Lady Vols lose to Auburn, drop third straight series

The Lady Vols’ (33-7) struggles continued, as they lost their weekend series with No. 11 Auburn on the road by a combined score of 9-2. Tennessee scored two runs in its first contest with the Tigers on Friday but went scoreless in the final two games of the series. The No. 8 ranked Vols now have an abysmal 5-7 record in SEC play this season.

Play seemed to be going Tennessee’s way to start the series on Friday. The Lady Vols put away Auburn by a score of 2-1 in eight innings. Sophomore Chelsea Seggern ripped an RBI single that finished as the game-winner for the Lady Vols in the top of the eighth inning.

The contest remained scoreless until Tennessee broke the silence in the sixth inning as senior shortstop Meghan Gregg drove in a runner off a ground out. Vols pitcher Matty Moss gave up a solo homerun from the Tigers in the seventh inning. She struck out three straight batters to get Tennessee out of the jam and send it to extra innings.

“It was a great game between two teams that are fighting for positioning in the SEC,” Vols co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “Our kids played really hard in tough conditions and a hostile arena.”

The next matchup did not prove glamorous for Tennessee, as the Lady Vols fell victim to their own poor hitting. The Volunteers fell 2-0 and notched just one hit in the game. Moss didn’t get much help from her offense, as her two runs given up in the fourth inning defeated Tennessee.

Makayla Martin dominated for Auburn with six strikeouts and one hit given up in the complete-game. The Tigers’ only two runs came from a two-run homerun from the bat of Casey McCrackin.

The troubles in the batter’s box continued for the Lady Vols in the final game. Auburn once again held Tennessee scoreless. The Lady Vols only tabbed three hits in a 6-0 loss to Auburn. The duo of Moss and Caylan Arnold could not get the job done on the mound for the Vols, as they gave up a combined five earned runs on just four strikeouts.

A huge five-run fifth inning from the Tigers propelled them to their 37th win of the season. Auburn got sacrifice-fly to start in the scoring in the inning, as Alyssa Rivera drove a three-run homerun out of the park to finish their scoring for the evening.

Tennessee gets back to business on Tuesday with a road test in Columbia, Tennessee against in-state rival Memphis. The Lady Vols look to end their troublesome batting issues against a Tigers team that lost to East Carolina on Sunday.

Written by Seth Raborn

Edited by Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Vols draw No. 3 seed in NCAA Tournament

No. 13 ranked Tennessee (25-8) dropped the SEC Championship to Kentucky at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The Vols found little time to dwell on the defeat as they looked ahead to Selection Sunday.

The Volunteers drew a No. 3 seed from the NCAA selection committee and will face the No. 14 seed Wright State Raiders (25-9) at 12:40 p.m. ET on TruTV. Tennessee will tip-off in Dallas in the South Region of the bracket.

This appearance marks the Vols’ first in the tournament since 2014. Meanwhile, the Raiders enter for their first appearance in 11 years. Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes knows his team played hard to get in the tournament all season long. However, he also knows not to take an appearance for granted.

“Hats off to our team. They believed they could do it, they did it,” Barnes said. “Now we are in the big event, you go one game at a time.”

The Selection Sunday anticipation came and went quickly for the orange-and-white. They were announced in the first region of the bracket. Barnes’ last two seasons in Knoxville proved everything but exciting around this time of year.

“(It’s) been a long time. I go back to that first year, guys came in and bought in to it and we knew we were shorthanded,” Barnes said. “Last year we were in a position, couldn’t finish it … This will be a new experience for them.”

This will be a new experience for not only Barnes’ squad, but Wright State Head Coach Scott Nagy. His team looks for its first ever win in the NCAA Tournament.

Preview of Wright State

Nagy and the Raiders won 25 games this season on their way to the Horizon League Championship. The matchup could be like looking in the mirror for Barnes – Nagy’s philosophy matches his own.

The Raiders pride themselves on defense and playing inside-out. Wright State finished its season hot, railing off four-straight wins and winning eight out of its last 10 games.

Nagy’s marquee season win came on the road at Georgia Tech, 85-81. Senior guards Grant Benzinger and Justin Mitchell lead the Raiders. The two combine for 25.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Freshman center Loudon Love brings a down-low presence for Wright State averaging 12.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

Edited by Seth Raborn/Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics 

No. 13 Tennessee faces Mississippi State in SEC Tournament quarterfinals

After beating LSU, No.7 seed Mississippi State (22-10, 9-9 SEC) takes on second-seeded Tennessee SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The Volunteers secured a double-bye to start the tournament. The Vols take on the Bulldogs as their first tournament contest Friday at 7 p.m. ET. St. Louis’ Scottrade Center hosts the tournament for the first time in SEC Tournament history. The SEC Network and ESPN feature the matchups.

In the last meeting between the teams Feb. 27, the Vols edged out the Bulldogs in Starkville by a score of 76-54 in the Humphrey Coliseum. Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield led the team with his second consecutive 24-point game. He also added seven rebounds in the win. The Vols dominated Mississippi State on the boards by a 44-34 margin and forced the Bulldogs to shoot just 20 percent from beyond-the-arc.

Thursday night, Mississippi State squeaked out an 80-77 win over 10th-seeded LSU (17-14, 8-10 SEC). Sophomore guard Lamar Peters notched a season-high 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field in the win. Brothers Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon combined for 30 points, as the Bulldogs shot a hot 58 percent from the field.

LSU outrebounded Mississippi State 31-28. The Bulldogs tallied 16 turnovers on the night, but nearly 60 percent shooting from the field and 10-of-17 shooting from 3-point range led them to the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The Weatherspoon brothers (25 points per game) and junior forward Aric Holman all lead the team with over an average of over 10 points per game.

Head coach Rick Barnes and the Volunteers look for their fifth-straight win on Friday. Barnes is a career 6-1 against the Bulldogs. A win keeps Tennessee’s perfect record (5-0) when they play teams more than once this season.

The orange-and-white haven’t hit the floor since beating Georgia 66-61 to be named Co-SEC Champions nearly a week ago.

“We are ready to play,” sophomore forward Grant Williams said. “That’s how we are, when we have a stretch without a game, we want to play.”

Admiral Schofield added he would rather be playing instead of waiting through the double-bye.

The dominant Schofield and Williams duo combined for 45 points, as Tennessee earned the SEC Champions title for the first time in a decade. Playing clean basketball led the Vols to glory. They committed just four turnovers against Georgia despite being outrebounded.

Tennessee will play its first game since Barnes and two of his players earned postseason SEC awards. Barnes earned SEC Head Coach of the Year, while Williams earned SEC Player of the Year honors. Sophomore guard Lamonte Turner got in on the action after being nominated as SEC Co-Sixth Man of the Year.

“I just want our guys to go out and do what we’ve done and build on what we’ve done,” Barnes said. “Your goal is to play three days in a row… I do think we’ve got to get going a little bit.”

The Vols seek a win to make it to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2014 under head coach Donnie Tyndall. If Tennessee wins, they will take on the winner of No. 6 seed Arkansas and third-seeded Florida Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.

Edited by Ben McKee/Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics 

No. 13 Tennessee looks to make a splash in SEC Tournament

It is that time of year again, when SEC basketball fans alike congregate together and watch their respected teams compete in the annual SEC Tournament. This year’s tournament will be held in St. Louis, Missouri at the Scottrade Center for the first time in the tournament’s history. For all those competing or watching the games, the tournament never disappoints.

After being named Co-Champions of the SEC, the 13th-ranked and No. 2 seed Tennessee Volunteers (23-7, 13-5 SEC) look to claim an outright title in the tournament and continue their four-game winning streak. Because of the Vols high seeding in this year’s tournament, Tennessee has been awarded a double-bye and will play their first game of the tournament on Friday.

The Volunteers are riding high after head coach Rick Barnes took home the SEC Coach of the Year award, and forward Grant Williams also raked in SEC Player of the Year. Guard Lamonte Turner also notched a Co-Sixth Man of the Year trophy to add on to Tennessee’s success recently.

Still, the Vols have never favored well in the SEC Tournament, as their last tournament championship came in 1979. Facing the winner of Mississippi State or LSU in their first game, Tennessee has to like its chances moving forward. Many concerns arose during the final week of the season in regard to seeding and who the Vols would have to play. It seems now that Tennessee is in a perfect position to make it to the championship game on Sunday.

If they beat the winner of Mississippi State and LSU on Friday, their remaining opponents would be either Ole Miss, South Carolina, Arkansas or Florida. The Volunteers beat all but one team in the group of five, as they lost a heartbreaker to the Razorbacks in Fayetteville on Dec. 30 by a score of 95-93 in overtime. Arkansas is tough to beat at home, and Tennessee’s team has drastically changed since then, which should give Volunteers fans optimism in the tournament.

Dodging teams such as Auburn, Kentucky and Missouri until the championship game is best case scenario for the orange-and-white. Those teams are some of the hottest teams in the league right now, and luckily the Vols would only have to face one in the championship game, if any of them manage to make it that far. Any way you look at it, Tennessee is set up for success in the SEC Tournament this year.

Barnes is 33-29 all-time in conference tournament games and has more total conference tournament wins than the Volunteers do since the re-creation of the SEC Tournament in 1979. His last conference championship came in 1995, when he led Providence to a Big East Championship.

Tennessee’s first game of the tournament will be at 6 p.m. ET on Friday. Each of the SEC Tournament games will be broadcasted on the SEC Network. A win for the Volunteers would advance them to the semifinals of the tournament for the first time since 2014.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

SEC Tournament recap

Another year, another SEC Tournament Championship for the Kentucky Wildcats. For the third-straight season, the Wildcats (29-5, 16-2 SEC) will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with their 82-65 win over Arkansas (25-9, 12-6 SEC).

Alas, those are only two of the 14 teams in the SEC. Here’s how the rest of the tournament shook out, and how these two teams came to face off in the final.

First Round

The first round featured the cliché mascots of the conference, with the 12-seed Mississippi State Bulldogs facing off against the 13-seed LSU Tigers, and the No. 11 Auburn Tigers battling the SEC’s worst team, the 14-seed Missouri Tigers.

The first matchup on Wednesday between Mississippi State and LSU was a beatdown by the Bulldogs, who knocked out LSU, 79-52.

The nightcap, on the other hand, was a thriller. Missouri eventually won the battle of the Tigers, 86-83, but not before sending the game to overtime and hitting a buzzer-beater in the extra period. Kevin Puryear was the hero in the game, hitting the buzzer-beater and leading all scorers with 30 points.

Second Round

The second round of the SEC Tournament was packed full of action, with four games being played on Thursday. Eight teams played, but only four prevailed past the second round, and most of those teams made it to round three with ease.

No. 5 seed Alabama, No. 6 seed Ole Miss and No. 7 seed Vanderbilt all took care of business, each winning their second-round games by 12 points or more.

Georgia, on the other hand, engaged in a back-and-forth affair with ninth-seeded Tennessee, but eventually grabbed a 59-57 victory after 60 minutes of close play. The Bulldogs’ two best players, J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten, both scored double-digit points, with Frazier picking up a double-double )17 points and 10 boards).

Quarterfinals

It was a good day for odd-numbered seeds on Friday, with No. 1 Kentucky, No. 3 Arkansas, No. 5 Alabama and No. 7 Vanderbilt all picking up wins over their even-numbered foes. Much like the first round, competition increased as the day went on.

In the first game of the day, Kentucky defeated Georgia, 71-60. Alabama added to the 11-point win party with a 64-53 win over the Gamecocks. Vanderbilt almost crashed the party, but was only able to beat Florida by 10 points and eventually upset the second-seeded Gators, 72-62.

The final game of the quarterfinals, Arkansas narrowly escaped the Ole Miss Rebels with a 73-72 win to advance. Daryl Macon led the Razorbacks with 17 points and chipped in the game-sealing free throws that Arkansas needed.

Semifinals

The road to the SEC Championship had been easy thus far for Kentucky, but wasn’t so against Alabama. De’Aaron Fox posted 28 points and his backcourt companion, Malik Monk, added 20. Bam Adebayo had a near-double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds, and the Wildcats only won by five, 79-74.

The next-to-last game was far easier for the Razorbacks, who pummeled Vanderbilt, 76-62. Moses Kingsley had a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Championship

The tournament game featured back-and-forth play in the beginning of first half, but there was little doubt as to who the victor would be in the final period. Kentucky took a 42-30 lead into the break and never relinquished a double-digit lead. Bam Adebayo and Malik Monk each had 17 points, but De’Aaron Fox—the eventual tournament MVP—led the Wildcats with 18.

Edited by David Bradford

Featured image by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Rocky Topics: Can Tennessee win two games in the SEC Tournament?

Photo by Brad Blackwelder

On this week’s edition of Rocky Topics, Chase Carder and Gray LaRose debate whether Tennessee (16-15 8-10 SEC) can win two games against Georgia and Kentucky in the SEC Tournament

Carder: Tennessee will surely have its hands full against Georgia before even considering a matchup with Kentucky. A betting man would surely advise against it, but the Vols undoubtedly have a chance to advance to the conference semifinals. The comeback victory against Alabama in the season finale could re-energize a team in dire need of confidence boost. On the other hand, Georgia is coming off an 18-point loss at the hands of Arkansas. While the Vols will have their hands full with upperclassmen JJ Frazier and the returning Yante Maten, they’ll also be looking for revenge after the Bulldogs snuck away with a 76-75 win at Thompson Boiling back on Feb. 11. The optimist in me envisions another game that goes down to the wire, but with senior Roberts Hubbs leading his team to victory rather than Frazier. Now, onto Kentucky. Taking down the top team in the conference will be quite the task, but Tennessee proved back in January it can beat the Wildcats. Sure, one can argue Kentucky’s 83-58 victory in Rupp back on Valentine’s Day may have a bigger indication when it comes to a neutral site matchup. Keep in mind Kentucky has failed to win a game by more than 10 points since this beat down, while the Vols would be coming in fresh off back-to-back victories. If my prediction on the first game turns reality, that’s two straight close games where Tennessee came out victorious. That can do a lot for a team’s confidence.

LaRose: While I agree that Thursday’s matchup against the Bulldogs will be another nail-biter, I think Georgia will be the team advancing on to play Kentucky, and here’s why. The Vols struggled down the stretch, going 4-6 over the previous ten games, including that 76-75 loss at home against Georgia back in February. Hubbs could spark an underclassmen-ridden Tennessee team during a close rematch, but I think Frazier will show again that he is too much for the Vols’ young team to handle. Even if Tennessee can somehow pull out a victory Friday night, there is no way they are capable of beating a John Calipari-coached Kentucky team, which has found its stride as of late. The Wildcats have won eight straight games to close out the year including that impressive win over Tennessee. Coming off a close game against Georgia, I don’t think the Vols would have enough in the tank to compete with the Wildcats explosive freshman guards Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. Tennessee is just too young and doesn’t have the experience to compete.

Carder: You’re right. The Vols have struggled down the stretch. Remember before that stretch when they were being discussed as an NCAA tournament team? Despite the struggles, it’s not as if that team disappeared. Sports are weird. Teams can go on cold or hot streaks at any time. In my view, Tennessee’s most recent victory combined with their encouraging performances from matchup on neutral site floors early in the year makes it hard to not view Tennessee as a low seed capable of advancing far. The tough road makes this a tougher pitch to sell, but the youthful Vols have already proven they can hang with the big boys on a neutral floor. Shembari Phillips is arguably Tennessee’s top perimeter defender has earned an increased role since the last meeting with Georgia, maybe he can take on the role of shutting down Frazier late this time around. Then, maybe the Vols can shoot better than 34 percent in a matchup against Kentucky away from Rupp. All of this isn’t to say they “will” win two games, but there’s a better chance of it happening compared to the public’s perception.

LaRose: Sports are weird, and teams get streaky. You’re right. This Tennessee team is easily talented enough despite their youth to make a run on a neutral floor. That being said, it’s not going to happen. The Vols just don’t have enough experience to close out high-pressure close games right now. If you remember, once Tennessee’s tournament hopes began to look hopeful after their four-game win streak, which included wins over then-No. 4 Kentucky, Auburn and Kansas State, the Vols proceeded to blow several second-half leads in crucial bubble games against Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Mississippi State. Tennessee is talented enough to compete if it can hit open looks and Phillips is able to lock down Frazier. The Vols will already have a disadvantage in the paint against both Kentucky and Georgia.  However, if the undersized frontcourt of Grant Williams and Lew Evans are physical enough to make it difficult for Maten and the rest of Georgia’s big men. Tennessee will keep it close. I just don’t see Tennessee having that go-to shooter late in the game to leave Nashville with a victory.

Edited by Quinn Pilkey

Featured image by Brad Blackwelder