3 Observations: Lady Vols 67, Vanderbilt 63

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    The Lady Vols snapped their five-game losing streak on Sunday afternoon, defeating in-state foe Vanderbilt by a score of 67-63.

    Junior forward Rennia Davis scored a team-high 18 points. Davis posted a double-double with 10 rebounds, four of which were offensive rebounds. She also totaled a block and a steal. Jordan Horston chipped in 16 points, and Rae Burrell scored 14 points.

    “I knew this was going to be a tough game,” Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper said following the game. “We’re obviously really excited to get back in the win column. Vanderbilt withstood some of our runs and made their own runs. It was tough. It was a tough game, but I’m proud of our team.”

    Horston led the Lady Vols (18-9, 8-6 SEC) in the first quarter. The freshman point guard scored seven of her 16 points in the opening frame, helping Tennessee build an 18-14 lead. Vanderbilt didn’t make a field goal until 4:27 remaining in the quarter.

    In the second quarter, the Lady Vols went on a 10-0 run to take a 32-18 lead with 5:33 remaining in the first half. Vanderbilt responded with a 6-0 run to cut into the lead, but freshman guard Jessie Rennie made a three to end the run and push the lead back to 10.

    “She (Rennie) knows her job is to go in and shoot the basketball if she’s in there,” Harper said. “She got three off today, and that’s good for us. The team likes her in there, too. She got on the floor, got a loose ball, got a jump ball as well. Her minutes were good.”

    Vanderbilt scored five points to close out the half. At the break, the Lady Vols led 38-33. Horston led the team with 14 points and three assists.

    Tennessee led by eight with 5:44 remaining in the third quarter, but then Vanderbilt went on a 7-0 run to make it a one-point game with 3:49 left. Following back-to-back buckets from Burrell and Davis, Tennessee led 51-47 at the end of the third quarter.

    After the Commodores trailed by as many as 14, they fought back to take a 56-55 lead with 6:02 remaining on a Kai Love layup. The Lady Vols quickly recovered with an 8-0 run that proved to be the difference in the game. Kasiyahna Kushkituah sparked the run with a mid-range jumper. Jazmine Massengill got a layup to fall on a fast break opportunity, Burrell got a jumper to go after losing her shoe, and Kushkituah hit another basket.

    “Kasi’s (Kushkituah) two buckets in the second half were big,” Harper said. “Her jumper was crucial, she didn’t hesitate. Her offensive board on the free throw may have been an even bigger bucket.

    “Kasi was in the gym shooting this morning. I was watching, and that is the shot she shot a million of today. And as soon as she caught the ball, my mind went right back to, ‘Oh, that’s all she did this morning.'”

    “I was just trying to get back into the play, just get my shoe on as quick as possible,” Burrell added about her quirky basket. “I shoved my foot in there really quick and then had to get back to what we were doing on offense.”

    Vanderbilt stuck around even after Tennessee’s 8-0 run. The Commodores went on a 7-2 run to trail 64-63 with 1:25 remaining. They had a chance to take the lead with an open three in the corner, but they missed the shot. Massengill then stepped to the free throw line and knocked down a free throw to put the game away.

    Here are our biggest observations from the Lady Vols’ first win since they beat Vanderbilt in Nashville back on Jan. 30.

    Fewer Turnovers

    The biggest difference in Tennessee during its five-game losing streak and Sunday’s win over Vanderbilt was in the turnover department. During the five losses, the Lady Vols were averaging 19.0 turnovers per game. Against the Commodores, they committed 16 turnovers.

    Sure, that’s only a three turnover difference. But the biggest area of improvement with the turnovers was with Horston. The Lady Vols’ freshman point guard has been a turnover machine for much of the season. During the losing streak, Horston was responsible for 30 of the team’s 95 turnovers. She was averaging six turnovers a game.

    Horston turned it over twice against Vanderbilt. It’s just the sixth game this season she’s turned it over two times or fewer.

    “I thought Jordan (Horston) was really aggressive to the basket, looking for her opportunities early on today,” Harper said. “She still had the aggressiveness, but there was a little bit of poise there. She played with great confidence.”

    Horston finished with 16 points on 7-for-16 shooting. She had five rebounds, four assists, and three steals in addition to her two turnovers.

    “Hearing that I only had two turnovers today is a big step for me, because I have been really trying to focus on not turning the ball over,” Horston said. “I mean I’ve still got room to improve, of course. I always can do better, but it’s baby steps.”

    Gaining Confidence

    Rennie only played 10 minutes, but she had a big impact while she was on the floor. The freshman point guard made a three on to stop a Vanderbilt run and dove on the floor for a loose ball.

    Her performance against the Commodores comes a game after a season-best game against No. 22 Arkansas. Rennie scored nine points on 3-for-4 shooting from the 3-point line.

    “She’s playing with great confidence,” Harper said. “I know sometimes that’s hard because her minutes have fluctuated depending on how the games have been going and depending on who the opponent is.

    “She has a little bit more swagger about her, even in practice. She walks around and has more confidence, and we need that from her.”

    Lou Brown

    The sixth-year senior doesn’t necessarily put up eye-popping stats. But in the words of Davis, she’s the glue player who does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. That was evident on Sunday, as she played tough defense and was a force on the glass.

    “Personally, I love playing with Lou,” Davis said. “I think she has heart; she has passion for the game. She is older, so she has been around the game for a while, so she has a lot of knowledge of the game. Especially with such a young team that we have, she is somebody who steps up to take charges when a lot of us are scared to do so.”

    Brown finished with a team-high 10 rebounds against Vanderbilt. Five of her double-digit rebounds came on the offensive glass. The Aussie finished with five points, a block, and a steal in addition to her rebounding effort. Brown played 31 minutes.

    “We are searching for toughness,” Harper said. “We want more of it, and she has it, and that is important. She also has a good understanding of what we are trying to do. She is also the most experienced, the most mature player on our team and has a calming effect when she’s out there.

    “I think the players like her on the court with them. I would. I would want her out there with me. She took some charges and even tried to take one that didn’t get called. But those are such positive plays, and she makes a difference when she’s out there.”

    Up Next

    The Lady Vols have two games remaining before they head to Greenville, South Carolina for the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament. Tennessee’s final home game will be on Thursday against Ole Miss (7-19, 0-13 SEC). Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET. The Lady Vols beat Ole Miss 84-28 back on Jan. 9.

    Tennessee will then travel to Auburn (9-15, 3-10 SEC) on Sunday for a date with the Tigers in the season finale. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

    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.