Notes from the Summitt: Both Vol Basketball Programs on the Rise

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    Lady Vols Notebook

    Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/RTI

    The Lady Vols are up one spot to No. 22 in this week’s AP Poll after going 2-1 last week.

    On Monday night, Rennia Davis hit an incredible three at the buzzer to lift the Lady Vols past Alabama, 65-64. Tennessee trailed by one when Davis hit the shot with 0.8 seconds remaining to win the game. The win snapped a five-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide and gave coach Kellie Harper her 300th career win. Davis finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.

    On Thursday night, the Lady Vols renewed their rivalry with Connecticut for the first time since 2007, but UT lost 60-45 to the third-ranked team in the country despite a strong showing in the first half. Tennessee led by three at halftime, but it wasn’t enough to pull off the upset, as UConn ran away with the game in the second half.

    The game was the first of a two-year Basketball Hall of Fame Revival Series, from which a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Pat Summitt Foundation, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. The two teams will play in Knoxville next season.

    Tennessee had a quick turnaround from the trip to Connecticut. Despite having to take Friday off because of NCAA rules, and LSU not having played in about a week, the Lady Vols pulled off a hard-fought 63-58 win over the Tigers in this year’s “We Back Pat” game on Sunday. Davis led the Vols with 30 points in the win, as Tennessee led throughout the majority of the game.

    Davis Named SEC Player of the Week

    As a result of her performances last week, Davis was named this week’s SEC Player of the Week early Tuesday afternoon. It’s the second time Davis has won the award this season and the fifth time in her career.

    The junior forward averaged 23.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals last week in the wins over Alabama and LSU and the loss to UConn. Davis finished 16-for-27 from the field and was 4-for-9 from three-point range. She went 10-for-11 from the free throw line.

    Davis has now scored in double figures in 18 consecutive games.

    Remembering Kobe Bryant

    Everyone gathered at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday to honor a sports icon — Pat Summitt — who we lost far too soon. As everyone left later that evening, we mourned the loss of another sports icon gone way too soon.

    “He was so skilled, athletic, and just loved the game,” Harper said. “Growing up, my favorite player was Michael Jordan. Kobe was the closest thing to that that I ever saw. With how he played, how he loved the game, his competitive fire and his drive, that will always be remembered.”

    Harper grew up watching and favoring Jordan. For the current Lady Vols, Bryant was their Jordan.

    “(He was) my favorite player growing up,” junior forward Jaiden McCoy said. ”I wore No. 24 before I came here. It’s just hard to talk about. It sucks.”

    “I love him,” sophomore guard Jazmine Massengill said. “That’s definitely my favorite player. My teammates loved him. Everybody in basketball just loved him. You either hated him because he was good, or you loved him because of the kind of person that he was.”

    Bryant loved women’s basketball. He served as an advocate for the sport in multiple ways. Bryant coached his oldest daughter in the sport, was a frequent fan at women’s basketball games, and he used his platform to bring eyes to the sport.

    Gianna, his oldest daughter who also passed away in the crash, was an up-and-coming basketball player with dreams of playing in the WNBA. During multiple public appearances, Bryant was seen coaching her up, trying to help her reach those dreams.

    “He’s one of the best players to ever play the game,” Rennia Davis said after scoring a game-high 30 points in UT’s win over LSU. “For him to kind of reach backwards and try to help women’s basketball, which is somewhat behind men’s basketball right now, as far as fans and everything… him using his platform to reach out to women’s basketball is huge. That was huge for me.”

    Bracketology

    ESPN’s Charlie Creme currently has the Lady Vols slated to be an eight-seed in the 2020 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, playing in the Fort Wayne region of the bracket. Creme has the Lady Vols playing in Louisville to start the tournament against either Central Michigan or the MAC champion, who would be a nine-seed. Should Tennessee win, it would likely face 1-seed Louisville.

    The Lady Vols are on of seven projected SEC teams to make the field.

    Week Ahead

    Tennessee will be on the road for both games this week.

    The Lady Vols will travel to Nashville on Thursday night to face Vanderbilt (12-8, 2-5 SEC) at 9 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. They’ll then travel to Columbia on Sunday to face No. 1 South Carolina (19-1, 7-0 SEC). Tip-off with the Gamecocks is slated for 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

    Lady Vols Mailbag

    Now, let’s get to some fan questions about the Lady Vols basketball program.

    “Did the Lady Vols beat LSU?” — @Volstorm

    Yes.

    “What’s the latest on Lady Vol recruiting? Any word on how Coach Harper is doing there?” — @NeylandMafia

    Coach Harper is doing the best she can considering the circumstances she took over. Harper signed a pair of four-star guards in November that are viewed as top-100 players by recruiting sites.

    Destiny Salary, a six-foot guard out of Jonesboro, Arkansas is ranked as a four-star guard by both espnW, HoopGurlz, and ProspectsNation.com. She is the No. 59 overall player and the No. 17 guard according to HoopGurlz. ProspectsNation.com has Salary rated No. 92 overall and No. 20 among guards.

    Salary was a USA Today All-Arkansas Second Team selection in 2019 and earned Class 5A all-state in 2019 and Class 6A all-state in 2017.

    Tess Darby is a 6-foot-1 guard from Greenfield High School in Greenfield, Tennessee. She is rated as a four-star by ProspectsNation and the No. 144 player overall. ESPN lists her as a three-star, ranking as the No. 29 guard in the class.

    Darby and Salary figure to be good players for the Lady Vols, but they aren’t the elite recruits that the program has signed in the past. This may work as a good thing, however, because the former staff was only worried about signing McDonald’s All-Americans rather than doing their own due-diligence. And those players haven’t worked out at Tennessee like many thought.

    Harper is going to recruit good players to Tennessee, but she needs time to repair the Lady Vol image in order to sign the elite recruits that will help win a championship.

    “Was going to ask about Lady Vols recruiting, but @neylandmafia beat me to it. Where do you see our women’s program heading? Feels like they’re on their way to being great again!” — @The_Klassens

    I feel great about the direction of the Lady Vol basketball program. The players love playing for Harper, who is a very good coach. Her teams resemble those of Pat Summitt in the sense that they’re fundamentally sound, they rebound, they play great defense, they’re tough, and they play hard.

    Similar to my last answer, I know the Lady Vols are going to be good under Harper. But that’s not the standard for this program. Winning championships is the standard. If Harper can win over elite recruits on the recruiting trail, she’ll have a great chance of doing so.

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