In its first action of the season, No. 14 Tennessee defeated Carson-Newman 121-76 in exhibition play on Tuesday night.
“I thought we had a great experience for our freshmen and team together,” said Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick following the win over the Eagles.
Veterans Jamie Nared and Mercedes Russell made their normal contributions, but Tennessee’s highly-touted No. 1 overall ranked recruiting class helped carry the load in a big way.
Rennia Davis, the former No. 12 overall player in the country, picked up a double-double in her debut to lead the Lady Vols. Davis dropped 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field to go along with 13 rebounds and three steals.
Davis wasn’t the only freshman to impress, as guards Anastasia Hayes and Evina Westbrook combined to score 36 points on 17-of-23 shooting in their first action donning the orange-and-white.
Westbrook, the former No. 2 overall player in the country, was all over the place for the Lady Vols. She finished with 17 points, six rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks.
Hayes was nearly perfect from the field, as she was 9-of-10 shooting. The middle Tennessee native added three assists and three steals to go along with her 19 points.
“They showed what they can bring to our team that we see every day,” Nared said of the play of the two freshmen point guards. “I think their potential is limitless. It’s just a matter of what they do with it.”
Tennessee led from start-to-finish in front of the Thompson-Boling Arena crowd. Led by Nared’s eight first quarter points, the Lady Vols jumped out to an 11-4 lead over the Eagles. Tennessee would shoot 63% from the field, as Tennessee built a 27-20 first quarter lead.
Carson-Newman would make things interesting to start the second quarter though. The Eagles went on a 10-0 run to cut the Tennessee lead to 33-29 with 5:28 to go in the half. Nared would knock down a floater in the paint to stop the run, and the Lady Vols would then go on to build a 52-42 lead to take into intermission.
Tennessee didn’t look back as the third quarter began. The Lady Vols started off the second half on a 10-3 run to take a 62-45 lead, and would then close out the third quarter on a 16-2 run that gave Tennessee an 89-56 lead at the end of three quarters.
The Lady Vols would score 69 points in the second half to blow past the Eagles and pick up their first win of the season.
As the leaders of the team, Nared and Russell started their senior campaign off on the right foot Nared finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, while Russell added 14 points and four rebounds.
Tennessee’s defense was all that great against the Eagles, but Warlick knows her team has the ability to be a really good defensive team. After some halftime adjustments, the Lady Vols defense looked much better than it did in the first half.
“We straightened that out a little bit,” Warlick said. “We can really be a very good defensive team, and we had spurts of that tonight, so we are going to continue to work on it and practice. We are going to get better. We are going to be a very good defensive team.”
While the trio of Westbrook, Davis and Hayes shined in their debuts, the final piece to the glamorous freshmen class did as well.
Kasiyahna Kushkituah picked up a double-double in her first action as a Lady Vol. The imposing paint presence scored 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting while hauling in 10 rebounds. Kushkituah also blocked three shots.
“They are great competitors,” Warlick said of her freshmen. “Once they settled in, I thought they did some good things.”
Tuesday night’s exhibition is the only one on the schedule for the Lady Vols. Tennessee will face East Tennessee State on Sunday afternoon to begin the regular season. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. ET in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Feature image courtesy of UT Sports