With No. 3 seed Tennessee’s 74-59 win over Alabama on Friday, they secured a spot in the semifinal of the SEC Tournament against the No. 7 seed Kentucky on Saturday.
Tennessee’s Last Appearance
Rae Burrell led the Lady Vols in scoring in their quarterfinals matchup with the Crimson Tide. She finished the night with 21 points and seven assists to lead the offense. Alexus Dye also helped carry the load with her double-double performance of 16 points and 14 rebounds.
This led Tennessee to an early advantage that was not surrendered. The Lady Vols never trailed in the game as they ran away with the win. Helping keep Alabama at bay was a tough defensive effort that gave up a limited amount of easy looks. This included holding the Tide’s leading scorer on the year Brittany Davis to just four points.
Kentucky’s Last Appearance
Kentucky found itself in a matchup with a top-10 LSU squad in their quarterfinals appearance. The Wildcats did not let that phase them as they cruised to the 78-63 upset victory. This also came after taking down Mississippi State 83-67 the day before in their opening round. This cements Kentucky as possibly the hottest team in the SEC after winning eight-straight games heading into Saturday.
Leading Kentucky is highly touted WNBA prospect, Rhyne Howard. This potential was on display against the Tigers as she scored 32 points on 11-for-18 shooting along with three rebounds and three assists. Her ability to stretch the floor is possibly the most impressive aspect of her offensive game. She shot 6-for-8 from deep against LSU.
Helping her out offensively was Treasure Hunt and Dre’una Edwards. Both players totaled 13 points against the Tigers. Jazmine Massengill also moved the ball well for eight assists.
Tennessee vs. Kentucky This Season
In the Lady Vols’ last meeting with the Wildcats, Tennessee fell to an early 17-11 deficit at the end of the first quarter. However, it was all Tennessee going forward as they outscored Kentucky by 32 in the final three frames en route to an 84-58 win.
It was a team effort from the Lady Vols on the offensive side of the ball with six players scoring nine or more points. Burrell and Keyen Green led the scoring barrage with 14 points, each. Both teams shot just over 43% from the field but the difference maker was Tennessee’s three-point assault. They shot 10-for-20 from deep compared to Kentucky’s 4-for-18.
Kentucky’s offense was led by Howard. Despite the loss, she was able to score 24 points on 11-for-21 shooting. Former Lady Vol Massengill also had an efficient night with 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting. However, outside of Howard and Massengill, the Wildcat offense struggled to find consistent scoring.
Matchup to Watch
If Tennessee wants to win on Saturday, they will need to reduce Howard’s offensive production. It is nearly impossible to completely shut down Howard but the Lady Vols cannot let her have as big a night as she did against LSU.
The key to shutting her down will be moments where freshmen Brooklynn Miles and Kaiya Wynn come off the bench. The two quick guards are fantastic at applying ball pressure which could disrupt Howard’s shot-making ability. Kellie Harper also likes to full-court press with her speedsters on the floor in order to force turnovers. This strategy was deployed against Alabama and could be used again against Kentucky.
After Burrell received the assignment of guarding Davis in the game against Alabama, it is likely that she will also take on the challenge of guarding Howard on Saturday.
After both teams coasted to victory in the quarterfinals, they will find themselves in a down to the wire game in the semifinals. However, the offense of Rae Burrell and Tennessee’s top-to-bottom defense will put them over the top in a 63-56 win.
Howard will score over 20 points but will struggle with efficiency against the Lady Vols’ defense. The Wildcats will not be able to find consistent offense outside of Howard as they struggle in the few minutes where she is off of the floor. After playing three games in as many days, fatigue will begin to become a factor.
For Tennessee, Dye will continue her hot play and finish with a near double-double. The Lady Vols will also look to exploit Tamari Key’s height advantage in the paint and get her going offensively.
How to Watch
The game will tip-off at approximately 6:30 CT and will air on ESPNU. It is being played in Nashville, Tenn. at Bridgestone Arena as a part of the SEC Tournament that will conclude with a championship game on Sunday.
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