As the buzzer rang marking the end of the first half, the Lady Vols trailed by nine to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Though not in an ideal situation, Tennessee came out composed in the second half. The Lady Vols surged on a 15-7 run to open up the third quarter, cutting the lead to just three.
After trading baskets to end the quarter, Tennessee still found itself behind five points entering the final frame. However, the Lady Vols continued to play well and quickly took the lead with 7:46 remaining. This marked the first time Arkansas trailed all game.
This impressive play continued as the two teams battled down the stretch. Ultimately, the No. 7 Lady Vols (19-2, 8-1 SEC) squeaked out an 86-83 overtime win over the Razorbacks (14-7, 4-4 SEC) to get back in the winning column after falling to Auburn on Thursday.
A reason Tennessee was able to stay calm even while under a large deficit is the Lady Vols’ experience in these situations. After all, the Lady Vols were 5-1 in games when trailing at the end of the third quarter heading into the matchup. This includes impressive wins over USF, Texas, Virginia Tech and their previous meeting with Arkansas.
“I think we have some toughness in us,” said Tennessee coach Kellie Harper. “I think it came out early in the season when we had to compete and really scrap and claw to get wins. It gave us confidence that we could continue to do that.”
Freshman forward Sara Puckett was a key part of the comeback over the Razorbacks. She played big minutes down the stretch and finished with a double-double on 10 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocks. She attributes this ability to play from behind to the team’s chemistry.
“I think it’s just us being able to trust in each other and know that we’re going to have each other’s backs,” said Puckett. “Throughout the whole game but definitely down the stretch, we can count on each other to make big plays.”
The connection between two specific players on the team was especially crucial down as the game winded down.
In the final minutes of regulation and throughout overtime, Jordan Horston and Tamari Key ran the pick-and-roll. Whether it resulted in a touch in the paint for Key or a jump shot for Horston, this was the go-to offense.
This created open shots for both players in big moments. It was even the play call on Tennessee’s final two possessions of regulation. The strategy proved effective as the Lady Vols surmounted their deficit and came out on top.
“I feel like our relationship helps us on the court because we can say the hard things to each other and know that it’s out of love,” said Horston on her relationship with Key. “We want to play hard for each other and that’s just one through 12. We all want to play hard for each other. We all trust each other.”
This connection will next be on display on Thursday as the Lady Vols travel to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators. Tip-off is at 6 p.m. and will air on SECN+.
Photo Courtesy of Emma Andrus of Tennessee Athletics
Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a junior 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 email@example.com