Takeaways from No. 15 Tennessee’s win at Rupp Arena

Rick Barnes and No. 15 Tennessee went into Rupp Arena on Tuesday night and knock off No. 24 Kentucky for the first time in 19 years on Tuesday evening. Tennessee basketball has been a rollercoaster ride in Barnes’ first couple of seasons, but it seems he has the team on track. Many would even say he’s ahead of schedule.

Here is what to take away from Tuesday’s win over the Wildcats.

Lamonté Turner is the go-to guy down the stretch

Turner was the reason Tennessee upended No. 3 Purdue earlier in the season, and he put the dagger in the Wildcats with only seconds remaining on the clock in Tuesday’s win over Kentucky.

Turner finished the game with 16 points and drilled four 3-pointers on his way to logging 31 minutes on the night. The redshirt-sophomore has now scored 15 or more points off of the bench seven times and has scored 20 or more points four times this season.

The Vols have needed a consistent closer and Turner has become that down this crucial stretch in conference play.

The Vols are back

The stat that will be thrown around until Tennessee plays Kentucky next season is that the Vols swept the Wildcats for the first time in 19 years.

Rick Barnes has Tennessee back in national contention in only his third year with the program, and Knoxville owes him a big pat on the back.

Tennessee, who has been knocked for its low recruiting rankings, has itself a coach that can not only bring quality and underrated players to campus, but can develop those players into some of the best players and teammates in the SEC.

Tennessee is being talked about for its chances of grabbing a No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament – something that has never happened in Knoxville. Tennessee owes that solely to Barnes.

Bench play the deepest in the conference

Tennessee has seven players who log at least six points per game. Out of those seven players, all of them average over 20 minutes of game play per contest.

The Vols have not only the deepest roster in the conference, but the deepest bench as well. This is a team that has grown together tremendously since a tough 0-2 start to conference play in January.

This team relied heavily on Grant Williams throughout its tough stretches, but the depth on the roster has finally caught up to where the team wants to go – whether that is due to the development of those players by Barnes, or the unselfishness of the players, this will be a tough team to beat down the stretch if it can continue to close out games with key role players playing like they did tonight.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Turner buries No. 24 Kentucky to sweep Cats for first time since 1999

Lamonte Turner etched his name in Tennessee basketball history books Tuesday night.

Trailing 58-56 with 28 seconds remaining and 10 seconds left on the shot clock, Turner drilled a deep three to give Tennessee a 59-58 lead.

“I had confidence,” Turner said to the Vol Network following the game. “When it left my hand, I was pretty sure it was going in.”

“He’s a competitor,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said of Turner. “He’s not afraid to take the shot.”

Following Turner’s clutch three, Jordan Bowden forced a turnover and threw it ahead to Admiral Schofield who threw down a vicious dunk. The dunk gave Tennessee a 61-58 lead with four seconds remaining and put the dagger in Kentucky.

“As a group, our guys look at each other and they believe in each other,” Barnes said. “We just kept talking, let’s stay with it defensively and rebound the ball, and we’ll find something on the other end.”

As a result, No. 15 Tennessee (18-5, 8-3 SEC) picked up its first win in Rupp Arena since 2006 and sweeps the season-series with No. 24 Kentucky (17-7, 6-5 SEC) for the first time since 1998-99.

“It’s very important,” Turner said when asked about sweeping Kentucky. “It’s a great feeling. When I get back home, I think I’ll realize how big of a win it really is.”

The matchup wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Vols on Tuesday night. For the first time in quite some time, the Vols offense didn’t show up ready to play.

The one person who did come ready to play though was Turner. The redshirt-sophomore out of Huntsville, Alabama carried Tennessee through an ugly first half. Turner led Tennessee with 16 points on the night, 11 of which came in the first half.

In the opening frame, Turner’s teammates were just 6-of-20 from the field and 0-of-7 from the three-point line while Turner was 4-of-6 from the floor and 3-of-4 from beyond-the-arc.

Despite the offensive struggles in the first half, Tennessee built a 27-26 halftime lead thanks to its play on the defensive end. In the first ten minutes of the half, Kentucky shot just 1-of-9 from the field and turned it over five times. The Cats didn’t score their first field goal until 14 and a half minutes into the game.

The loss of Kyle Alexander played a big role in the Vols’ first half struggles. With 12:25 remaining in the half, Alexander picked up his second foul and was forced to sit on the bench for the remainder of the half. In just six minutes, the junior had scored four points, hauled in two rebounds, blocked two shots and picked up a steal.

Bowden stepped up in the second half while his teammates struggled, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the final 20 minutes.

The affair flipped back-and-forth in the second half, as neither team led by more than three points until Grant Williams knocked down a pair of free throws to take a 50-46 lead.

The Cats would then go on a 7-0 run capped by a Kevin Knox and-one to take a 53-50 lead. Following a pair of Bowden free throws, Tennessee cut the lead to one.

After Kentucky took a 58-56 lead, Alexander forced a game-changing Kentucky turnover. Barnes then called a timeout that set up the Turner three to take the lead–a lead that the Vols wouldn’t give up on their way to just their fifth all-time win in Rupp Arena.

Bowden would go on to finish with 13 points and eight rebounds on 4-of-8 shooting. Schofield finished with 12 points and six rebounds, while Grant Williams scored 10 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the free throw line.

Tennessee has little time to soak in the victory. The Vols will head to Tuscaloosa Saturday to take on a talented but young Alabama team at 6 p.m. ET.

“This is the best basketball league in the country, and I don’t know why people don’t want to own up to that,” Barnes said as his team gears up for another tough challenge. “If it keeps going like it is right now, this league should have nine teams in the NCAA Tournament. It’s as competitive as any league I’ve coached in.”

“It’s all Alabama now,” Turner said.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 23 Tennessee looking to get back on track against No. 17 Kentucky

No other team in college basketball has beaten Kentucky more than Tennessee. The Kentucky series is the Vols oldest and most-played among SEC opponents. When the two teams meet Saturday night, they’ll be playing for the 223rd time as the Vols look for their 70th win over the Cats.

A win over No. 17 Kentucky would be a big one for No. 23 Tennessee (9-4, 0-2 SEC). The Vols stumble into the rivalry, having lost their first two conference games after an impressive run through non-conference play.

After falling to Arkansas 93-95 in overtime and Auburn, 84-94, in its SEC home-opener, Tennessee has lost back-to-back games for the first time all season. Now staring an 0-3 start in conference play right in the face, the Vols have to get back to playing with the effort, intensity and edge they possessed to start the season.

“Everyone doing their job. Not taking anything for granted,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said about what his team needs to do in order to get back on track in a media availability on Friday morning. “What I’ve hope they’ve learned is that if they play that way, we’re not a very good basketball team. We need everybody to do their job for us.”

While Tennessee has stumbled of late, Kentucky has begun to hit its stride. John Calipari’s squad may be the youngest team in the country, but the Cats roster is still one of the most talented in the country.

“From the beginning to where they are now, they’ve continued to improve every game,” Barnes said of Kentucky. “Long, athletic, a team that they’ve gotten better all the way around, they’ve got depth and their bench has been good to them.”

Freshmen Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander lead the talented, but young Cats roster. Knox leads Kentucky in scoring at 14.6 points per game and 6.0 rebounds. Gilgeous-Alexander has really come on of late, leading Kentucky in scoring that last three games coming off the bench.

In its last time out, Kentucky survived its first road test of the season, defeating LSU 74-71. With the win, the Cats have won 10 out of their last 11 games with its lone loss coming to UCLA.

Thompson-Boling Arena hasn’t been kind to Kentucky of late, as the Cats have lost three of the last four games in Knoxville. Calipari knows just how difficult of a time his young team will have on Saturday night at 9 p.m. ET.

“They (Tennessee) could easily be 13-0,” Calipari said. “It’s going to be a war. It’ll be good for these guys to feel this. Playing on the road last game was good, and now you go here and it’s always a difficult game for us. Great environment, but it’s going to be hard.”

While the Cats may not be familiar with the Vols, Calipari and Barnes are great friends, and Calipari hates playing friends. While he may hate playing his buddies, Calipari has learned to appreciate the moment because many don’t survive this long in coaching.

“I just keep telling myself, because this becomes a grind, that I just need to be grateful that I’m having an opportunity to coach here and coach in these kind of games,” Calipari said.

But Barnes isn’t a “jagoff” according to Calipari. Barnes is somebody that he is genuinely happy to see have success.

“The only thing that is easier is if you do get dinged I can walk up and seriously say, ‘I’m happy for you,’ “Calipari said. “And I am happy for him (Barnes) and he knows it. There are other games that I just say, ‘Good job,’ and I’m not happy for you without saying it. At all.”

In order for Barnes to have success against Calipari on Saturday night, his workhorses are going to have to show up, something they didn’t do against Auburn last Tuesday.

Tennessee got outworked against the Tigers, being out-rebounded and out-hustled. According to guard Lamonte Turner, it was time to check the film, re-evaluate and correct the mistakes. The Vols need to get back to their roots. That being a team that hunts its opponents. Not one that gets preyed on.

On if he’s seen anything from his team to indicate they’ve gotten better, Barnes doesn’t know because he didn’t see what was coming before Auburn.

“I have no idea,” Barnes said. “I wish I could read it all because I would probably sleep a little bit better. We pretty much have had pretty good practices.

“There’s a lot of things the other night that we weren’t doing.”

The Vols need to have those things corrected by tipoff, as they can’t afford an 0-3 start in SEC play. While a three-game skid to begin conference play wouldn’t be cause to hit the panic button, it would become a concern of how long the skid could last with games against rival Vanderbilt and No. 11 Texas A&M on the horizon.

Tennessee has several players who can provide a much-needed spark, as three Vols – Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bowden – enter averaging double-figures in scoring while two others – Turner and Jordan Bone – are averaging just under 10.0 points per game.

Scoring won’t be what wins, or loses the game for Tennessee on Saturday. Whoever wins the game, will have won the battle on the boards. Against Auburn, Tennessee allowed the Tigers to grab 22 offensive rebounds, leading to 16 more field goals than the Vols.

Kentucky arrives in Knoxville averaging 39.9 rebounds per game, while Tennessee averages 38.1 rebounds.

Not only is Saturday’s contest big for the Vols in order to get back on track, but they’re also hosting a potential program-changer. Anfernee Simons – a five-star guard out of Florida – is visiting Knoxville this weekend. Simons is ranked the No. 9 overall player in the country and the No. 1 combo-guard in the country.

Simons would be a big coup for the Vols, but first they have to handle business on the court. How sweet would it be for Tennessee to knock off a Top 20 Kentucky team in an amazing environment with the biggest recruit they’ve had on campus in years to witness it?

In front of a sellout crowd, the Vols aim to do just that.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Takeaways from No. 7 Tennessee’s first SEC win of the season

No. 7 Tennessee kicked off SEC play with a 63-49 win over Kentucky (8-7, 0-1 SEC) on Sunday afternoon. The Lady Vols improve to 13-0 and 1-0 in SEC play, and are now one of five undefeated teams remaining in the country.

As the Lady Vols now turn their attention to Auburn, we take a look at what we learned about Holly Warlick’s squad in their win over the Wildcats.

Tennessee comes ready to play.

Tennessee has consistently gotten off to great starts this season and that trend continued on Sunday against Kentucky.

The Lady Vols jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in Rupp Arena and didn’t allow Kentucky to score until midway through the first quarter. Tennessee would go on to possess a 26-7 lead at the end of the first frame.

Evina Westbrook and Meme Jackson got things going early, as they both knocked down threes in the opening moments of the game. In building the 19-point lead, Jackson and Westbrook would combine for five 3’s. Westbrook was 3-of-4 from three on her way to 11 first quarter points.

Tennessee is now outscoring opponents 308-162 in the first quarter of games this season. Per a Tennessee press release, Sunday was the fourth start of 10-0 or better by the Lady Vols this season. Against Alabama State and Troy, Tennessee jumped out to a 12-0 lead. Against Marquette, they jumped out a 10-0 lead.

Evina Westbrook is legit.

The former No. 2 overall player in the country arrived in Knoxville with high expectations, and through 13 games this season, Westbrook is living up to the hype.

On Sunday, Westbrook led Tennessee in scoring with 17 points, tying her career-high that she set in her last outing against No. 18 Stanford. Against the Cardinal, she added an assist and four rebounds before adding four rebounds, three assists and three blocks against the Cats.

Westbrook currently leads the team in assists per game at 4.8, but is starting to heat up in the scoring department. Over the last four games, the Oregon native is averaging 15.8 points per game compared to just 7.2 points in her first nine games.

Too many turnovers.

Tennessee has done a good job of coming out of the locker room ready to play this season, but there have been games this season where Warlick’s team hasn’t finished all that well. This was evident against Kentucky.

In the first quarter against the Cats, Tennessee scored 26 points in the first quarter, but went on to score just 10 points in the second, 12 points in the third and 15 in the fourth. The lack of offensive performance against the Cats can be credited to far too many turnovers.

The Lady Vols turned the basketball over 21 times on Sunday, which is six more than they average per game. In the second quarter alone, they turned it over seven times before turning it over eight times in the third quarter. As great as Westbrook was scoring the basketball against Kentucky, she turned it over seven times.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 7 Lady Vols pick up first SEC win against Kentucky

No. 7 Tennessee began conference play with a 63-49 win over Kentucky (8-7, 0-1 SEC) in Rupp Arena on Sunday afternoon. At 13-0, the Lady Vols are one of only five undefeated teams remaining in the country.

“Our goal was to be 1-0 in the SEC today,” Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick said following the game. “And that’s what we are.”

Led by freshman guard Evina Westbrook, Tennessee got off to a quick start. Behind 11 first quarter points from Westbrook – who was 3-of-4 from three- the Lady Vols led the Wildcats 26-7 at the end of the first frame. Kentucky shot just 19 percent from the field in the quarter while the Lady Vols hit 5-of-8 three-point attempts.

Westbrook would go on to finish with a game-high 17 points to tie her career-high. Over the last four games, she is averaging 15.8 points per game.

“The shots were just open,” Westbrook said following the game. “So, if they aren’t going to guard us, we are going to take shots.”

Tennessee got off to a great start, but the final three quarters weren’t as crisp as the first. The Lady Vols commanded a 36-20 halftime lead, but only scored 10 points in the second quarter. In the frame, Tennessee turned it over seven times and shot just 38 percent from the field.

The Lady Vols continued to struggle as they turned it over eight times in the third quarter and scored just 12 points. As Tennessee struggled offensively, so did Kentucky.

In the first half, Kentucky shot just 23 percent from the field and 21 percent from three. The Cats were outrebounded 50-31 on the day, as two Lady Vols registered double-figures in rebounds. Maci Morris was the only Wildcat in double-figures with 18 points.

Tennessee’s struggles on offense were due in large part to senior Jaime Nared’s inability to get things going early on. Nared finished with a double-double, but didn’t make a field goal until the opening moments of the fourth quarter. She was effective in other areas on the court though, as she would finish with 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

Senior center Mercedes Russell added 16 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. Freshman forward Rennia Davis was just shy of a double-double with nine points and 11 rebounds.

Tennessee now returns home to face Auburn on Thursday night in its SEC home-opener. The game will tip at 7 p.m. ET.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 7 Lady Vols focused on conference play, not 12-0 start

When No. 7 Tennessee (12-0) and Kentucky (8-6) square off on Sunday afternoon, it’ll feature a matchup of two teams headed in two separate directions.

The Lady Vols are trending up, while the Wildcats are trending down.

Holly Warlick’s squad enters Sunday’s contest with her team in the midst of their longest winning streak since 2010-11. As one of just six undefeated teams remaining in the country, the Lady Vols now turn their attention to SEC play following an impressive run through non-conference play to start the season.

Warlick credits the 12-0 start to the camaraderie and togetherness the Lady Vols possess, something they struggled to obtain last season.

“We’ve been playing hard, playing with a passion and buying into the defense,” Warlick said in her media availability on Friday morning. “Everybody gets an opportunity on offense, and we’ve got better players. When you have great players and they’re coachable, I think great things happen.”

As the Lady Vols turn their attention to conference play, they’re focused on playing the next game and not the 12-0 start in order to not become complacent. You won’t hear anybody associated with the program talking about the historic start.

“We talk about our next opponent,” Warlick said. “This group is really good at focusing in, and not just building on what we’ve done, but really focusing in on our next game. Now we’re in SEC mode, and we want to go through and position ourselves to play for a championship.”

To this point in the season, Tennessee had relied on the senior duo of Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell to carry a young, but talented trio of freshmen that includes Anastasia Hayes, Rennia Davis and Evina Westbrook.

Four of the five are averaging double figures in scoring while the other – Westbrook – is leading the team in assists per game with 4.8.

While Westbrook is leading the team in assists, she’s also stepped up on the offensive end, scoring in double figures in four of the last five games. In her last game out against No. 18 Stanford, the former No. 2 overall player in the country scored a season-high 17 points.

Warlick credits Westbrook’s increased scoring to the fact that she’s looking for her shot more. “She’s getting the opportunity to get good looks and attack the basket,” Warlick said. “She sees the success of Jaime (Nared) attacking the basket and getting jumpers.”

Russell is averaging a near double-double, scoring 16.4 points per game and hauling in 8.8 rebounds, but it has been Nared who has emerged as the leader on-and-off the court. Warlick saw the potential in the Oregon native from the moment she stepped foot on campus.

“It takes someone who is dedicated and wanting to get better, and Jaime did,” Warlick said of her senior forward who is averaging 17.9 points per game. “She developed her range. She developed playing inside and pulling up, so I give her a lot of credit for getting in the gym on her own and working with coaches as well.”

Kentucky usually plays its regular-season games at Memorial Coliseum on campus, but the Wildcats will square off with the Lady Vols in the first of three Kentucky women’s games being played at Rupp Arena this season. The last time the Lady Vols played in Rupp Arena was in 2006 when an unranked Kentucky team upset No. 1 Tennessee, 66-63.

Warlick knows how difficult it is to play at Kentucky, citing the fact that they’ve been closed before and haven’t finished the deal. “We’re playing in Rupp, so maybe that will help us,” Warlick said. “They’ve always had great teams, and it’s always been a really good matchup.”

The Wildcats started off the season 6-0, but have since dropped six of their last eight and five straight. In its last time out, Kentucky lost to Middle Tennessee State 62-57.

During their five-game losing streak, the Wildcats haven’t scored more than 64 points. In the past, Kentucky has been known as a defensive juggernaut under head coach Matthew Mitchell and that theme has continued this season. The Cats are allowing just 62.1 points per game and have only allowed opponents to score more than 70 points twice this season.

On offense, junior guard Maci Morris leads the way for Kentucky. Morris is averaging 16.0 points per game and is shooting 49 percent from three. Junior guard Taylor Murray (10.9) and freshman forward Tatyana Wyatt (10.4) are the only other Cats who average double figures in scoring.

“They run the ball, and they’re very well coached,” Warlick said. “They’re young, but they’re developing. You can’t overlook them.”

No. 7 Tennessee and Kentucky will tipoff from Rupp Arena at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon. The game will be aired on the SEC Network.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics