Oregon State tops Lady Vols in NCAA Tournament

Sixth-seeded Oregon State stunned the No. 3 Lady Volunteers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday afternoon. Tennessee fell 66-59 to the Beavers, its first home loss in tournament history, in front of 4,338 Vols fans. Tennessee exited in the second round for the second consecutive season, a program first.

“This was a huge win for our program. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for us. It’s been a grind,” Oregon State Head Coach Scott Rueck said. “Today, this was really an incredible performance.”

The Lady Vols sparked an 11-2 run at the game start after a 3-pointer from senior forward Jaime Nared. Tennessee’s stout defense forced the Beavers to record just nine points in the first quarter. The Volunteers led 19-9 after 10 minutes of play, but the script flipped at the start of the second quarter.

Oregon State surged after a pair of free throws from guard Kat Tudor. The points sparked a 13-2 run for the Beavers to the give them the lead. Neither team scored for the next three minutes, until freshman guard Rennia Davis drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Tennessee a 26-24 lead at half.

The Volunteers shot just 25 percent from the floor in the second quarter. The Beavers knocked home nearly 60 percent of their shots from the field. Still, Tennessee had a prime chance to grind out the next two quarters for a win and defend its 57-0 record at home in NCAA Tournament games.

However, Oregon State transitioned to a 2-3 zone, which proved to be disastrous for the Volunteers in the second half.

“I think it just made us stagnate,” Vols senior center Mercedes Russell said. “”We were standing around on the perimeter a lot, not really passing and cutting and moving the defense, which we should have.

The Beavers went on an 11-2 run to end the third quarter and put Oregon State up 44-39 going into the fourth quarter. After Oregon State took its biggest lead of the game with more than three minutes remaining, Tennessee failed to claw back.

Four players logged double-digit points for the Beavers, as guards Mikayla Pivek and Katie McWilliams meshed for 30 points on the night. Seniors Russell and Nared led the Lady Vols in their last game in orange-and-white with a combined 30 points and 18 rebounds in the loss.

“My teammates, my coaches, everybody has just left an impact on my life. I wouldn’t change a thing. I think I’ve learned a lot,” Nared said. “It was a blessing to play here with the tradition and this team.”

Russell passed Candace Parker with her 46th career double-double on Sunday in her last game at Tennessee.

“I have a degree from the University of Tennessee, and I am a Lady Vol forever. Those are two things that you can never take away from me,” Russell said.

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics 

Edited by Lexie Little

Oregon State tops Lady Vols in NCAA Tournament

Sixth-seeded Oregon State stunned the No. 3 Lady Volunteers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday afternoon. Tennessee fell 66-59 to the Beavers, as they notched their first home loss in tournament history in front of 4,338 Vols fans. Tennessee exited in the second round for the second consecutive season, a program first.

“This was a huge win for our program. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for us. It’s been a grind,” Oregon State Head Coach Scott Rueck said. “Today, this was really an incredible performance.”

The Lady Vols sparked an 11-2 run at the game start after a 3-pointer from senior forward Jaime Nared. Tennessee’s stout defense forced the Beavers to record just nine points in the first quarter. The Volunteers led 19-9 after 10 minutes of play, but the script flipped at the start of the second quarter.

Oregon State surged after a pair of free throws from guard Kat Tudor marked a 13-2 run for the Beavers to the give them the lead. Neither team scored for the next three minutes, until freshman guard Rennia Davis drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Tennessee a 26-24 lead at half.

The Volunteers shot just 25 percent from the floor in the second quarter. The Beavers knocked home nearly 60 percent of their shots from the field. Still, Tennessee had a prime chance to grind out the next two quarters for a win and defend its 57-0 record at home in NCAA Tournament games.

However, Oregon State transitioned to a 2-3 zone, which proved to be disastrous for the Volunteers in the second half.

“I think it just made us stagnate,” Vols senior center Mercedes Russell said. “”We were standing around on the perimeter a lot, not really passing and cutting and moving the defense, which we should have.

The Beavers went on an 11-2 run to end the third quarter and put Oregon State up 44-39 going into the fourth quarter. After Oregon State took its biggest lead of the game with more than three minutes remaining, Tennessee failed to claw back.

Four players logged double-digit points for the Beavers, as guards Mikayla Pivek and Katie McWilliams meshed for 30 points on the night. Seniors Russell and Nared led the Lady Vols in their last game in orange-and-white with a combined 30 points and 18 rebounds in the loss.

“My teammates, my coaches, everybody has just left an impact on my life. I wouldn’t change a thing. I think I’ve learned a lot,” Nared said. “It was a blessing to play here with the tradition and this team.”

Russell passed Candace Parker with her 46th career double-double on Sunday in her last game at Tennessee.

“I have a degree from the University of Tennessee, and I am a Lady Vol forever. Those are two things that you can never take away from me,” Russell said.

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics 

Edited by Lexie Little

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

 

Lady Vols secure No. 3 seed in NCAA Tournament

The No. 12 ranked Tennessee Lady Vols (24-7) received the No. 3 seed Monday night in the Lexington region for the 2018 Women’s NCAA Tournament. They will host the Liberty Flames (24-9) in Knoxville on March 16 at Thompson-Boling Arena for the first round.

Led by Head Coach Holly Warlick, the Lady Vols look to start their tournament run on a high note. Tennessee finished its regular season ranked just outside the top 10 and ended the season at fifth in SEC standings. Although first round games in the tournament usually come as a cake walk for top seeded teams, Liberty will likely give the Lady Vols a tough test.

“What I saw from their tournament is that they are gritty, they are tough, and they rebound,” Warlick said. “They’ve got kids that score, so it will be a tough challenge for us.”

Finishing their season 24-9, the Lady Flames prove they are capable of winning. Clinching their 17th Big South title this season, the ladies from Lynchburg come to Knoxville riding an eight-game winning streak. They look to extend that streak in the NCAA Tournament.

Led by seniors Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared, Tennessee possesses a large advantage by starting the tournament at home. However, the game will not be a guaranteed victory. The Volunteers looked like a top-notch team during portions of the regular season, while looking lost at other points in the schedule.

The last appearance for the Lady Vols came in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. They fell to eventual conference champions South Carolina by a score of 73-62. Tennessee looks to avenge its loss in their game on Friday. The Lady Vols will need contributions from various players to do so.

Feeding the ball inside to Russell proves to be effective, and if the Vols want to go far in the tournament, they must get their star senior the ball as often as possible. With Russell standing at 6-foot-6 and Liberty’s starting forwards both only standing at 6-foot-1, Russell should have a stout advantage on the boards and easy buckets inside the paint.

If there is one concern for the Lady Vols heading into the NCAA Tournament, it will be whether or not Nared will be able to play valuable minutes. Nared went down with an injury against Auburn in the SEC Tournament.

In the game against South Carolina, Nared played a full 40-minute game when she posted a double-double, but her injury could inhibit her against Liberty. The senior from Oregon will search to end her illustrious career at Tennessee with a bang.

“We had kind of a dry reaction, but I think that’s because we’re focused. We’re excited with playing home,” Nared said. “The team we’re playing, we don’t know much about them, but we’re excited to learn about them and to play hard and give it all.”

Friday’s game will be broadcasted on ESPN 2 and tip-off is set for 2:30 p.m. ET.

Edited by Seth Raborn/Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Davis and Russell shine on Senior Day, take down No. 7 South Carolina

On a day where a trio of Lady Vols were celebrated, freshman Rennia Davis shined the brightest.

Following a rough first half on the offensive end of the floor, Davis sparked No. 15 Tennessee to a 22-4 run to begin the second half on its way to a 65-46 upset win over No. 7 South Carolina.

“Rennia (Davis) had a great game,” Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick said following the game. “She is just so solid right now. She does things to get her easy looks. She gets position. She had 10 rebounds and five on the offense boards which allowed her to score.”

The Florida native chipped in nine points in the third quarter alone to spark her team on the offensive and defensive end of the floor. Davis drilled a deep three-pointer from the corner as time expired to cap an explosive third quarter from the Lady Vols (23-6, 11-5 SEC) in which they out-scored South Carolina 29-9.

“We didn’t even run the play right,” Davis said after the big win. “I was just happy the shot went in, really. I just think it was a spark for us along with the defense. I think we started hitting shots in the third quarter. Obviously, that was a big shot for us.”

Davis would go on to finish with 18 points and 10 rebounds, recording her eighth double-double of the season. She now sits sixth on the list for most double-doubles recorded by a Lady Vol freshman.

Along with Davis’ nine first half points, senior Mercedes Russell helped carry Tennessee in opening half to keep the Gamecocks (23-6, 12-4 SEC) within reach.

With her mom in Knoxville for the first time to watch her play, Russell scored eight points on 3-of-6 shooting from the floor in the first half on her way to her 14th double-double of the season. Russell, a native of Oregon, finished with 16 points and 12 boards on the afternoon.

“It was awesome,” Russell said of her mother being in the stands. “Obviously, a lot of emotion just being the last home game as a senior in the SEC. Hopefully we get to host in the NCAA (tournament). She was excited, obviously very emotional like I said, but really happy.”

Defense wasn’t the problem in the first for the Lady Vols, as they were able to hold South Carolina to just a 26-21 halftime lead despite shooting 27 percent and turning the basketball over 10 times.

Strong defense play continued over into the second half, which led to good looks on the offensive end that allowed Tennessee to shoot 65 percent in the third quarter.

“We made some adjustments and attacked the basket; that’s what we did, and our defense got going,” Warlick said. “Our players love to press. I don’t have to beg them to press.”

If you look at the stat line, Jaime Nared – the other piece to the dynamic senior duo with Russell – didn’t have greatest of games. But according to Warlick, Nared’s impact was felt far beyond the stat sheet.

“Her (Nared) presence on the press, it’s just awesome,” Warlick said of Nared. “That got the momentum to go our way, just by her presence on the ball.”

Nared’s defensive presence allowed Tennessee to start the second half on a 14-0 run that ultimately grew into a 22-4 run, thanks to five South Carolina third quarter turnovers.

“Live ball turnovers and rebounding,” Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley said when asked if turnovers were the biggest issue for South Carolina in the third quarter. “They just out-hustled us.”

South Carolina was without All-American and two-time SEC Player of the Year, A’ja Wilson, who missed Sunday afternoon’s game due to vertigo. It was the second straight game against Tennessee in which Wilson did not play due to injury. Wilson missed the Jan. 14 game in Columbia against the Lady Vols due to injury, a game in which Tennessee won 86-70.

As for now, the Gamecocks are in wait-and-see mode as to if Wilson will play in the SEC Tournament.

“I’ll be on bended knees, hoping that she will be back Friday,” Staley said when asked about when Wilson is expected to be back. “I don’t know. I think, first and foremost, is her health and making sure that she is healthy. We are going to take it day-by-day.”

South Carolina kicks off its SEC Tournament run Friday evening, in what could be its third game against the Lady Vols this season. Tennessee who is a No. 7 seed in the tournament, will face ten-seed Auburn on Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET. The winner would face the Gamecocks the next day.

“I hope we get to play them (South Carolina),” Warlick said when asked on the possibility of playing the Gamecocks in the SEC Tournament. “Auburn is who we are looking at (first). We’ve, at time, struggled with Auburn.

“They (Auburn) press. We press too, so it could be an up-and-down, fun game to watch, or it could be two teams struggling to get it past half court.”

Davis, who will be playing in the tournament for the first time, is excited to prove not only herself, but her team’s worth with the NCAA Tournament right around the corner.

“When we’re getting defensive stops, and we’re running in transition, we’re one of the better teams in the SEC,” Davis said. “When we sag off and play casual on defense, it’s not as good for us. Going into the tournament, I think for us, we just gotta stay defensive minded as a team.”

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

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