Lady Vols steamroll Liberty, advance to second round

The No. 3 seed Lady Vols played a monumental second half to trounce 14th-seeded Liberty (24-10) by a score of 100-60 on Friday in Thompson-Boling Arena. Seven Tennessee players logged over 10 points in the win, the most the team tallied all season since its win over Troy three months ago. Freshman guard Rennia Davis led the Volunteers with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Tennessee seemingly couldn’t miss, as they shot an incredible 62 percent from the field and shot 4-of-12 from beyond-the-arc. The Lady Vols dominated the glass, as they outrebounded the Lady Flames by a 45-29 margin. The last time Liberty gave up 100 points was to Tennessee in 1998 in the same round of the NCAA Tournament.

Defense became the name of the game early for Tennessee, as they forced five turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game. However, the Lady Volunteers struggled to get things going on the offensive end until the end of the first quarter. A jumper from junior Cheridene Green started a 11-0 run for Tennessee as the Vols went up 20-10 after 10 minutes played.

Liberty cut down the score to just six points halfway through the second quarter, but Green once again started a run for Tennessee. Tennessee led 36-28 at the half. The Lady Vols thrived in the third quarter, as they outscored Liberty 38-20 and finished the second half shooting 24-of-30 from the field.

“We knew we had to pick it up in the second half and be more aggressive and our press definitely helped,” Vols senior forward Jaime Nared said. “It was really just about getting our tempo going and making buckets. That is something we had to adjust, and we did a great job in the second half.”

Tennessee went up 74-48 after three quarters of play. Meme Jackson hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the quarter. The Lady Vols defense held the Big South Conference Player of the Year, Lela Sellers, to just 13 points with 5-of-11 shooting in the game. The 64 second-half points from Tennessee is the ninth-most in program history.

“We handled it fairly well first half. The second half, the turnovers turned into touchdowns,” Lady Flames Head Coach Carey Green said. “They only missed six shots in the second half, and part of that is turning the ball over and they were getting run outs and layups off that.”

The nearly 62 percent shooting from the field from the Vols is the best in NCAA Tournament history and is the most from the Lady Vols since 1987.

“I thought we checked off all of those things we wanted to focus on. I’m really proud of our young ladies,” Tennessee Head Coach Holly Warlick said. “They played hard and we got a lot of people playing time. They did an outstanding job.”

Warlick and the Volunteers get back into action against No. 13 Oregon State on Sunday in Knoxville. Tennessee is 2-0 against the Beavers in the Warlick era, and 4-0 all-time against Oregon State.

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Edited by Lexie Little

 

No. 6 Lady Vols look to remain unbeaten against No. 17 Texas A&M

The No. 6 Tennessee Lady Vols (15-0, 3-0 SEC) travel to College Station to take on the No. 17 ranked Texas A&M Aggies (13-4, 2-1 SEC) on Wednesday night. This is the first game of a loaded four-game stretch the Lady Vols have coming up against ranked opponents. Following its contest against the Aggies, Tennessee faces No. 9 South Carolina, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 4 Mississippi State.

In their last game, the Volunteers were able to outlast the Vanderbilt Commodores after outscoring them 21-11 in the fourth quarter. Tennessee piggybacked senior center Mercedes Russell’s career-high 33 points and eight rebounds to an 86-73 win in Knoxville. However, Russell’s senior counterpart Jaime Nared struggled with 5-of-16 shooting from the field and just 15 points.

Redshirt junior Cheridene Green helped cleanup where Nared struggled, with a career-high 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. The main bright spot for Tennessee in the SEC win was the relatively small number of turnovers. In the previous two games, the Lady Vols registered over 20 turnovers, including 28 against Auburn. However, Tennessee was able to limit itself to just 14 turnovers against the Commodores, and force 21 turnovers on the other end.

Maybe the most impressive numbers were the Lady Vols 56 points in the paint and out-rebounding Vanderbilt 42-28. Still, freshman Evina Westbrook had a horrible night after combining for 52 points in the last three games. Westbrook shot just 1-of-10 from the field, but still logged five rebounds and five assists.

Although Texas A&M has four losses this season already, all four of them came against highly ranked opponents. The Aggies lost to No. 10 Oregon twice, No. 11 West Virginia and No. 4 South Carolina by two points. Texas A&M bounced back in conference play with back-to-back wins over Kentucky and Auburn.

In the Aggies last contest against the Auburn Tigers, they won 82-73 behind center Khaalia Hillsman’s 31 points and 10 rebounds. The guard duo of Danni Williams and Chennedy Carter combined for 38 points and 11 rebounds. Defense was the name of the game for Texas A&M against the Tigers, as they held Auburn to just 39 percent shooting from the field and 18 percent shooting from 3-point range.

The most concerning thing for the Aggies is the fact that their bench has scored just 13 points over the last three games. Texas A&M will need valuable contributions from the bench to keep up with the depth of Tennessee, and no points from the bench like they had against the Tigers won’t do.

The matchup between Hillsman and Russell in the paint will be huge to determine the outcome of this game. Also, the Lady Vols will need better guard play from Westbrook and Rennia Davis to keep up with Carter and the Aggies. Texas A&M heavily relies on Carter to produce points, so if Tennessee is able to shut her down, they may have it in the bag.

Edited by Ben McKee

Featured image courtesy of UT Sports

Dominant fourth quarter propels No. 7 Tennessee past Vanderbilt

No. 7 Tennessee (15-0, 3-0 SEC) defeated Vanderbilt 86-73 on Sunday afternoon thanks to a dominating fourth quarter performance by the Lady Vols defense. Dating back to last season, Tennessee has now won 11 straight games in Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Lady Vols and Commodores battled back-and-forth for three quarters, but Tennessee clamped down in the final frame, allowing Vanderbilt to score just 11 points.

“We turned our defense up the fourth quarter,” Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick said following the win. “Why we waited, I don’t know. When our backs were against the wall, we did some great things on defense that gave us a lot of energy.”

Junior guard Meme Jackson sparked the defensive performance, draining a three as the third quarter expired to give Tennessee a 65-62 lead. The 3-pointer capped off a 7-0 Lady Vol run to end the quarter.

Tennessee’s momentum continued over into the fourth quarter, as it started off the quarter on a 6-2 run, forcing Vanderbilt to call a timeout – trailing, 71-63. Warlick’s squad then turned up the intensity another notch.

The Lady Vols full-court press diminished Vanderbilt’s ability on offense following a 30-point third quarter for the Commodores. Tennessee forced eight turnovers in the fourth quarter to spark a 10-0 run in the closing minutes to close out the game.

Mercedes Russell led the way for the Lady Vols, scoring a career-high 33 points on 14-of-20 shooting. The senior also hauled in eight rebounds and blocked two shots. Russell has now scored ten or more points in every game this season and 20 or more points in four games.

Getting the ball inside to Russell was a huge key for the Lady Vols, as they knew they could exploit that matchup.

“The past few days in practice we really emphasized that we need to get a lot of paint points and post-touches,” Russell said following the game. “Our guards did a really good job of getting in the paint and hitting jump shots and attacking the basket.”

Redshirt junior Cheridene Green also had a career-game, scoring 17 points and grabbing five rebounds. Four of the London native’s rebounds were on the offensive glass.

“She is just an old school basketball player,” Warlick said of Green. “A blue collar worked that goes to work. She is going to get a rebound and doesn’t care who she has to run over to get it.”

As the Lady Vols were slacking in the third quarter, Green knew she had to come in and provide a spark. That’s what she focused on, and that’s exactly what she did.

“I told myself we just have to have energy,” Green said. “Basketball is really exciting for me. Sometimes I get a little too excited. I love watching the game and being involved. I’m always ready, no matter how many minutes I get. I’m always going to be ready to go in even if it’s just grabbing rebounds or talking or playing defense. I’m always ready and excited to play.”

Vanderbilt was able to keep pace with Tennessee due to the play of Cierra Walker and Christa Reed.

Walker exploded for 11 points in the first half on 3-of-3 shooting from three. She would go on to finish with 20 points and six assists on 6-of-8 from behind the 3-point line. Reed contributed 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting.

Tennessee jumped out to an early 8-0 lead to start the game, but would go on to shoot 39 percent in the first quarter. Vanderbilt would close out the first frame making five of its last seven shots to send the game into the second quarter tied at 16-all.

Vandy continued its hot-shooting from behind the three-point line, starting off the second quarter making back-to-back three’s. Tennessee tied the game twice in the frame and would go on a 10-0 run midway through the quarter to take a 37-32 lead into halftime.

The defense struggled in the third quarter for the Lady Vols, as they allowed Vanderbilt to score 30 points in the quarter. With the defense struggling, Tennessee was able to remain in the game by out-rebounding Vanderbilt. The Lady Vols out-rebounded the Commodores 42-28 while also scoring 56 points in the paint.

Tennessee now turns its attention to a brutal four-game stretch – three of which are on the road. The Lady Vols will travel to No. 19 Texas A&M next Thursday, before heading to Columbia next Sunday to take on No. 4 South Carolina. They’ll then travel to South Bend on Jan. 18 to take on No. 2 Notre Dame before returning home on Jan. 21 to take on No. 5 Mississippi State.

With a big challenge ahead, Warlick and her players know improvements need to be made. The Lady Vols turned it over 14 times on Sunday and allowed Vanderbilt too many good looks on offense. That’s where Warlick wants to see the improvement going forward.

“They understand. The defense is going to be key for us,” Warlick said. “You can’t give up ten threes, and you can’t send people to the free-throw line. You have to be mindful of who you’re guarding and how we need to defend individuals.”

Now 15-0, the Lady Vols face a stretch that will provide fans with a better picture of what this team is. Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White has her own idea of how good Tennessee can be.

“This is a team that can compete for a national championship,” White said following the game. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics