The No. 11 Lady Vols opened up their season on Sunday afternoon with a 97-49 win over Presbyterian.
It was sloppy at times for Tennessee (1-0), but Holly Warlick’s young squad was able to lead by double-digits for most of the game.
Presbyterian jumped out to a 5-2 lead, but the Lady Vols went on a 16-1 run in the first quarter to take a commanding lead. Tennessee’s full-court press sparked the run, as Tennessee forced 21 turnovers and led 46-29 at the break. Though they had a 17-point half-time lead, UT only out-scored the Blue Hose 22-17 in the second frame.
Following a sloppy second quarter, Tennessee was much better in the third. Switching to a zone-defense, the Lady Vols were able to tighten up on the defensive end and out-score the Blue Hose 28-11. Tennessee used a 14-3 run to take a 74-40 lead into the final quarter.
The Lady Vols would out-score Presbyterian 23-9 in the fourth quarter to pick up their first win of the season.
Here are our observations from the Lady Vols’ season-opening win over Presbyterian.
Rennia Davis-less Lady Vols
Tennessee was without Preseason All-SEC 1st Team member Rennia Davis on Sunday afternoon in its season opener.
Davis played in the Lady Vols’ lone exhibition against Carson-Newman, scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds. But against Presbyterian, she sat on the end of the bench next to the coaches with her left foot in a boot.
“She had a foot injury,” Warlick said of Davis after the game. “It’s day-to-day. We talked about her playing, but our trainer advised us to rest her.”
True freshman Zaay Green made her first career start in place of Davis. Green was the highlight of Tennessee’s exhibition, recording a double-double and scoring a team-high 28 points. She also grabbed 10 rebounds.
“Zaay is going to do whatever she needs to do to get this basketball team a W,” Warlick said. “I thought she stepped up and played like she was coming off the bench. She doesn’t have a lot of fear. None of the freshman do.”
In her first official game, Green affected the game in all areas. With Davis out, the freshman scored 13 points, picked up five steals, and assisted on four buckets. Green used her length on both ends of the floor to spark her team and not allow Presbyterian to get in a flow on offense.
“At first I was mostly excited and ready to play,” Green said about starting. “I know what I’m capable of. I’m just focused on my defense because I know when I get my defense going, my offense will come.
“I don’t feel nerves now. I just be hoopin’.”
First Quarter Effort Leads to Win
Presbyterian jumped out to an early 5-2 lead following a 3-pointer, but the Lady Vols responded quickly with a 16-1 run.
The run was sparked by Tennessee’s defense, which forced Presbyterian into 21 first half turnovers. At one point, the Blue Hose had turned the basketball over 10 times in just under five minutes of action. During the rough stretch of basketball from Presbyterian, the Blue Hose didn’t score for 5:36 of action. Presbyterian shot just 36.4-percent from the field in the opening frame.
“This is a team that loves to be physical all over the court,” Warlick said of her defense. “I love the aggressive play, I love the blocks. It gets our young ladies emotional, it gets them fired up.”
The full-court press was the sole reason Tennessee was able to generate the run. After not starting the game in the press, Warlick quickly called a timeout. After the timeout, Tennessee went to a full-court press and immediately forced a 10-second violation on the Blue Hose. That’s when the Lady Vols went on their 16-1 run, turning Presbyterian over on nearly every possession.
“We really wanted to focus on intensity,” Warlick said of the press. “It goes back to practice, and it’s a mindset. We play like that, we practice like that.”
By the end of the game, Tennessee’s press was suffocating. The Lady Vols finished the game forcing the Blue Hose into 39 turnovers. The Blue Hose shot just 31.4 percent from the field.
Westbrook and Jackson Lead the Way
With Rennia Davis out, Tennessee lacked experience on the floor to start the season.
The only two remaining starters from last year’s team — Evina Westbrook and Meme Jackson — picked up the slack. Westbrook scored a career-high 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field. The sophomore also had seven steals, five assists and four rebounds.
“We were all sad Rennia (Davis) wasn’t able to play,” Westbrook said. “I just had to do what my team needed me to do. I don’t come out thinking I need to score this amount of points.”
“I thought she (Westbrook) took great shots,” Warlick stated. “She ran the basketball team and attacked the basket.”
Jackson contributed 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting, and she went 1-of-2 from the 3-point line. Like Westbrook, Jackson also had a big day on the defensive end, picking up four steals. She added three assists and two rebounds.
“Just us pressuring made it possible to get all those steals,” Westbrook said. “It feels great for us not to have them pass half-court, but we have to continue to do it.”