NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After dropping three of their last four regular season games, the No. 18 Lady Vols (23-7, 12-5 SEC) responded with a 74-59 win over Alabama (19-13, 8-11 SEC) in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday.
The win over the Crimson Tide was crucial in advancing Tennessee to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, but it also comes as revenge after the Lady Vols fell to Alabama to begin their end-of-season slide.
In that matchup, Tennessee got out to a slow start that they could never overcome in their 74-64 loss in Tuscaloosa. On top of the sluggish offense, Alabama had an offensive explosion from guards Megan Abrams and Brittany Davis. The duo finished the night with a combined 50 points on 58.6% field goal shooting.
Both of these issues were amended in the Lady Vols’ battle with Alabama on Friday. Tennessee got out to a strong start, leading by as many as 18 points in the first half. This came off the back of a monster performance from Alexus Dye.
Dye finished the first half just shy of a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds. She also showcased a strong ability to reel in offensive rebounds totaling five in the half. This led to easy put-back buckets to stretch Tennessee’s lead.
“I thought Alexus Dye’s production on the boards especially and her offensive play to start the game really sparked us, really energized us and gave us some confidence there,” said Tennessee coach Kellie Harper. “I think you could see we were going to start the game pretty aggressive and, you know, she was a big part of that.”
Dye would finish the night with 16 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
On top of this offensive production, Tennessee turned it up on the defensive end. The biggest test on this side of the ball was stopping Abrams and Davis. This challenge was met with a phenomenal defensive effort.
The pair were held to a combined 23 points on a sloppy 26.9% shooting from the field and 9.1% shooting from behind the arch.
Spearheading Tennessee’s stifling defense was Rae Burrell. Burrell got the assignment of guarding Davis where she excelled. After coming off of a 26 point performance the night before, Davis was held to a mere 4 points in 35 minutes of play.
“I mean, I knew what (Davis’) strengths were, so my goal was just to lock up what she’s good at,” said Burrell. “So shooting a three, driving. Just making sure I’m there.”
Burrell did more than just shut down the Alabama offense, though. She also totaled 21 points to lead the game in scoring. A key to her offensive production was her ability to get her jump shot to fall. A bulk of her points came on an effective 3-for-5 shooting from deep.
However, scoring was just the beginning of her offensive impact. With starting point guard Jordan Walker forced to sit most of the game due to foul trouble, Burrell became a sort of de facto point guard dishing out seven assists.
She was not the only one moving the ball well, though, as the team finished with 17 assists on 26 made shots.
“We knew that the ball movement was going to be important in this game,” said Harper. “We needed to try to find ways to get the ball inside. You know, could have had a few more touches there. But thought we did a nice job of sharing the ball.”
Next up for Tennessee is a meeting with Kentucky. The winner between the Lady Vols and Wildcats will take on the winner of South Carolina and Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament title game.
The game will air on ESPNU and tip-off at approximately 6:30 CT at Bridgestone Arena.
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