The Tennessee women’s basketball team defeated LSU in a 64-63 nail biter Sunday afternoon. By their closest margin of the season, the Lady Vols edged out the win to improve to 8-1 (2-0 SEC), while the Tigers fell to 4-6 (2-2 SEC).
Junior Rae Burrell led Tennessee’s scoring in the back-and-forth affair. She finished with 18 points and three rebounds. Khayla Pointer paced LSU with 25 points and five assists.
Here are three takeaways from Tennessee’s win.
LSU starts fast
The Tigers have been notorious for slow first quarters this season. LSU had scored 12 points or less in seven of nine first quarters, including three games of single digit points. They turned it around today with a 19-point showing, one of their best starts to a game this year.
LSU shot an impressive 61.5% (eight-of-13) on field goals in the first, while Tennessee went just 45.5% (five-of-11) on field goal shooting in the opening frame.
LSU’s start forced a change in Tennessee’s game plan, as the Lady Vols are used to holding the lead after through a quarter; they have held the lead after the first quarter in all but one of their games. Today, Tennessee would have to come back from an early deficit instead of just adding to their total.
“I feel like this year, we came in, we knew we had to fight,” sophomore Tamari Key said after the game. “LSU is a good team. So, we just knew we had to come in today and play together.”
The Lady Vols managed to turn the game around with a nice second quarter. Tennessee outscored the Tigers 17-13, holding them to just 33.3% shooting in the second.
All season long, a major reason for Tennessee’s success has been its play from its post players. Today, senior Kasiyahna Kushkituah and Key, were an important part of the victory.
Key, the starter, had her best game of the year, with a season-high 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks. Kushkituah, who played 26 minutes off the bench, totaled eight points and seven rebounds.
Kushkituah in particular has been heating up. Over her last four games, the Atlanta, Georgia native has averaged 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, a big step up from the first five games of the season, in which she averaged just 3.4 points and 4.4 rebounds.
“I think just being a big presence in the paint, as far as playing to my strengths,” Kushkituah said of her recent hot streak. “Such as rebounding, offense and defensively, making sure that I lock down my play on the defensive end. And that’s me making sure that, their post player doesn’t get as many scores, or doesn’t out rebound me. And on offense, it's being a big presence, posting up, getting offensive rebounds, doing whatever I can for the team.”
Additionally, Tennessee out rebounded LSU 39-25, with senior Rennia Davis leading the way with nine. The Lady Vols are one of the best rebounding teams in the country, their 16.6 rebound margin is fifth in the nation, and behind just No. 5 South Carolina (18.9) in the SEC.
Mistakes make it a nail biter
By all accounts, Tennessee did not play a clean game. Just three days after an 11 turnover showing against Arkansas, the Lady Vols gave the ball away 19 times, while LSU had just 11. Tennessee missed plenty of open shots, and important late free throws to keep it a tight contest.
With 22 seconds left and leading by one, graduate transfer Jordan Walker was fouled on a fast break, and went to the free throw line. She missed both shots, however, Kushkituah, got the rebound, and drew the foul.
Kushkituah missed both her shots, but a Burrell missed layup coupled with an LSU rebound meant the game would come down to one last Tiger possession.
Ultimately, LSU did not score, so the misses did not come back to bite Tennessee, but with eight lead changes, it was a closer game than head coach Kellie Harper wanted.
“Before the game, our staff talked, if we could come out of here with a one-point win, we would walk away happy,” Harper said. “It’s just that tough in the SEC to get these wins. I didn’t really mean it to be exactly like that. Obviously down the stretch, I felt like we could’ve finished a few more plays, free throws, and maybe not have had to worry about that last possession defensively. But credit LSU.”
The Lady Vols have plenty to learn from and clean up after today, but they have confidence in themselves and their ability to improve.
“I really do believe this win is going to be good for us going down the stretch,” Harper said. “If we get in this position again, I think they understand what it takes to get out of it.”
Tennessee returns to Thompson-Boling Arena for a Thursday matchup with Georgia. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on SEC Network.