayed together. We were pretty steady the whole game.”
Then, the fourth quarter happened. For the final 10 minutes against Stanford, we saw the Tennessee team that had dropped the five ranked matchups previously.
Despite the fourth quarter, Tennessee’s growth was evident on Sunday.
The Lady Vols opened the season on the road at No. 3 Ohio State. In that matchup, Tennessee beat itself. The final score was 87-75. The stat that mattered against the Buckeyes was turnovers. Tennessee turned the ball over 29 times to Ohio State’s 15.
The 29 turnovers against Ohio State were the most in the Harper era.
“The biggest thing for us is we have to get better,” Harper said following the loss to Ohio State. “They play well together, I think we can do a lot of good things. The challenge is how we handle this, how we handle the schedule we’ve given our team.”
Tennessee had just five turnovers against Stanford. The Lady Vols took care of the ball against the Cardinal and gave themselves a chance to win.
The growth from game one to game 13 was evident, at least in the turnover category.
“Our shots are going to eventually fall,” Sara Puckett said. “So, keeping turnovers down is allowing us to get more minutes with the ball in our hands on offense.”
Tennessee hasn’t struggled on offense for most of the season, but the offense has run through Horston almost exclusively for most of the season.
Horston finished with 26 points in a loss to Indiana, the next-highest scorer had 11.
“We’re trying to help that also with some play calling and put our players in position to be successful and take advantage of matchups,” Harper said following the loss to Indiana. “We’ve got players to be able to do that.”
Against Stanford, Horston led the way with 19. The Lady Vols had two other players score in the double digits, as well as nine players scoring a point. Spreading the scoring around will take some stress off of Horston, and help Tennessee in the long run.
Tennessee has failed to show growth on the glass. It is uncommon for the Lady Vols to be out-rebounded historically, but this year’s team has struggled to find its way in the rebound column.
The Lady Vols got out-rebounded by Stanford 53-38. Even more concerning, the Lady Vols are being out-rebounded by smaller teams like UMass. Tennessee lost the rebounding battle 49-45 to the Minutewomen early in the season.
A lot of rebounding can come down to hustle and “want to.”
“We weren’t being disciplined with our box-outs, they were going over our heads, and they were out hustling us for those boards,” Harper said following the UMass game. “That’s a concern, we have to have better habits.”
Stanford often acts as a measuring stick for Tennessee. Harper learned that her team is close, but still hasn’t gotten over the hump just yet.
The Lady Vols will have one last tune-up on Tuesday against Wofford before beginning the grind of SEC play.
"They do a really good job of taking away strengths, and I thought our team handled that," Harper said following the Stanford game. "You know exactly where you stand after you play this game."