The No. 25 Tennessee Lady Vols (10-3, 4-1 SEC) defeated the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats (11-4, 4-3 SEC) 70-53 in a blowout win at home on Sunday.
Battles between Tennessee and Kentucky in any sport are often hard-fought, but in this case, there is also a friendly rivalry being played for. Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper and Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy are former teammates from their time playing on Rocky Top together for Pat Summitt. The two won a pair of national championships together in their mutual time as Lady Vols.
“Kellie has done a great job at Tennessee. We all have sisterhood and love for each other, and when we are not playing with each other, we do root for each other.” Elzy said on how special it is to be back in Knoxville with Harper.
“I know that Coach Summitt is smiling down to have four head coaches in the SEC representative from Tennessee, and then all the assistant coaches that are in the business. We are everywhere, so the sisterhood and the legacy of Coach Summitt continues.”
The Lady Vols opened up the game with a Rae Burrell free throw but then gave up a three-pointer on the other end to go down 3-1. However, this was followed by an 11-0 run for Tennessee with baskets from Marta Suarez, Rennia Davis and Tamari Key. Tennessee would carry this momentum throughout the rest of the first quarter and finish the period with an 18-12 lead.
Leading Tennessee in the quarter was Davis with seven points and six rebounds. The senior would go on to finish the game with 15 points and a career-high 20 rebounds. Davis’ 20 rebounds were just five rebounds shy of the Wildcats’ 25 rebounds as a team during the game.
“I think rebounding is similar to defense, it’s just kind of a mindset. When you crash and go get the ball, it pretty much comes to you. It’s just about effort in that area, in my opinion. Tonight, I just gave a little more effort in that area,” Davis said.
The second quarter was filled with good defensive performances from both sides as only 19 points were scored. Throughout the first four and a half minutes, though, Kentucky stormed back on a 6-0 run to tie the game. However, Tennessee made a 7-0 run of their own to reclaim the lead. They would end up holding on to a 27-22 advantage heading into halftime.
Burrell shined in the second quarter, scoring all but two of Tennessee’s nine points. The junior has been the top scorer for the Lady Vols this season, averaging 16.5 points per game thus far. Tonight, she finished with 13 points to go along with seven rebounds and an assist.
The third quarter began with six straight points from Key to give the Lady Vols an 11 point lead. The two teams would then trade scores, but with three and a half minutes left, Tennessee surged to an 8-0 run to finish out the quarter. The Lady Vols went into the final quarter with an 18-point, 49-31 lead.
The Lady Vols opened up the fourth quarter on a 9-1 run to extend their lead to the largest of the game at 26 points. Tennessee did not look back from there as they emptied their bench and coasted to a 70-53 win.
Key had one of the best games of her young college career as she scored a career-high 19 points on an efficient 8-for-10 shooting from the field and 3-for-4 shooting from the line. She also finished with four rebounds and two blocks.
Throughout the game, the Lady Vols’ suffocating defense held star Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard to 14 points on 3-for-16 shooting from the field. Howard has a long list of accolades, including SEC Player of the Year by league coaches (2020) and Associated Press First-Team All-America (2020), but she and her Wildcat teammates could not get much going against the Tennessee defense.
“Tonight, I thought we won on the defensive end,” Harper said. “Our focus was excellent. Our execution of the gameplan was really solid. Our staff did a really good job of preparing our team. I’m very pleased with this one.”
Sophomore Jordan Horston was a key contributor to the Tennessee defense. She did not score any points until there were 40 seconds left in the game but she made up for it with punishing defense and a game-high seven assists.
Tennessee will be in action next on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. when they take on Ole Miss at home. The game will air on SECN+. TNJN will have coverage following the game.
Edited by Maddie Torres and Christian Knox
Featured image courtesy of Lady Vol Basketball Twitter (@LadyVol_Hoops)