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

Davis buries Tigers, No. 12 Lady Vols advance in SEC Tournament

Tennessee (24-6, 11-5 SEC) lost its star senior Jaime Nared to an apparent hip injury in the fourth quarter of its contest against Auburn (14-15, 5-11 SEC) in Nashville on Thursday. However, the Lady Vols advanced to the third round of the SEC Tournament when freshman forward Rennia Davis banked in a dagger 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining in the game.

Although they lost the All-SEC forward, the No.12 ranked Tennessee finished off Auburn 64-61 and will advance to play the No. 2 seed Gamecocks on Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

Nared tried to return to the game with five minutes remaining, but she clocked out for the night with 4:36 left in the game. She led the team in scoring with with a total of 17 points. Davis, the hero of the game for the Volunteers, logged 16 points and five rebounds.

Janiah McKay led No. 10 seed Auburn on Thursday night with 24 points, while her teammate Daisa Alexander stayed  close behind with 16 points. Alexander knotted the game up at 61 with 11.2 seconds to go when she stole a Tennessee inbound pass and took it to the rack for a bucket.

While Tennessee chalked up a whopping 24 turnovers on the night, it still cashed in from the charity stripe. The Lady Vols were 20-of-24 from the free throw line on the night while the Tigers were shot just 4-of-5 from the line.

While Anastasia Hayes and Cheridene Green were the only players off the bench for the orange-and-white tonight, head coach Holly Warlick knew Hayes would the player to create the last shot.

“We wanted to get (Hayes) to the basket because she had been doing so well,” Warlick said. “She attacked and it closed in, she kicked out to (Davis) and she let it fly… I hope she called glass.”

Davis was a perfect 2-of-2 on the night from beyond-the-arc and was the anchor for Tennessee when Nared went out. She created shots all night long and when the big moment came, the freshman cashed in.

“I’m just happy the shot went in,” Davis said. “We had a lot of turnovers, as we did (the first matchup against Auburn), I’m just glad we were able to come out with the win.”

Davis knew when Nared went down that somebody had to step up for the Lady Vols, and when Warlick called her name, she was there to answer.

“I’m just glad I was able to beat that person for my teammates,” Davis said. “I understand that (Tennessee) lost last year in the first round, we didn’t want to do that again, so I’m just happy.”

Edited by Seth Raborn

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

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

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 

Takeaways from No. 10 Lady Vols road loss to LSU

LSU (13-6, 5-3 SEC) upset No. 10 Tennessee to give the Lady Vols its first loss to an unranked opponent this season. Tigers guards Chloe Jackson and Raigyne Louis combined for 39 points and 17 rebounds in the win. Tennessee was outscored by 10 points in the third quarter to record its third loss in four games.

Here is what to take away from the Vols terrible loss in Baton Rouge.

Lady Vols got rocked in the paint

Despite having the senior duo of Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell in the post, Tennessee still failed to dominate in the paint. The Lady Vols were out-rebounded 44-32 on the night and gave up 23 offensive rebounds to LSU. Tigers forward Ayana Mitchell tallied 16 rebounds in the post on her own, as well as a combined 16 from Jackson and Louis.

“We can’t give up 23 offensive rebounds and expect to win the basketball game,” Tennessee head basketball coach Holly Warlick said. “They were gritty, they were tougher… They just outworked us.”

Considering Tennessee has elite talent at the posts, being dominated in the post is something they cannot afford. The Lady Vols haven’t had much success with their guard play this season, so not receiving consistent post play makes it tough for Tennessee to succeed. The Vols need much better play inside, especially when they are shooting 22 percent from 3-point range.

Tennessee has to shoot more efficiently

The Lady Vols have struggled from beyond-the-arc all season, but their shooting from inside keeps them afloat. However, when Tennessee is shooting 38 percent from the floor like they did on Sunday, it’s tough to beat anyone. The Volunteers shot 9-of-30 from the field in the last 20 minutes of the game.

Tennessee shot 53 percent on its field goals and logged seven assists on eight buckets in the first quarter. However, the Lady Vols must remain more consistent with their shooting to put teams away. Nared especially has to be more efficient for the team, as she shot just 4-of-10 from the field after starting out 3-of-4 after the first quarter. Holly Warlick and Tennessee usually don’t have too much of a problem closing out games, but they sure did on Sunday.

Lady Vols had more balanced attack

Despite having poor shooting from the field, Tennessee had decent contributions from each player in the starting five. Only execution was missing. Nared was the only player in the starting five with less than 10 points, but she was in foul trouble. Meme Jackson, Rennia Davis and Westbrook all combined for 34 points on the loss, including 14 points from Russell.

The one thing that the Lady Vols didn’t see much scoring off the bench. Freshman Anastasia Hayes recorded 20 minutes in the game, but did not score on 0-of-4 shooting from the floor. The rest of the bench combined for just two points and 0-for-8 shooting in the loss.

“It’s uncharacteristic of us, because we’re a rebounding team, but we must have left it in Knoxville,” said Warlick. “It has something to do with going up against a team that wanted it more than you.”

Edited by Ben McKee

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics