Holly Warlick never asked for one of her players outside the team’s “Big Three” to double their scoring average.
She only requires that the role players step up when one of the “Big Three” — Diamond DeShields, Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared — are struggling. That didn’t happen in Sunday’s double-overtime loss to Georgia, and it hasn’t happened with much consistency throughout the course of the season, either.
On Thursday, the scoring trio again paved the way for Tennessee’s offense, but the contribution of the other five players catapulted Tennessee (16-8, 7-4 SEC) to a crucial 77-66 victory over Missouri (16-9, 6-5 SEC) in Knoxville.
“It was good for us because we know that we needed to step up,” Nared said after the win. “… you just saw different players step up.
Against the Bulldogs on Sunday, DeShields and Russell combined to score 58 of the Lady Vols’ 78 points. Only four days later, the rest of the orange and white lightened the load — Tennessee didn’t have a player reach double digits in scoring until midway through the third quarter. Overall, the Lady Vols had four players score at least ten points.
Initially, it appeared Tennessee would have to rely on the DeShields-Nared-Russell show again after Missouri grabbed a 23-17 second-quarter lead. However, DeShields responded with a pair of slick crossovers that led a smooth layup and later delivered a perfect half-court pass to a streaking Russell for an easy layup.
From that point forward, each member of Tennessee’s limited rotation found ways to contribute, especially Jordan Reynolds, who attacked offensively like she rarely has all season.
“I’m extremely proud of Jordan,” head coach Holly Warlick said. “Overall, she ran her basketball team. She got everybody where they needed to go. There wasn’t any confusion … she was a great leader for us and we need that all the time.
Reynolds’ eight assists orchestrated a Lady Vol offense that shot 52 percent from the field and a staggering 53 percent from beyond the arc. The senior also added ten points, five coming on back-to-back baskets in the fourth quarter to break a 54-54 tie and send Tennessee toward a double-digit victory.
“I’m just trying to help these guys,” Reynolds said of DeShields, Russell and Nared. “(Scoring) can sometimes be a burden for them. If the rest of us step up and hit shots, it helps them out a lot.”
Alexa Middleton started in place of Meme Jackson, who had started the previous 18 games for Tennessee. Middleton’s season has been marred by inconsistent play in conference games, but she found her SEC footing on Thursday, scoring six points and dishing out four assists.
Tennessee squares off against Texas A&M (18-6, 8-3 SEC) on Sunday in another critical SEC matchup. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised on ESPNU.
Edited by Nathan Odom
Feature image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics