[title_box title=”Lady Vols find needed spark, cruise past Alabama”]
Tennessee surfed the Crimson Tide to a massive victory in Sunday’s SEC matchup at Thompson-Boling Arena. In a game that found the Lady Vols in a rare must-win SEC matchup with Alabama, they put together one of their most complete games of the season.
The Lady Vols were led by Jamie Nared and Te’a Cooper, who each scored 17 points to lead all scorers. Mercedes Russell also put up 12 points, giving Tennessee three players in double digits. Nared also recorded 10 rebounds for the first double-double of her career.
“Jaime told me today, ‘stay on me because I want to play like Jaime Nared.’ I didn’t have to get on her,” said head coach Holly Warlick.
“We wanted to win. We lost the past two games and we just needed to get back to the fundamentals and doing what we all know how to do,” Nared said.
Tennessee has been struggling all season to find rhythm on offense, but on Sunday everyone played their role to near championship level. The team is yet to round the corner and completely right the ship, but it took a crucial step in the 70-42 victory over Alabama.
In Sunday’s game, Tennessee was without senior forward Bashaara Graves, which meant Warlick had to make a change to the normal lineup. Normally, Tennessee plays with two bigs, but Sunday the Lady Vols spent most of the game with Russell and four guards on the floor.
Graves was injured on one of the last plays of practice on Saturday. She suffered a sprained ankle and was seen wearing a walking boot during the game.
Whether it was due to the lineup change or just a struggling Alabama defense, Tennessee found a way to move the ball better than normal.
One of Tennessee’s main issues this season has been turnovers. Averaging close to 20 per game, the Lady Vols have also been struggling to come up with assists.
Despite turning the ball over 21 times against the Tide, Tennessee found a way to move the ball around and put up 22 assists. Sunday was one of few games this season where Tennessee had more assists then turnovers.
“That’s awesome. When you do that, it erases your 21 turnovers,” said Warlick.
Jordan Reynolds led Tennessee with five assists. While Reynolds may have led the team in that category, all but three Lady Vols that saw action failed to record an assist.
Tennessee got off to a slow start, before Nared took over and helped the team outscore the Tide 19-10 in the second quarter. The Lady Vols took a 34-22 lead to the locker room.
Cooper helped to put the Crimson Tide away with a hot start to the second half, recording 14 of her 17 points in the second half. She also recorded three 3-pointers in root to her fourth straight game recording double digits.
Tennessee opened the game up in the second half pushing the lead to 31 points.
“It’s a good sign that I didn’t have to take off my jacket,” said Warlick.
“We had 12,000 people here in the crowd and they were unbelievable. It was incredible.”
Sunday’s victory marked the 99th win for Warlick as the Lady Vols’ head coach. She is one game away from 100 wins in less than four full seasons.
“Oh am I? No, I didn’t know. That is good. That means we are winning,” said Warlick, when asked if she knew it was her 99th win.
Tennessee will host Arkansas on Thursday, Feb. 4 at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. ET and will be televised on the SEC Network’s alternate channel.
The Lady Vols will be looking to avenge a 64-59 loss to the Razorbacks in Fayetteville on Jan. 14. Warlick said she thought Graves would be able to go against the Hogs, but went on to say,
“That’s me talking, not our team physician.”
Featured image by Wade Rackley
Edited by Cody McClure