Tennessee (7-6) played like a different team for 30 minutes on Sunday, then the fourth quarter happened. The Lady Vols lost 77-70 to Stanford (11-1) on Sunday.
“I’m pleased that our team fought and played hard,” head coach Kellie Harper said. “Would love to have been able to close this one out, finished stronger in the fourth… I told them we were locked in for about 29 and a half minutes.”
Here are three takeaways from Tennessee’s loss to Stanford.
Third quarter dominance, fourth quarter collapse
Harper must give amazing halftime speeches as the Lady Vols consistently come out firing in the third quarter.
Tennessee outscored Stanford 23-18 in the third quarter while shooting almost 59% from the field. Stanford just didn’t have an answer for the Lady Vols.
“Rickea comes in and scores eight in the third quarter alone, and then we got the ball inside a couple of times for some buckets,” Harper said. “We were coming up strong defensively, able to keep them slowed down, to get the eight-point lead.”
Tennessee ripped off a 10-0 run and all the momentum was heading in the Lady Vols' way. Then, the fourth quarter happened.
Stanford opened the fourth quarter on a 16-2 run. Cameron Brink had her way in the paint against Tennessee.
The Lady Vols shot 4-21 in the fourth and got outscored 24-12.
“Fourth quarter, we got a little stagnant offensively,” Harper said. “The ball didn't move. We didn't have player movement that we had (before). We were just trying to throw it to some of our players and watch them play. That's where we've gotta go back and be a little bit more disciplined with our offense.”
If the fourth quarter didn’t happen on Sunday, it would be a much different story for Tennessee.
Taking care of the ball
Tennessee turned the ball over 29 times on opening night against Ohio State. It turned it over 18 times in game two against UMass.
On Sunday, the Lady Vols turned the ball over only five times.
“I definitely feel like that should be an emphasis,” guard Sara Puckett said. “Our shots are going to eventually fall. So, keeping turnovers down is allowing us to get more minutes with the ball in our hands on offense.”
The Lady Vols lack of turnovers didn’t matter if they weren’t making buckets. Tennessee shot 27-74 against the Cardinal. Particularly in the fourth quarter, it felt like the Lady Vols couldn’t get anything to fall.
“We only shot 19% in the fourth quarter,” Harper said. “Turning the ball over, missing shots, there’s no difference. You’re coming up empty on the scoreboard.”
Adjusting without Tamari Key on defense
For three years, 6-foot-6 Key has stood in the post and not let opposing teams score on her. Now, with Key out for the season, the Lady Vols are searching for an answer in the paint.
“We missed her presence defensively for sure because her size can match some of their size in the paint and having that presence behind you is a big deal,” Harper said about missing Key. “We don't have anybody that can grow in the next few weeks.”
Rebounding is another issue Tennessee has dealt with most of the year, and the absence of Key has compounded the issue. On Sunday, the Lady Vols lost the rebounding battle 53-38.
Stanford forward Brink had no trouble scoring, or rebounding, in the paint against the Lady Vols. She finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds in 26 minutes. She also had six blocks.
Tennessee had a chance to get Brink out as she struggled with foul trouble, but the Lady Vols couldn’t execute. If Key is in the game, that may be a different story.
“She did a really good job of staying mobile,” Harper said of Brink. “We had a hard time getting around her… She kept getting post touches and when she gets post touches on the block, she’s so crafty and aggressive.”