3 Observations: Lady Vols 56, Auburn 55

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    The Lady Vols avoided disaster in their final game of the regular season on Sunday. Tennessee defeated Auburn 56-55 down on The Plains to finish the regular season 20-9 and 10-6 in SEC play, but the win was not without a scare in the final moments of the game.

    “We knew this was going to be a very tough game for us,” Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper said following the game. “Auburn has been playing some good basketball. They’ve been shooting the ball well. They’ve got a great post player. Defensively, they’re just a little bit different than anybody we’ve seen.

    “Coming down here, we said if we could find a way to win, we’d be happy walking out of here.”

    Rennia Davis led the way with yet another double-double. Davis finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. She was the only Lady Vol to score in double figures for the game. The performance was Davis’ sixth 20-plus game of the season and the 13th of her career, putting her at ninth all-time among Lady Vols.

    For Auburn, Daisa Alexander had a team-high 15 points while Robyn Benton chipped in 11 points.

    “Proud we’re walking out of here with one point more,” Harper said.

    Here are our three takeaways from Tennessee’s win on Sunday afternoon.

    Horston Redeems Herself

    With the Lady Vols leading 54-51 following a Jordan Horston free throw, the freshman fouled Auburn’s Daisa Alexander on a three-point attempt with three seconds remaining. Alexander, the Tigers senior guard, stepped to the line and knocked down all three free throws to knot the game at 54-all.

    Kellie Harper proceeded to call a timeout following the Alexander free throws to advance the ball to mid-court. Following the timeout, Horston took the inbound pass, split a pair of defenders and hit a floater with 0.6 seconds remaining to give Tennessee a 56-54 lead.

    “We had a couple other options there,” Harper said. “I talked to her and said if she got the ball, she could get to the paint, that it might be a good opportunity to attack.”

    But the drama didn’t end there. It was Auburn’s turn to advance the basketball, and after it did, Davis was called for a questionable foul call in the lane while the Tigers were trying to inbound the basketball, sending Alexander back to the free throw line with yet another chance to tie the basketball game. This time, Alexander made the first free throw but missed the second to give Tennessee the win.

    Horston finished with six points, four rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block. She did have six turnovers and three personal fouls, however.

    A Unique Defensive Performance

    Unique Thompson is one of the best post players in the SEC. Thompson ranks fifth in the SEC in points per game (16.6) and fourth in field goal percentage (57.9 percent). Against the Lady Vols, she had just six points on three shots.

    “Going into the game, we stressed how good Unique Thompson is,” Harper said. “I mean she is really talented. One of the best post players in the league.”

    Thompson was fresh off recording her 41st career double-double against Missouri. Tennessee managed to hold her to just six points and five rebounds on the day. The Lady Vols out-rebounded the Tigers by a commanding 50-26 margin. UT has now out-rebounded 21 of 29 opponents on the season and boasts a +11.4 rebounding margin.

    “I thought Tamari Key and Kasiyahna Kushkituah did a really good job of guarding early, locking in and understanding they were going to have to work,” Harper stated. “Thought we had some pretty good help-side defense occasionally, kept people from throwing her the basketball. We wanted to limit her touches as best we could.”

    SEC Tournament Time

    The Lady Vols entered Sunday as the seven-seed in the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament, which begins on Wednesday. With the win over Auburn, Tennessee earned the sixth seed in the conference tourney and finish in a tie for third place in the standings.

    “In areas, we have improved, and that’s exciting for us,” Harper said. “We’re able to say we’re tied for third in the SEC, and that’s a big statement for this team.”

    Tennessee will play on Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. ET. The Lady Vols will play the winner of Wednesday’s game between 11-seed Missouri and 14-seed Ole Miss. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.