The No. 20 Tennessee Lady Vols (12-3, 6-1 SEC) beat the Florida Gators (9-8, 2-7 SEC) 79-65 in Tennessee’s last game of their four-game homestand.
The Lady Vols struggled out of the gate down seven only three minutes into the game as a part of a 9-0 Florida run. Tennessee would turn it around, though, fighting back to finish the quarter down just 21-19.
Tamari Key and Rae Burrell were instrumental in the comeback scoring eight and six points respectively. Key would go on to have the best game of her college career when recording a triple-double with a career-high 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks. This is just the fourth triple-double from a Lady Vols player in school history.
“It’s exciting. I’m speechless, honestly. There are so many great people who have played here, and to be one of the four people to have a triple-double is—I’m at a loss for words right now,” Key said.
Burrell also had a great night ending with 21 points and nine rebounds.
Tennessee rode the momentum into the second quarter and pulled ahead to a 27-23 lead off the back of an 8-0 run with just under six minutes left. The Lady Vols kept their foot on the gas going up by as much as nine in the quarter after an 11-2 run. They would finish the half up 38-31 after outscoring the Gators by nine in the quarter.
Senior Kasi Kushkituah led the way for Tennessee in the quarter scoring six points. Kushkituah entered the starting lineup for the first time this season after replacing freshman Marta Suarez who was inactive due to a right foot injury that held her out of most of the last game, too. Kushkituah finished the game with eight points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
“Kasi (Kushkituah) has played well. I think she’s been solid. Her defense has been really strong, as well as her putting up good numbers on the offensive end. I feel very confident having her out there to start the game. Obviously, not having Marta (Suárez) out there changed our lineup. When we knew Marta was not going to play, we had no worries about putting Kasi in the lineup,” Coach Kellie Harper said.
Injuries have been an issue for this Lady Vols team. They entered the game with only 10 active players on the roster and were forced to play all but one of them in the first half. Jordan Horston also battled with a back injury throughout the game but she fought through it and still played 26 minutes.
Tennessee continued to play well in the third quarter extending their lead to as much as 13 with half the quarter left. The Gators fought back ending the quarter on a 13-4 run leaving the score at 58-54.
Florida continued to hang around in the game because of the fantastic play from Kiara Smith and Lavender Briggs. Both players finished the game with 23 points and Smith added on 10 rebounds and five assists, while Briggs added nine rebounds, as well. The fourth quarter was a different story as the Lady Vols shut down Smith and Briggs holding them to only a combined 2 points in the quarter.
“Defensively, we weren’t getting up enough, so they were able to hit shots. We just had to make sure that we were getting more pressure, talking more, and just not letting them take easy shots,” Burrell said.
Tennessee started the final quarter by letting Florida chip away three points of their lead. The Lady Vols quickly found a rhythm and catapulted to a 70-59 lead off of a 10-0 run with three and a half minutes left. From there, the Gators were only able to make two more threes pointers, leaving the door open for Tennessee to coast to a 14-point victory.
Tennessee now stares down a daunting six-game stretch that involves playing five ranked teams with four of the games on the road. They will be in action next on Feb. 4 when they travel to Mississippi State to take on the No. 21 Bulldogs. The game airs on SECN+ and tips at 8 p.m. TNJN will have coverage after the game.
Edited by Gracie-Lee Strange and Maddie Torres
Featured image courtesy of Lady Vol Basketball Twitter (@LadyVol_Hoops)