Tennessee is moving on to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament after defeating Buffalo 80-67 Saturday afternoon.
The Bulls hung with Tennessee through three quarters, but a late surge from the Lady Vols gave them the edge they needed to come out on top and advance to the second round.
Tennessee didn’t play its best basketball Saturday afternoon, but it got the job done well enough to see at least one more game. Here are three takeaways from the Lady Vols' first round win.
Starters step up
Four of Tennessee’s starters were in double digits in the scoring column on Saturday, a change from Tennessee’s usual spread out scoring.
Harper looked to her starters for offensive and defensive production and they stepped up Saturday.
Rae Burrell led the way for Tennessee with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Burrell sparked the late run for the Lady Vols with 15 second half points and hit a three in the fourth to put the Lady Vols up 10.
“I was just thinking ‘be aggressive,’” Burrell said. “The guards had to be more aggressive, so I was just looking for my shot and I saw the opportunity and I took it.”
Alexus Dye said after Tennessee’s loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament that she wants a championship and she’ll do anything to get one. Through the first round of the tournament, that has held true.
Dye put up 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds on Saturday, acting as one of the driving forces in the win. Dye was aggressive, unrelenting and one of the biggest reasons Tennessee was able to come out of the first round with a win.
“Snoop is a spark for us,” Tamari Key said. “We know that when she goes into the game she’s going to give it everything she has; going to the basket, grabbing rebounds. We knew that coming in the third she was going to give us the spark we needed.”
Key was also a force on Saturday, giving the Lady Vols 16 points and 11 rebounds. 11 of Key’s points came in the second half.
“I thought she played much more confident and much more physically in the second half,” head coach Kellie Harper said. “She was going after more boards, we were able to get her more touches. We kept her in because she was playing well and making a difference on both ends.”
Fourth quarter surge key for Lady Vols
Tennessee and Buffalo went back and forth for three quarters, with the lead changing hands several times late in the third.
That was until the fourth quarter, when Tennessee pulled away from the Bulls. It started with a Jordan Walker jump shot to beat the third quarter buzzer and put the Lady Vols up six. From there, they didn’t let Buffalo back into the game.
Buffalo hung with Tennessee through most of the game because the threes were falling, but in the fourth Tennessee was able to respond and shut down the Bulls from deep, allowing just two threes in the fourth.
“Going down the stretch, my thought process was ‘how many threes is it going to take for them to catch up,’ because you know at any point they can make threes,” Harper said. “I was really proud of our team because I thought we really played with a lot of grit and toughness on offense down the stretch.”
Tennessee can’t corral Fair and Woolley
Buffalo’s top performers on Saturday were Dyasia Fair and Georgia Woolley, who combined for 40 points.
Fair torched the Lady Vols for 25 and Woolley added 15 with a mirage of three-pointers and contested jumpers.
Ultimately the duo wasn’t enough to get Buffalo past the Lady Vols, but they showed they can hang with high levels of competition.
“They’ve got two kids that can put up big numbers,” Harper said. “Obviously Fair can get a shot off at any point and she can make them. It makes it very difficult guard her when you can’t keep the ball out of her hands, and you can’t keep her from taking a shot."
“All you can do is hope you’re making her take tough shots.”