The Tennessee Lady Vols put together a strong regular season, finishing fourth in the SEC and No. 14 in the AP Poll. This all comes after they began the season predicted to finish sixth in the SEC and unranked in the AP Poll. They were even able to fight their way to the SEC Tournament Semi-Finals and secure a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
SEC Tournament Quarter-Finals
Tennessee was able to skip the first two rounds of the SEC Tournament after finishing the regular season fourth in the SEC. The Lady Vols appeared to be on a collision course with Arkansas, who Tennessee previously defeated, but Ole Miss pulled off the upset over the Razorbacks to advance to the quarter-finals. In Tennessee’s last matchup with Ole Miss, the Lady Vols were only able to squeak out a 68-67 win.
Tennessee looked to put away Ole Miss early this time. After one quarter, the Lady Vols held a 24-16 lead before they began to stumble. Ole Miss took advantage of Tennessee’s lack of offensive success and outscored the Lady Vols by 12 in the second quarter to take a 41-37 lead into halftime.
The second half began with back and forth baskets from the two teams, but Ole Miss came out on top, leading by eight at the end of the third quarter. However, Tennessee retook control of the game after beginning the final frame on an 8-0 run to tie the score. Ole Miss struggled on both sides of the ball in the final quarter, as Tennessee could only put up 15 points while giving up 28 points in the period. The Lady Vols ended up pulling the game out to win 77-72.
Leading the way for the Lady Vols was Rennia Davis. Davis scored 33 points in a double-double performance that included 14 rebounds. Rae Burrell also contributed, scoring 18 points and logging seven rebounds. Jordan Horston played her role well, putting up a team-high five assists to go along with her 12 points.
SEC Tournament Semi-Finals
Tennessee’s win over Ole Miss was rewarded with a match-up against the South Carolina Gamecocks. The last time the two teams met, the Lady Vols were able to end the Gamecock’s 31-game SEC win streak with a home victory. They were not as fortunate this time.
The game was close at first with the score knotted at eight with five minutes left in the opening quarter. The tide quickly changed, though, as South Carolina zoomed to a 21-5 run to close out the frame. Tennessee was only able to get two points back in the second quarter and trailed 39-25 at halftime.
The second half was more of the same story as the Lady Vols were unable to make any meaningful cuts to the Gamecock lead. South Carolina stars Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson combined for 45 of the team’s 67 points as Tennessee fell 67-52.
Neither Davis nor Burrell could get it going on offense, as they both finished the game with just nine points. Instead, Horston and Jordan Walker led Tennessee in scoring with 11 points each.
NCAA Tournament Selection
After being eliminated from the SEC Tournament, the Lady Vols waited over a week to hear who they would play in the NCAA Tournament. On Monday, the bracket was revealed and the Lady Vols’ unexcpectadly strong season was rewarded with the No. 3 seed in the River Walk Region of the tournament.
Their first matchup is against in-state rival Middle Tennessee State on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Blue Raiders are led by former Lady Vol Anastasia Hayes, who led the country in scoring this season with 26.5 points per game. Hayes transferred out of Tennessee after she was dismissed from the team her freshman year. She has now led Middle Tennessee State to its first C-USA Championship since 2016.
“It is what it is. (Hayes) is a good player, but at the end of the day, I don’t really care who we are playing against,” said Davis on playing her former teammate. “We made the tournament, and I am excited about the seed that we have. I’m excited about the path, although it’s a tough path, I’m excited about our road to the championship game. I’m just excited to be in the tournament.”
If the Lady Vols are able to win this game, they will face the winner of Michigan and Florida Golf Coast. Other notable teams in Tennessee’s region are No. 1 seed UConn, No. 2 seed Baylor and No. 4 seed Kentucky. The Lady Vols are 1-2 against teams in their region this season.
For Tennessee, this continues their streak of never missing a Women’s NCAA Tournament and marks their 39th straight appearance. This is the longest streak in college basketball, with the next closest being Stanford’s women’s team at 33 straight appearances. The closest men’s team is Kansas at 31.
Edited by Christian Knox
Featured image courtesy of Lady Vol Basketball Twitter (@LadyVol_Hoops)