Holly Warlick’s Lady Vols picked up a much-needed victory on Thursday afternoon.
As an eight-seed in the SEC Tournament, Tennessee (19-11, 7-9 SEC) defeated ninth-seeded LSU 69-66 to advance to the third round of the SEC Tournament. The sophomore duo of Evina Westbrook and Rennia Davis combined for 27 second half points to rally from a seven-point halftime deficit.
“When things didn’t go well, we stayed the course,” Holly Warlick said following the big win. “We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game.”
With the win, it appears the Lady Vols will now make the NCAAW Tournament after living on the bubble the past couple of weeks. LSU (16-13, 7-9 SEC) was also on the bubble with the Lady Vols. ESPN’s Charlie Creme declared before the game that the winner would earn a birth to the Big Dance. As a result, both teams threw punches for 40 minutes, going back-and-forth.
In the end, the Lady Vols did enough to earn the victory.
Here’s a look at the biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s win.
Lady Vols survive
The storyline was quite simple. Either win or go home.
A week ago today, Tennessee lost in horrific fashion on senior night to a Vanderbilt team that finished the season 7-23 and 2-14 in SEC play. Following the embarrassing loss, many projected the Lady Vols would miss the tournament for the first time in program history. But because the bubble is so weak this season, hope remained.
Heading into Thursday’s game with LSU, Creme had the Lady Vols as an 11-seed playing South Dakota State in Iowa City. That was only if the Lady Vols won, though, turning the game with the Lady Tigers into essentially a play-in game.
With the win now behind them, it’s likely that, even with a loss to one-seed Mississippi State on Friday afternoon, the Lady Vols would still be in at that point according to Creme. They would have to wait for some other conference results, however.
Westbrook and Davis picked the perfect time to take their game to the next level.
Despite a rough start to the game and having to sit on the bench with foul trouble in the first half, Westbrook came out firing to begin the second half. Over the final 20 minutes of play, she scored 15 of the team’s 41 points. Westbrook would finish with a team-high 20 points, her 10th 20-plus point game of the season.
“I ran everything as much as I could to her (Westbrook),” Warlick said. “In the first half, she kind of had to create her own shots, but once I saw her attack the basket, I ran the ball through her.
“She stepped up.”
Westbrook would also finish with an assist and two rebounds as she was 9-of-14 from the floor and 1-of-2 from the 3-point line.
Alongside the Lady Vols’ point guard, Davis scored 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting and knocked down two 3’s. Davis added three assists and two rebounds.
Following the win over LSU, Tennessee advances to face the SEC regular season champions, Mississippi State (27-2, 15-1 SEC). The quarterfinal match-up between the two teams is scheduled to tip at 12 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.
The Lady Vols hung with the Bulldogs for three quarters in Starkville on Feb. 10, but State ultimately pulled away and won 91-63. Davis had a team-high 29 points.