The No. 3 seed Tennessee women’s basketball team cruised to an 87-62 victory over No. 14 Middle Tennessee in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament after four Lady Vols scored in the double figures.
“At the beginning of the game, I told them that this is a long time coming” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said. “I’m not just talking about the two weeks we’ve spent between the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. This has been a long time coming for all of women’s basketball. I was looking forward to it and I hate that we missed it last year.”
"I hate that we didn’t have that opportunity to have that and grow from that,"' Harper continued. "Today was fun, I wanted our players to go out and enjoy the moment because obviously from last year you can see how quickly it can be taken away.”
Here are three takeaways.
The Lady Vols showcased one of the best pairs in the NCAA in Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell. Tennessee’s stars combined for more than half of the team’s 87 points. Davis finished the game with a double-double of 24 points and 14 rebounds. The Lady Vols’ senior captain was efficient, as she went 9-14 from the field and 5-5 from the charity stripe.
After today’s performance, Davis has recorded 10 double-doubles on the year and 39 throughout her career. Davis also moved to No. 10 in the Lady Vols program for career rebounds (943), passing Shyra Ely (940). Finally, her 24 points moved her to No. 9 in the program with 1,803 career points, after surpassing Sheila Frost (1,790).
“They are dynamic players,” Harper said. “They have been really good for us all season long. They are two of the best guards and we’ve got a pretty good combo there. I thought they played very well downhill, they played downhill really well in the second half and a lot of that had to do with us getting stops and getting them out and running in transition. When they play downhill, they are really hard to guard.”
Burrell didn’t lag too far behind. The junior dropped 22 points (8-13 from the field), including seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals. The Las Vegas native surpassed her season averages for points (17.0), rebounds (4.5), blocks (0.4) and steals (0.9).
Tennessee didn’t just see production from its two leaders, as Tamari Key and Kasiyahna Kushkituah scored in the double digits too. Key finished with 13 points and three blocks, while Kushkituah dropped 10 points and eight boards.
"I thought our big lineup was really good for us, with extended minutes in the third quarter," Harper said. "Kasi and Tamari both did a really good job defensively in the third quarter. I thought our transition game was good because we got stops and converted those on the other end.”
Jordan Walker, the Lady Vols’ fifth starter, just missed a double-double after she tallied nine points and a career-high 14 rebounds. Walker also assisted on five made baskets and stole one ball.
As a unit, Tennessee shot 52.4% from the floor. It out-scored MTSU in three of four quarters, including a 25 point fourth quarter. The Lady Vols even found success from the free-throw line. They made 19 of 24 attempts on Sunday, they averaged 11.8 per game throughout the season.
“It was just one of those games where we didn’t make a lot of adjustments, we just got better at our game plan,” Harper said. “I thought we set the tone in the third quarter with how we were going to guard. I thought that was the biggest change from the first half.
The Lady Vols dominated MTSU in virtually every offensive category. Tennessee won the battle in rebounds (56-21), points in the paint (48-26), second-chance points (21-6), fast-break points (21-5), and bench points (9-2). The lone category that MTSU won was points off turnovers (15-14).
Cause for Concern
Not everything was going as planned for Tennessee on Sunday afternoon. The Lady Vols turned the ball over 21 times, compared to 15 assists. Jordan Horston and Burrell both had five turnovers, and Walker was next with three.
Throughout the year, they have averaged 16.7 turnovers per game, which resulted in a negative turnover margin of -2.9, one of the few negative margins they own. While it didn’t mean much against a team like MTSU, they will need to shore that weakness up against competition later in the Tournament.
Tennessee will play No. 6 seed Michigan in the Round of 32 on Tuesday, with the time and location still to be determined.