Coming off the heels of a victory at Texas A&M, the Lady Vols returned to action Thursday night to take on a hungry Arkansas Lady Razorbacks squad. In front of a rowdy Thompson-Boling Arena, Tennessee embarked on an adventure of two halves before finally claiming a 70-60 victory.
Desperate for a conference win, the Lady Razorbacks came out swinging. The lead changed hands five times throughout the first 7 minutes of the game, but then Arkansas began to fire on all cylinders. They also forced the Lady Vols into several turnovers. After a Keira Peak layup, Arkansas had taken a commanding 30-22 lead and it looked as if Tennessee was in trouble on their home floor.
A timeout from Coach Holly Warlick led to a personnel change, as Mercedes Russell checked into the game. She scored back-to-back buckets to cut the Arkansas lead to four, and Tennessee was right back in it.
Thompson-Boling began to erupt as the Lady Vols clawed back into the game, and with twelve seconds to play, a Jordan Reynolds three-pointer gave Tennessee their first lead since the 14:22 mark. The Lady Vols led 38-36 at halftime.
In the first half, Arkansas made 57% of their shots, but they were getting outscored heavily in the paint. Although the Lady Razorbacks had an edge in rebounding, they were unable to capitalize. Tennessee’s inside scoring proved to be a difference in the game.
As the second half began, the game remained close for a while. Tennessee held on to the lead, but they were unable to extend it until the 8:46 mark when Cierra Burdick buried a three point shot to put the Lady Vols up 7. At 6:04, another three-pointer (this time from Meighan Simmons) did even more damage as Tennessee claimed an 11 point lead.
Arkansas made a run to cut into the lead, but another three-pointer from Simmons at the 4:17 mark, and one from Burdick at 3:46 put the nail in the coffin for the Lady Razorbacks. Tennessee hit free throws late to ice down a 70-60 win over Arkansas.
Simmons and Burdick both came up big for Tennessee, as they finished with 16 points each to lead the Lady Vols in scoring. Isabelle Harrison added 12 points, with another 10 coming from Andraya Carter. Bashaara Graves had four points. Mercedes Russell and Jordan Reynolds were effective off the bench, combining for an additional 12 points.
Cierra Burdick said “I’m just trying to have fun. At the beginning of the season, I feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself. I kind of lost sight of what I was doing and I got back to having fun,” when asked about her career-high in scoring.
For Arkansas, Jessica Jackson led the way with 16 points. Jhasmin Bowen, Calli Berna, and Peak also finished in double-digits. Freshman Mckenzie Adams added five, with four coming from Melissa Wolff. Kelsey Brooks had two points.
Surprisingly, the Lady Razorbacks out-rebounded the Lady Vols 31-24. Arkansas head coach Tom Collen said after the game, “If you would have told me we were going to come in and out-rebound them I would have told you we were going to walk away with a victory if we shot the ball well.”
Bowen led the way for Arkansas in rebounding, with 8. Tennessee’s Burdick had seven rebounds.
Although the rebounding edge for Arkansas was surprising, the real difference was in second half scoring. Tennessee shot 64% in the first half, and 60% in the second half. After shooting 57% in the first half, the Lady Razorbacks shot only 31% in the second half for 24 points.
The shooting slump for the Lady Razorbacks may have been due in part to Tennessee’s man defense.
“We decided to guard the basketball. I thought Jasmine Jones coming in and setting the tone on the point guard was huge for us. We just had a totally different mindset from the first half to the second half,” said Warlick when asked about playing man defense.
Jasmine Jones went down late in the game for Tennessee, holding her back. She was able to walk to the bench with assistance. When asked about the injury, Warlick said “I think she pulled a muscle or something. As she was walking off, she was smiling so I assume she’s going to be ok.”
Warlick also mentioned that Ariel Massengale is “day-to-day” after missing last night’s game.
Solid defense and hot shooting proved to be the difference for the Lady Vols in a tale of two halves. With their win over the Lady Razorbacks, Tennessee improved to 17-4 (6-2) on the season. Arkansas fell to 15-6 (2-6). Tennessee also extended the all-time series lead over Arkansas, 25-2.
The Lady Vols will travel to Tuscaloosa in their next game to take on Alabama. The start time is set for 4:30 p.m. on February 2nd and will be televised on ESPNU.
Edited by Will Lomas
Sports Editor, Cody McClure, has been with TNJN since January 2014. He is passionate about SEC football and basketball. To him, there's nothing better in life than game day in Neyland Stadium. Cody covers the SEC for Athlon Sports. Additionally, he co-hosts Rock Solid Sports for WUTK 90.3 FM on Fridays from 7-8 p.m. ET. Cody is also interning at Sports Radio WNML working under Jimmy Hyams. In his spare time, he plays golf, travels the country, and plays guitar, badly. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.