Women's Basketball vs Southern Illinois

Alexus Dye (2) pushes her way passed a Southern Illinois player to score in Thompson- Boling Arena on November 10th, 2021. 

The Lady Vols came out on top of Southern Illinois 59-49 Wednesday night, but it took some effort to get there.

Tennessee was slow to start but caught fire in the fourth quarter to find a way to win. Trailing 47-42 with five minutes to go, UT finished the game on a 17-2 run. Back-to-back three-pointers by Jordan Walker and Sara Puckett put them up 48-47, giving them the lead for good.

Here’s how the Lady Vols graded out.

Backcourt

Tennessee’s backcourt was looking good with senior Rae Burrell. The Las Vegas native led the Lady Vols in scoring with 12 points on an efficient 6-of-9 shooting from the field. She tallied 2 defensive rebounds, a block, and a steal before leaving the game in the second quarter with a knee injury.

Jordan Walker had to step up in place for the injured Burrell. Despite going 3-for-11 from the field, Walker was 7-for-10 in free throws. She had a team high 14 points. Walker hit UT's first three-pointer of the game with 5:06 left on the clock.

Tess Darby, the lone Tennessee native on the team, struggled. Tess went 0-for-6 in field goals and 0-for-4 in threes. She did manage to get a defensive rebound and an assist. She would have the fourth most minutes after starting the game.

Freshman Brooklyn Miles had a quiet night. Miles went 2-for-2 with a total of 4 points. She also had 2 assists and a team high 2 steals.

Grade:C+

Frontcourt

The Katrina McClain Award candidate Alexus Dye stepped up big time. The graduate transfer tallied 12 points and 13 rebounds for her 33rd career double-double. Dye dominated the offensive glass in the second quarter, pulling down 4 offensive rebounds and turning them into 6 second-chance points.

Keyen Green also had a quiet night. Green was 2-of-2 from the field. She also hauled in 3 rebounds, though she was in foul trouble for most of the night.

Starting center Tamari Key was not productive on the offensive side of the ball, as she only tallied 6 points. She spent most of the night on the bench thanks to some early foul troubles.

Key’s absence left a hole in the defense, and it was a big factor in Tennessee’s struggles. Key was limited to just 14 minutes total for the game. She was, however, on pace to defend the rim, racking up 2 blocks and grabbing 6 boards.

Sara Puckett may not have done much, but the little she did was huge. Puckett went 2-for-4 from the field and only 1-for-3 behind the line in 20 minutes of action.

Puckett came through in the clutch when the Lady Vols needed it. She hit a three to put them ahead halfway through the fourth quarter after Tennessee had missed its first 13 tries from beyond the arc.

Off the bench, Karoline Striplin put 2 points, a rebound, and a personal foul as she recorded only 4 minutes of game time.

Grade:C+

Offense

Tennessee’s offense had a slow start for much of the game. The Lady Vols shot 12-of-30 from the field in the first half, including 0-for-9 from deep. It wasn’t until halfway throughout the fourth quarter before they made a surge, finishing the game on a 17-2 run.

Only three Lady Vols had double-digit points, including Burrell, who left the game early in the secondquarter. Their first three-pointer of the night wasn’t made until five minutes left in the game itself.

The Big Orange scored most of their points in the paint, with 34 of the 59 total. They scored 18 second chance points, and the bench had 16 points for the night.

Despite being down for much of the night, Tennessee was able to find some steam to finish ahead,

Grade:C-

Defense

Tennessee trailed for much of the game. The Lady Vols trailed by three heading into halftime. And it wasn’t until those two clutch three-pointers in the fourth quarter that Tennessee was able to stay ahead.

Defensively, they were just okay. They forced 13 turnovers but only scored 16 points off those.

The Lady Vols had 4 blocks and 5 steals. Where the Lady Vols shined was in defensive rebounds. Out of 37 rebounds, 24 of them were defensive.

The Lady Vols appear to be elite rebounders. It will be worth noting if they can stay out of foul trouble and continue to dominate off the back of the board.

Grade:B-

Coaching

It could have been the team chemistry of Southern Illinois, but for them to stay ahead against a top-15 team in the nation really shows the ability of underestimating an opponent. Granted, nobody expected the two leading contributors to miss the game with injury and the starting center sitting with foul trouble, but it’s basketball. Sometimes teams have to rely on freshmen to step up.

Harper did do a nice job towards the end of keeping her teams focused and eager to win. Many teams would struggle to hit a 17-2 run to finish out a game it was trailing in.

If injuries continue to plague Tennessee early on, it will be crucial for Harper and her staff to find the best positions possible for her players

Grade:B-

Overall

This is the first official game of the season, and many players are still getting used to their roles and expectations. There are always going to be some kinks that need to be worked out. Tennessee learned what it needs to work on, as well as some things it has going for them.

The Lady Vols did, however, look like a completely different team compared to their exhibition match.

The worst-case scenario would have been a loss, but instead the Lady Vols have won their ninth consecutive season opener.

Grade: C+

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