No. 15 Lady Vols look to get back on track in Gainesville

Florida (11-16, 3-11 SEC) plays host to the Lady Vols in Gainesville Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Tennessee won the last two meetings with the Gators, but the Lady Vols are currently on their first two-game losing streak in over a month. The Volunteers sit five games back from Mississippi State for the lead in the SEC, while Florida sits 11 games back.

Tennessee’s four-game winning streak finally snapped Feb. 15 in a 72-63 loss to Alabama in Knoxville. Just three days later, the Lady Vols fell to No. 13 Missouri 77-73. Tigers guard Sophie Cunningham exploded for 32 points.

Surprisingly, the Volunteers out-rebounded Missouri by a 30-28 margin and only committed 14 turnovers in the loss. Tennessee’s inability to get any other player than Jaime Nared or Mercedes Russell involved in the offense became problematic. Nared and Russell combined for 35 points, 14 rebounds and six steals, but no other players tallied over 10 points. The guard duo of Rennia Davis and Evina Westbrook combined for 18 points but shot just 5-of-16 from the field.

In the second quarter, the Lady Vols came back from a 13-point deficit and knotted the game up, but Cunningham proved too much for Tennessee. Tennessee held Missouri to just six points from the field in the final quarter, but the Tigers tallied 11 points from the free throw line.

“We got in foul trouble early and got down early,” Vols head coach Holly Warlick said. “As a coach, when you lose a game like this it’s really disappointing, but I’m really proud of our kids.”

After losing its first six games, Florida got back on track Sunday with a big 88-71 win over Vanderbilt. Despite committing 17 turnovers, the Gators out-rebounded the Commodores by a 48-29 margin and shot over 50 percent from the field to win. Four Florida players scored over 16 points Sunday, including a team-high 25 points from guard Funda Nakkasoglu.

Only one starter for Vanderbilt scored more than 10 points. Commodore Rachel Bell scored 22 points. The Gators forced Vanderbilt to shoot just 40 percent from the field and 7-of-28 from deep range on the night. Although they snapped the losing streak, Florida now has both a five-game and a six-game losing streak this season.

“Well first of all, I feel like it gives us confidence. Yeah, we lost two games and some really close games, but we bounce back every game,” Gators head coach Cameron Newbauer said. “It’s the confidence part that we can conquer, and we can beat a lot of really good teams.”

Tennessee may be able to dominate this match up at the post, but Florida has shown that they can control the paint as well. If the Lady Vols don’t see solid production from Russell and Nared, this game could be closer than expected.

Edited by Ben McKee 

Featured image courtesy of Channing Curtis

Takeaways from No. 11 Lady Vols’ loss to Missouri

The Lady Vols (21-6, 9-5 SEC) dropped a second consecutive contest Sunday afternoon to No. 13 Missouri (22-5, 10-4 SEC). This matchup marked the second time Tennessee has lost to the Tigers in the history of the series.

The bench stays short for Warlick

As she has done in many games this season, Holly Warlick played nine players, but three of the bench players only played eight minutes or less.

The bench has talent, but Warlick sticks to her guns when it comes to riding her starters. Jaime Nared played all 40 minutes in the contest. Once again, Mercedes Russell logged substantial play time with 36.

Anastasia Hayes shines as the star off the bench for Warlick. Hayes has not hesitated in proving her worth, but the majority of Tennessee’s bench doesn’t see more than 10 minutes a contest.

Out of the 13 shots taken by bench players, Hayes took 11. She went 4-11 in the game, logging 29 minutes.

Though bench players saw little play time, Warlick made it clear the bench came in and did some good things.

“I’m glad to see them come in. They’re very capable,”Warlick said. “When you’re on the bench you don’t have the luxury of starting the game and settling in. You’ve got to come in and maintain and do better, and I thought they did better for us.”

Even when Tennessee out-rebounds opponents, not a guaranteed win

Before Sunday’s contest, the Lady Vols were 16-1 in games where they out-rebounded opponents. Tennessee won the rebounding tally 30-28 and smashed Missouri on the offensive glass with 14 rebounds to five by Missouri.

Teamwork not there for Lady Vols

The Lady Vols showed effort, but something just didn’t click as Nared seemed to carry the team the majority of the contest. 

Nared scored 25, a team-high, and trailed only Sophie Cunningham of Missouri who dropped in 32. Warlick acknowledged the troubles Cunningham gave the team, as she scored or assisted on 14-of-25 of Missouri’s buckets.

“She’s a competitor and she plays every possession all out,” Warlick said. “She was a handful for us … my hats off to her.”

Nared, logging every minute of the game, is the clear-cut leader besides Mercedes Russell for the Lady Vols. The minutes prove her lead.

Both Russell and Nared average close to 40 minutes per game, but when the bench players come in for the Lady Vols, maybe the chemistry just isn’t there with the lack of minutes they log.

Missouri logged 16 assists on 25 field goals in the game while the Lady Vols were lackluster in the passing lanes. The Lady Vols posted an awful seven assists on 27 field goals in the contest.

If this Lady Vols team is looking to make a deep run, it will have to both extend the bench and get the ball around more. Evina Westbrook posted only two assists behind five turnovers.

Edited by Lexie Little

Feature image courtesy of Channing Curtis

Alabama upsets No. 11 Lady Vols for first Knoxville win

Alabama (16-10, 6-7 SEC) overcame a dominant Lady Vols run midway through the second half on Thursday night to upset No. 11 Tennessee 72-63 for its first ever win in Knoxville.

Tennessee (21-5, 9-4 SEC) trailed Alabama 33-26 just a few minutes into the second half. After a 15-0 run over the span of three minutes, the Lady Vols took a 41-33 lead. Tennessee built the run around a tremendous defensive effort. Alabama turned it over five times in the first half, but Tennessee’s active hands and full-court press forced the Crimson Tide into five turnovers during the Lady Vol run.

Then, the game flipped on its head. Alabama guard Hannah Cook drained a three to put a knife in the Tennessee run and the Crimson Tide rolled back within five.

The Lady Vols maintained a five-point lead throughout the third quarter, taking a 49-44 lead into the final frame after outscoring Alabama 25-15 in the third.

After the Crimson Tide didn’t score in the final 2:31 of third quarter play, Alabama got to work right away in the fourth quarter. Sparked by a Jordan Lewis three, the Crimson Tide went on a 14-0 run to take a 58-49 lead.

After exploding for 25 in the third, Tennessee scored just one point over the first seven minutes of the final quarter. The Lady Vols weren’t able to respond to the Crimson Tide run, scoring just 14 fourth quarter points.

In what proved to be a bittersweet moment, Lady Vols senior center Mercedes Russell scored her 1,500th career point with 6:29 remaining in the second quarter. The basket extended placed Russell in elite company.

With the bucket, Russell is the sixth Lady Vol ever to score 1,500 points and grab 1,000 rebounds. The senior from Oregon joins Chamique Holdsclaw, Sheila Frost, Glory Johnson, Bashaara Graves and Tamika Catchings as the only Lady Vols to reach the milestone.

Alabama outscored Tennessee 21-9 in the second frame. Following a poor offensive outing by both teams in the first half, Alabama closed the half on a 12-0 run to take a 29-24 lead into the break.

The Lady Vols shot just 30 percent in the opening half and didn’t score over the final 4:34 of play.

Jaime Nared led Tennessee with 22 points and seven rebounds on 9-of-18 shooting. Freshman Rennia Davis chipped in a double-double, scoring 18 points and hauling in 10 rebounds. Russell also finished with a double-double, grabbing 10 points and 10 rebounds.

For Alabama, Lewis finished with 19 points to lead the way. Cook finished with 10 points while Ashley Williams added 16 and 10 rebounds.

After back-to-back home games, Tennessee now hits the road for back-to-back road games. The Lady Vols will be in Columbia, Missouri on Sunday afternoon to take on No. 13 Missouri. Tip is set for 2 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 11 Lady Vols look for fifth straight win over Alabama

Alabama (15-10, 5-7 SEC) travels to Knoxville to take on the eleventh-ranked Lady Vols in Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET. Tennessee seeks its fifth straight win, as the Crimson Tide look to avoid losing five of their last six games.

In the last meeting between the two programs, Alabama upended the Volunteers in the second round of the SEC Tournament by a score of 72-64 despite a double-double from Mercedes Russell.

The Crimson Tide snapped a four-game losing streak Sunday with an 82-79 victory over Ole Miss. Each of Alabama’s starting five players notched double-digit points. Guard Jordan Lewis led the Crimson Tide with a career-high 23 points and seven rebounds.

Alabama logged 10 steals and forced 15 turnovers from the Rebels. Still, the Crimson Tide gave up huge games to Rebels Shelby Gibson and Torri Lewis, who combined for 46 points and 12 rebounds. However, the Tide outscored the Rebels by 10 points in the second half, as junior Shaquera Wade hit a go-ahead layup to seal the victory with 36 seconds left in the game.

“I’m just really proud of my team today. They continue to battle,” Alabama head coach Kristy Curry said after the win over Ole Miss. “We’ve had some crazy things happen and things that just don’t go our way, but like I tell them, you have to make your luck.”

Just two Alabama players average double-digit points per game; Hannah Cook and Ashley Williams top the leaderboard for Alabama. Lewis falls just below averaging 10 points per game but has notched 15 or more points in three of her last four games.

Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick and the Lady Vols are on yet another win streak. They have won their last four games including a 62-45 win over Georgia on Sunday. Center Mercedes Russell recorded her 1,000th rebound and is just one point away from securing her 1,500th point of her career.

“Im excited about our defense, I’m excited about our rebounding and really excited about our effort,” Warlick said.

The Lady Vols held the Bulldogs to a season-low 46 total points and outrebounded Georgia by a 50-30 margin. Despite turning the ball over 27 times for the second time this season, Tennessee held the Bulldogs to just 30 percent shooting from the field. Georgia faced ball security issues as well. The Vols forced the Bulldogs to commit 20 turnovers. The Vols stole the ball 14 times.

“One thing about our 27 turnovers, a lot of those we turned it over, but then we forced them to turn it over. So we got a little sloppy, but at least if we’re going to turn it over, let’s force them to turn it over,” Warlick said.

Tennessee got yet another double-double from Russell in the win on Sunday. Russell registered 13 points and 15 rebounds. The Lady Vols had three other players with over 10 points, including senior Jaime Nared who had a team-high 15 points and nine rebounds.

For Tennessee to continue its win streak, the Lady Vols must limit turnovers and feed Russell. The Crimson Tide have shown they struggle to stop dominant post play, so Nared and Russell will need to stay focused and score on Thursday. However, Lady Vols guard play must pick up some slack and take pressure off Nared and Russell.

Edited by Ben McKee

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 11 Lady Vols top Georgia in “Live Pink, Bleed Orange” game

No. 18 Georgia (21-4, 9-3 SEC) failed to upset the eleventh-ranked Lady Vols in Knoxville, as they fell by a score of 62-46. Tennessee finished with four players scoring in double-digits. The senior duo of Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell combined for 28 points. Russell also tallied her 1,000th career rebound and came one point shy of 1,000 career points.

Both teams started sloppily, especially for the Lady Vols who turned the ball over in each of their first two possessions. However, a driving layup and a pair of free throws from Nared got Tennessee back on track. Mackenzie Engram of Georgia hit a 3-pointer to take an early 9-6 Bulldogs lead.

Meanwhile, the Lady Vols got hot from deep range as Meme Jackson and Nared knocked down two 3-pointers each. Rennia Davis finished the first quarter with a last-second bucket from beyond-the-arc to give Tennessee the 17-13 lead after the first quarter. The Lady Vols made three of its five deep balls through the first 10 minutes of play.

Head Coach Holly Warlick and Tennessee started the second quarter hot as the Lady Vols notched a 10-0 run behind Nared and freshman center Kasiyahna Kushkituah.

“She (Kushkituah) came in and made an immediate impact, she doesn’t know how strong she is,” Nared said.

Kushkituah scored a quick three points to start the quarter.

“She’s a dying breed and I’m glad she’s here at Tennessee,” Warlick said.

Georgia finally ended the run at the 4:01 mark with a pair of free throws from Caliya Robinson. However, the Bulldogs foul troubles put the Vols in the bonus to end the second quarter.

Tennessee outscored Georgia 19-7 in the second quarter, as Nared led the Vols with 12 points going into the half. Tennessee held the Bulldogs to just 23 percent shooting from the field and 10 percent from beyond-the-arc as they led 36-19 at halftime.

Russell had the hot hand for the Lady Vols to start the second half, as she recorded the first four points of the half for Tennessee. Georgia scored eight points through the first three minutes of the third quarter, more than they scored in the entire second quarter.

The Volunteers steamed on as Hayes and Russell each got and-ones in the final two minutes of the quarter. Tennessee finished the third quarter with a 55-37 lead behind Russell’s seven points.

The fourth quarter started slowly as both teams faced scoring droughts of more than two minutes apiece. The Lady Vols and Bulldogs both combined for seven turnovers in the first five minutes of play.

However, Davis snapped the Tennessee drought with a pair of free throws at the 4:22 mark. Still, the Volunteers forced Georgia to shoot just 2-of-13 from the field to finish the fourth quarter.

“First of all, Tennessee is really good defensively and that got us frustrated,” Georgia Head Coach Joni Taylor said. “I thought we were pretty good defensively, we just weren’t making shots that we normally make.”

Tennessee out-rebounded the Bulldogs 50-30 and forced the Bulldogs to commit 20 turnovers on Sunday. The Lady Vols faced turnover issues of their own, with a total of 27 turnovers for the second time this season. Regardless, Tennessee held the Bulldogs to just 30 percent shooting from the field and eight percent shooting from 3-point range in the dominant victory.

“I really proud of our basketball team for winning this game,” Warlick said. “We’ve been so up and down, but we were a really solid team today.”

Warlick knows the team’s work isn’t finished.

“It’s huge, hard work and practice correlates to success on the basketball court,” Warlick said. “The only way we’re going to get better is practicing… and we’re going to continue working on our turnovers.”

The Lady Vols hit the court next on Thursday, as they take on Alabama at 6:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

Edited by Ben McKee 

Featured image courtesy of Seth Raborn

Lady Vols score 20th season victory over Arkansas

Tennessee held the lead for over 35 minutes and came out with a 90-85 victory in Fayetteville. The Volunteers nailed 9-of-10 free throws in the last minute of play to put away the Razorbacks (12-12, 3-8 SEC).

“I’m obviously proud of these kids, and proud to win,” Holly Warlick said about the Lady Vols effort in tonight’s game.

The Lady Vols came off a road win on Sunday against Vanderbilt, while Arkansas has only won twice in its last nine games. Tennessee had a strong presence in the first half, holding the Razorbacks to just 16 points in the second quarter and giving them a 43-36 lead at the half.

In the second half, the Vols started out in the same direction by shooting 66 percent in the third quarter alone. Arkansas fought its way back in the fourth quarter, outscoring Tennessee 28-23, but the team’s efforts were not enough to give the Razorbacks the win.

Freshman Rennia Davis, led the team with a career-high 33 points and 14 rebounds with an additional four assists. Davis now has the third highest point total by a freshman behind former Lady Vols legends Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker.

Tennessee out-rebounded Arkansas by an impressive 45-26 margin in the win. However, the Vols turnover problems re-emerged as they committed 19 turnovers in Arkansas.

“We know that every team in the SEC is going to be a difficult game,” Rennia Davis said. “It’s especially difficult to win on the road so they gave us their best in the end.”

Junior Meme Jackson followed right behind with 21 points and helped with five rebounds and four assists, as senior Jaime Nared tallied 16 points, six rebounds and one assist.

Mercedes Russell contributed seven points and 10 rebounds, while Kortney Dunbar notched five points. Evina Westbrook and Anastasia Hayes combined for eight points. Russell is now just 13 points and eight rebounds way from logging 1500 points and 1000 rebounds in her career, which would make her the sixth Lady Vol to do so.

“We had some good opportunities for our kids to step up. Meme Jackson and our freshman Rennia Davis, they just had good games for us. They had to in order for us to get the win,” Warlick said.

Arkansas’ Devin Cosper led the team with 29 points, followed by Malicia Mink (25) and Jailyn Mason (11). Kiara Williams contributed nine points for the Razorbacks, and Bailey Zimmerman contributed six points.

Tennessee is now 8-3 in conference play, putting them in third place and three games back from Mississippi State, who is atop the SEC standings.

The Lady Vols are back in Knoxville on Sunday to take on No. 18 Georgia for the annual “Live Pink, Bleed Orange” game. Tip-off is slated for 3 p.m. ET and will be televised on the SEC Network.

Edited by Ben McKee

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics