[title_box title=”Lady Vols hold off Ole Miss despite shooting woes”]
On the night of their “Live Pink, Bleed Orange” game, the Lady Vols held on to avoid an upset at the hands of the SEC’s last-place Ole Miss Rebels in Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday night.
Despite the 57-51 win, Tennessee struggled mightily from the field.
The game was perfectly summed up by head coach Holly Warlick’s comment in the post game press conference. “We finished the job tonight.”
That is what was needed, considering Tennessee has lost multiple leads in the fourth quarter this season. The way the Lady Vols pulled off the win in the closing minutes provided a blueprint that may be key for the stretch run of the season.
The result of the game was a team effort, but it was made possible by the tremendous effort of forward Bashaara Graves. The senior played 36 minutes and recorded a team-high 15 points to go along with a team-high 12 rebounds.
With the game on the line, Warlick turned to her bench to give the Lady Vols a spark. Sophomore forward Kortney Dunbar came in during the fourth quarter to score a layup to give the Lady Vols a 52-51 lead. She then hit a three to extend that lead to 55-51 with 35 seconds to go in the game.
Dunbar’s heroics came after freshman guard Meme Jackson scored four points in the last thirty seconds of the third quarter. This gave Tennessee a seven-point cushion to begin the fourth quarter.
The Lady Vols had to overcome adversity before the first media timeout when 6-foot-6 paint presence Mercedes Russell went down with an ankle injury. She was unable to return.
“I think she stepped on someone’s foot… I haven’t talked to the doctor yet,” said Warlick.
The game was ugly in the first half, with both teams recording double-digit turnover numbers in the first two periods of play. Ole Miss controlled most of the first half behind stellar three-point shooting, but lost the touch in the second half, not recording a single made triple in the final two quarters.
Tennessee’s ability to get to the free throw line let it stay within distance of the Rebels. UT got to the stripe 14 times and knocked down 11 free throws in the first half.
The Lady Vols then began to take better care of the basketball and play more efficiently in the third and fourth quarters, which allowed them to build a lead.
There is more to learn for this team, which was most evident with back-to-back shot clock violations late in the fourth that kept the Rebels in the game. Warlick said that the team needs to go look at the tape and practice its zone offense.
Despite Thursday night’s mistakes, she seemed pleased and relieved with the result of a game that could have easily been detrimental to this team’s postseason aspirations.
Next up for the Lady Vols is a trip to Baton Rouge to take on LSU Sunday. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
Featured image by Wade Rackley
Edited by Cody McClure