3 Observations: No. 23 Lady Vols 63, LSU 58

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    Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/RTI

    No. 23 Tennessee linked up with LSU for another “We Back Pat” game on Sunday afternoon in Thompson-Boling Arena.

    The Lady Vols (16-4, 6-1 SEC) defeated the Tigers 63-58 in the annual contest designed to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease. It was a tough contest throughout, with the Lady Vols leading for 26:42 and LSU leading for 11:17.

    “We’re excited about the win,” Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper said following the game. “Any time you can get a conference win, it’s a big deal.”

    LSU (14-5, 4-3 SEC) jumped out to an 11-4 lead as the Lady Vols shot 20 percent to begin the game. Rennia Davis got her teammates going following the sluggish start, scoring five straight points following the media timeout. At the end of the first quarter, Tennessee led 14-13 thanks to a 10-2 run to end the frame.

    LSU’s Ayana Mitchell was a problem for the Lady Vols in the first quarter and a half. Until Mitchell picked up her second foul with 8:45 remaining in the second quarter, UT didn’t have an answer for her. Mitchell accounted for 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting and five rebounds. But once the forward took a seat on the bench due to foul trouble, the Lady Vols were able to go on a 14-4 run to end the half and take a 30-26 halftime lead.

    Tennessee won the third quarter 17-13 thanks to its defense. While it shot 46.7 percent from the field thanks to nine points in the quarter from Davis, its defense held LSU to 31.2 percent shooting.

    After the Lady Vols led 47-39 at the end of the third quarter, LSU could only cut the lead down to three points. The Tigers trimmed the Tennessee lead down to five, four, and three at different points of the fourth quarter, but LSU couldn’t completely overcome the deficit because of key made baskets by UT.

    Jazmine Massengill hit a jumper in the lane when the Tigers cut the deficit to four. Then, when LSU cut the lead to five, Massengill pushed the lead to eight with a made three. When the Tigers cut it to three with 1:42 remaining, Massengill hit another key jumper, ultimately putting the dagger in LSU.

    “I thought LSU was cutting it closer and closer,” Harper said. “We would come up with big shots and big buckets when we needed them.

    “I thought Jaz’s two buckets were critical when we needed them. We’ve been talking to her about being more aggressive. And boy, she had a lot more confidence getting in there and taking both of those [shots]. I’m very proud of her and proud to be able to finish that.”

    Massengill finished the game with all seven of her points coming in the fourth quarter. She also had five rebounds, a steal, and an assist.

    “I just had to make a play basically, and whatever my team needed me to do, that’s what I did in order to get this win,” Massengill said. “(It was) definitely a team effort. (We) definitely had to grind it out, but I’m glad we got it done at the end.”

    Mitchell finished with a team-high 24 points for LSU on 9-for-15 shooting in the midst of recording a double-double with 12 rebounds.

    Here are the three biggest observations from the Lady Vols’ fifth consecutive SEC win.

    Rennia Davis leads the way again

    One of the leading candidates to win SEC Player of the Year poured in yet another terrific performance on Sunday against LSU.

    Rennia Davis scored a game-high 30 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 2-for-5 from the 3-point line. She also grabbed eight rebounds and picked up four steals in nearly 37 minutes of playing time. As a team, the Lady Vols struggled from the free throw line as they missed 11. Davis, however, was a perfect 10-for-10.

    “I felt like the last couple of games and the last few practices, my free throws just weren’t how they should have been,” Davis said. “I realized I had messed up my feet, so I fixed it today, and clearly it worked.

    “I feel like tonight, I got easier looks. I was moving a lot without the ball. I got a lot of layups and shots in the paint. I also think my teammates were looking for me when I did get hot and get moving fast.”

    Davis’ 30-point performance is the 11th time she’s scored at least 20 points in a game and the third time she’s scored 30. She’s now tied for 11th all-time in a Lady Vol career for scoring at least 20 points in a game.

    “Re (Rennia) is definitely a great player.” Massengill said. “She’s so humble. She hit 30 points today and still remains humble. I love Re. The team loves Re.”

    “Rennia Davis is one of the best players in our league,” LSU head coach Nikki Fargas added. “She did a great job of filling her stat line. She got herself to three free throw line. She rebounded. She had some transition baskets. She obviously made some baskets at the half-court setting. She is just a really good offensive player.”

    Bouncing back

    Tennessee entered the LSU game coming off of an emotional loss to No. 3 Connecticut on Thursday night. It was a quick turnaround for a young basketball team, but UT didn’t let it faze them. Harper was proud of the way her team responded.

    “Hats off to our team, because I think what we just had to do was very difficult,” Harper said. “We’re coming off of a lot of emotions spent. We had a tough game.

    “We were off on Friday. LSU is coming off seven days. We knew it was going to be a physical game. We had to mentally and emotionally get past that UConn loss to be able to lock in and get focused today. I was really, really proud of our team. I was proud of our staff for helping them get there.”

    Jaiden McCoy’s big minutes

    The junior-college signee who is going through her first season on Rocky Top hasn’t seen a lot of playing time of late. McCoy had played double figure minutes in just five of 14 games she’s played in this season. In the season-opener against ETSU, the Knoxville native started and played 21 minutes — the only time she’s played at least 20 minutes in a game this season.

    That is, until Sunday’s game against LSU. McCoy she tied her season-high in minutes with 21.

    “We just needed to shake things up a little bit today with our rotations, and she has been practicing so well,” Harper said. “Sometimes it’s been hard to get good minutes for more than four post players. I felt that way after the UConn game. I wanted to get Jaiden more minutes, and she was terrific in practice yesterday. Sometimes these players don’t know how important every practice is, and she was fabulous yesterday, so that gave me even more confidence to get her in there more.

    “She came in gave us exactly what we needed today. She was physical, she was aggressive, and had a plus 10 on the day, so that’s a good sign.”

    McCoy scored five points on 2-for-6 shooting and grabbed four rebounds.

    Up Next

    Tennessee now hits the road for a two-game road trip. The Lady Vols will be in Nashville on Thursday night for a 9 p.m. tip with the Vanderbilt Commodores (12-8, 2-5 SEC) on the SEC Network. They’ll then travel to South Carolina on Sunday for a date with the top-ranked Gamecocks (19-1, 7-0 SEC) at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

    The Lady Vols’ next home game will be Feb. 6 against No. 9 Mississippi State (18-3, 6-1 SEC).

    Ben McKee
    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He grew up an Army brat and lived in Alabama for a bit, but he bleeds orange. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also a co-host on the RTI Live Show and RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.