Holly Warlick and her 10th-ranked Lady Vols traveled down to The Plains on Thursday night and defeated Auburn 78-69 in their SEC opener.
It was a close game throughout with nine lead changes taking place despite Tennessee (12-1) leading for 27:36 of the 40 minutes.
In the first half, the Lady Vols shot 48 percent from the field, but because of 11 turnovers, Auburn scored 11 second chance points and the game was 35-all at halftime. Meme Jackson led Tennessee in the opening half with 15 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the 3-point line. For Auburn, Unique Thompson led the way with 13 points and eight rebounds.
The second half was close throughout, with neither team being able to separate from the other. Tennessee led 58-50 at the end of the third, but Auburn opened the final frame on a 12-3 run to take a 62-61 lead with 5:41 to go.
All of the momentum was in the Tigers’ favor until the Lady Vols’ Greens – Zaay and Cheridene – took over. The duo would score eight out of Tennessee’s next 13 points to give the Lady Vols a 74-67 lead with 1:18 remaining. Rennia Davis would then hit four free throws to give UT its first conference win of the season.
Here are the biggest observations from the Lady Vols’ 12th win of the season.
Jackson and Davis led Tennessee in Auburn Arena, combining for 50 points on 16-of-24 shooting from the field. As two of the few veteran pieces on the roster, Jackson and Davis traded big shot after big shot. When Auburn would go on a run, either of the pair would kill the momentum with a made bucket.
After scoring a career-high 33 points against then-ranked No. 12 Texas on Dec. 12, Jackson poured in 27 points in the Lady Vols’ first road game since the trip to Austin. The junior was 8-of-13 from the field and 5-of-8 from the 3-point line. She played all but one minute in the game.
Davis – who knocked off Auburn in the SEC Tournament by banking in a 3-pointer the last time the two teams met – scored 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting. The sophomore recorded a double-double on the night by also pulling down a season-high 14 rebounds. Davis made her only three-point attempt and picked up two steals, blocked a shot, and assisted on three buckets.
Turnovers Nearly Costly
When Auburn would make its runs, it was because Tennessee committed turnovers. The Lady Vols committed 23 turnovers on the night that led to 20 Auburn points. After turning it over just 10 times against Belmont in their last game out, Thursday night was the fourth time this season the Lady Vols have committed more than 20 turnovers.
Tennessee assisted on 18 of its 27 buckets, but if it could have erased the ridiculous amount of turnovers, it would have won by nearly 20. The only good aspect of the turnovers is that they are usually when the Lady Vols are being aggressive, rather than being careless. Warlick has said on numerous occasions that she can live with the turnovers as long as they’re being aggressive and attacking the basket.
The Lady Vols now return home for their SEC home-opener against Missouri (12-3) on Sunday afternoon. Mizzou is coming off a double-digit home win over Ole Miss. Last season, the Tigers beat Tennessee 77-73 in the only match-up between the two teams.
Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. ET on ESPN2.