No. 12 Tennessee (18-4, 6-3 SEC) is back to its winning ways following a dominating fourth quarter performance against No. 14 Texas A&M (17-6, 6-3 SEC) on Thursday night, leading to an 82-67 win.
After allowing the Aggies to score 59 points through three quarters, the Lady Vols turned their defense up a notch and held Texas A&M to just eight points in the fourth quarter,.
“We had energy on the bench, on the staff, on the floor,” Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick said following the win. “I was really proud of us to battle and compete. I love the win.”
Tennessee entered the fourth quarter trailing 59-57, but quickly regained the lead. Rennia Davis and Jaime Nared hit back-to-back buckets to give the Lady Vols a 65-61 lead and wouldn’t relinquish it for the remainder of the game.
The Lady Vols would then go on a 15-2 run, pushing the lead to 80-65 following back-to-back three’s that would prove to be the dagger from Meme Jackson and Anastasia Hayes. Tennessee’s 25 fourth quarter points are the most Texas A&M has allowed in any quarter to an SEC opponent this season.
“I think our ball pressure throughout the game kind of wore them down,” Warlick said of her team’s fourth quarter performance. “We were causing them to turn it over and get late in the shot clock. That was our game plan. We wanted to run and press.”
Five Lady Vols reached double-figures on the evening. Nared led the way with 23 points on 6-of-11 shooting. The senior would also haul in six rebounds and pick up four assists in her eighth 20-point game of the season.
“I knew I had to be more aggressive and not settle for outside shots,” Nared said of her performance. “My teammates found me cutting.”
Tennessee center Mercedes Russell was a problem for the Aggies all evening. Matched up with Texas A&M’s Khaalia Hillsman, Russell would score 18 points and bring down 13 rebounds to pick up her 40th career double-double. Russell joins Chamique Holdsclaw (57) and Candace Parker (45) as the only three Lady Vols to record at least 40 double-doubles in their career.
“She is a pro,” Hillsman said of Russell. “Mercedes (Russell) played with a chip on her shoulder, and I saw that from the moment we tipped off. I knew it was going to be a hard game for me.”
Russell isn’t concerned with the records books though. She’s just happy the team played with the necessary energy to pick up a win over a talented basketball team.
“I think for the full 40 minutes, we played as hard as we could,” Russell said following the game. “From the tip to the end, and it was our defense that set us apart.”
Both teams were clicking on offense early on, going back-and-forth for most of the first half.
Tennessee led 23-21 at the end of the first quarter after shooting 50 percent from the field while the Aggies shot 59 percent. Rennia Davis and Nared both had seven points at the end of the frame to lead the way.
The offensive fireworks continued into the second quarter. Hayes would commit back-to-back turnovers that led to Aggie buckets, but Jackson would make up for the freshman’s mistakes by draining a three to give the Lady Vols a 26-25 lead.
Texas A&M would then continue its hot shooting to make six of its next eight shots to build a 35-32 lead.
After committing a pair of turnovers earlier in the quarter, Hayes redeemed herself by knocking down a three to tie the game at 41-41. The three was part of a 7-0 run by the Lady Vols to end the half, as Tennessee took a 43-41 lead into halftime.
The Aggies went on an early 5-0 run to begin the second half and regain the lead, but the offense for both teams would taper off. After both teams reached 20 points in the first and second quarter, A&M out-scored Tennessee 18-12 in the third quarter to take a two-point heading into the fourth.
Texas A&M was paced by Chennedy Carter and Jasmine Lumpkin. The pair combined to score 47 points on 21-of-39 shooting from the floor.
Hayes went on to have a big fourth quarter, scoring seven points and picking up two big steals to swing the momentum in Tennessee’s favor. The true freshman finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 from beyond the arc.
Davis finished with 11 points on the night while fellow freshman Evina Westbrook struggled from the floor. Westbrook was just 1-of-10, but she contributed in other ways, assisting on a team-high six baskets.
The Lady Vols will travel to Nashville for their next contest. Tennessee will look to sweep the season-series with Vanderbilt on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET after defeating the Commodores 86-73 on Jan. 7.
Edited by Seth Raborn
Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics