June 16, 2024

Takeaways from No. 6 Tennessee’s loss to No. 3 Mississippi State

No. 6 Tennessee fell to No. 3 South Carolina on Sunday afternoon in the seventh annual “We Back Pat” game. Here’s what you need to takeaway from the loss.

Sunday’s “We Back Pat” game brought a wonderful atmosphere to Thomson-Boling Arena, but the Lady Vols weren’t able to capitalize. No. 6 Tennessee trailed No. 3 Mississippi State for most of the contest, ultimately losing 71-52. The loss wraps up a brutal four-game stretch in which the Lady Vols went 1-3.

This is what you need to take away from Tennessee’s embarrassing loss to Mississippi State as the Lady Vols dropped to 16-3 on the season and 4-2 in SEC play.

Mercedes Russell needs help and more touches.

Russell was the lone Lady Vol to have a nice outing against Mississippi State on Sunday afternoon. The senior center finished with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field while also hauling in four rebounds.

Unfortunately, no other Lady Vols contributed. Fellow senior Jaime Nared was 3-fo-14 from the field for just 12 points. Nared wasn’t the only Lady Vol to struggle from the field though, as Meme Jackson was 1-for-10, Rennia Davis was 3-of-10 and Evina Westbrook was 3-for-7.

Not only did the Lady Vols struggle shooting the basketball, but they failed to get the ball to Russell throughout the game. 12 of Russell’s 16 points came in the opening minutes of the first and second quarter. The minutes in between, it was as if Russell wasn’t on the team.

This has been a constant theme this season, especially over the last four games in which the Lady Vols are 1-3. Few can guard Russell, and Tennessee needs to make it a priority to get her the ball going forward. But not only does it need to make getting Russell more touches a priority, her talented teammates are going to need to step up down the stretch to take pressure off the 6-foot-6 center.

Lady Vols brutal four-game stretch highlights weaknesses.

Two weeks ago, Tennessee was sitting pretty. It was ranked No. 6 in the country and a perfect 15-0 on the season after a 3-0 start in conference play.

Then, Tennessee traveled to College Station and lost to No. 17 Texas A&M 79-76 in overtime. The Lady Vols then traveled to No. 9 South Carolina and beat the Gamecocks 86-70. Tennessee followed up the win over the defending national champions with an embarrassing loss to No. 5 Notre Dame before returning home to take another loss to Mississippi State.

Now, the Lady Vols are 16-3 and 4-2 in SEC play, with a drop in the AP poll Monday afternoon. While just about any program in the country would welcome a 16-3 record and top 15 team, it does feel as if Tennessee was a bit exposed during its brutal four-game stretch.

“We need to get in the gym and practice,” Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said when asked about what she learned about her team during the stretch of games. “We have to clean up some things. We have to value the basketball. That goes both ways – on offense as far as the turnovers, and the shot selection, and we have to really commit to defense.”

Warlick is right. Tennessee has to clean up the turnovers as they have become a glaring issue with this year’s team. Turnovers are the sole reason the Lady Vols lost to both Texas A&M and Notre Dame. Against the Aggies, Tennessee turned over the ball 16 times. Against the Fighting Irish, they turned it 28 times. That’s not championship level basketball, and it must be fixed.

Tennessee also needs someone to step up in the back end of the rotation. Right now, there are only six reliable players who will produce every night. Some nights it’s seven, depending on if Cheridene Green shows up.

Against Mississippi State this afternoon, the Lady Vols appeared to be worn down following the game. That can be attributed to Russell, Nared, Davis, Westbrook, Jackson and sometimes Anastasia Hayes, having to play north of 30 minutes a game. Warlick needs Green, Kortney Dunbar or Kasiyahna Kushkituah to step up and provide some relief.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

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