The No. 20 Tennessee Lady Vols (15-6, 9-4 SEC) capped off their regular season with an 88-54 win over the Auburn Tigers (5-18, 0-15 SEC).
The Lady Vols thanked their graduating players as a part of Senior Day traditions prior to the game. Rennia Davis, Kasi Kushkituah and Jaiden McCoy were all recognized in front of the crowd before tip-off. Davis and Kushkitua started the game but McCoy was unable to play due to an injury that has kept her out for most of the season.
“It is not an emotional day for me at all, because we have so much basketball left ahead of us,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper about Senior Day said. “If this were their last game, I would be a wreck right now, just to be quite honest with you. I love them, and I keep just telling myself we’re not at that point yet. I will shed tears at some point, just not yet.”
Tennessee came out firing in the first quarter, quickly taking a 17-8 lead. Multiple players shined in the period including Tamari Key, who logged six points, six rebounds and two blocks in the quarter. She finished the game with 10 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and four blocks. Jordan Horston also showed her incredible passing ability with a beautiful tap pass to Key for a layup. Horston would finish with 12 points and nine assists.
Davis also got out to an early start with four first quarter points. She was able to carry that momentum into an even better second quarter, though. The senior went on an 11-2 run of her own to open the quarter to give Tennessee a lead of 19 with five and a half minutes left. Going into the half, Davis had five rebounds and a game-high 15 points. She finished her Senior Day with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
“Senior Day just means so much. I thought I was going to be a little bit more emotional, but just thinking about this team, our potential, our ceiling and just how much more basketball we have left to play, I just didn’t allow myself to get down about today,” Davis said. “Obviously, I was sad about it being my last game in TBA, but I truly feel like this team has so much more basketball left to play. The fans here, the atmosphere and the culture that has been built here, everything has just been great. It was just a great ride.”
Harper emptied the bench in the quarter, as well. 10 of the active 11 players touched the floor by halftime. However, Tennessee struggled in this stretch and Auburn was able to cut the lead down to 31-21 going into the half.
Auburn opened the second half with a two-point jump shot to shave the deficit to eight. However, Rae Burrell responded with the first made three-pointer from either team. The Tigers were never able to get within single-digits again as Tennessee exploded to a 25-point quarter. Burrell would go on to score 10 points in the quarter and finish the game with 14 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Tennessee led 56-37 going into the final quarter but Kushkituah put the game even more out of reach. The senior opened the quarter scoring six straight unanswered points followed by a Horston three-pointer. Kushkituah scored 11 points in the quarter and finished her Senior Day with a career-high 19 points and eight rebounds.
“Everything about this day was beyond anything I’ve ever wanted. It was just a great day,” said Kushkituah. “They had my back throughout the entire game. I missed a couple free throws, and they told me I got it. They showed me how to adjust, and they just kept my head up high. We’ve continued to grow as a team.”
The Lady Vols emptied their bench once again as Davis and Kushkituah received applause and praise from the crowd during their final time checking out in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee won the game 88-54, securing the three seed in the SEC Tournament.
Tennessee will be in action next on Mar. 5 as a part of the SEC Tournament. This is the first time the Lady Vols have been seeded high enough to start the tournament on a Friday since 2015. TNJN will have coverage after the game.
Edited by Christian Knox
Featured image courtesy of Lady Vol Basketball Twitter (@LadyVol_Hoops)
Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media. Although he spent most of his life being raised outside of Philadelphia, he was born in Knoxville, and he is happy to be back home. Ryan has had a love for sports from an early age, and he found his love for writing in high school while taking journalism classes. He hopes to find a job involving both his passions as a sports journalist after graduation. To reach Ryan, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org