Three Observations: No. 25 Lady Vols 70, No. 12 Kentucky 53

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    The 25th-ranked Lady Vols bounced back from their loss to No. 3 Connecticut on Thursday night with a convincing 70-53 win over No. 12 Kentucky inside of Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday afternoon. It was Tennessee’s third victory over a top-15 team this season, its highest number of wins over ranked opponents since the 2017-18 season.

    UT (10-4, 3-1 SEC) was led by a career-high 19 points from sophomore forward Tamari Key, while senior forward Rennia Davis grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds to go along with 15 points. Sophomore guard Rae Burrell and senior forward Kasiyahna Kushkituah also reached double figures, scoring 13 and 11, respectively.

    It was Davis’ 35th career double-double, tying Mary Ostrowski for fifth all-time among Lady Vols. She is now just one shy of catching Glory Johnson in fourth-place.

    Jordan Horston only had two points, but she was still instrumental in the team’s offensive success against the Wildcats. The sophomore guard had seven assists in 18 minutes, tying her season-high. Horston is averaging 4.18 assists per game this season.

    These were the three biggest observations from the Lady Vols’ bounce-back win over the Wildcats:

    Defense stands tall

    Tennessee scored 70 points on Sunday, but it was UT’s defense that won itself the game against Kentucky. The Lady Vols held the Wildcats to a season low in points (53) and shooting percentage (28.6). Kentucky (11-4, 4-3 SEC) was averaging 77.7 points on 45.8 percent shooting coming into the contest. It was the ninth time in 12 games that UT held an opponent to 40% shooting or lower and it was the sixth time the Lady Vols have limited a foe to 53 points or fewer.

    “Tonight, I thought we won on the defensive end,” Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper said following the game. “Our focus was excellent. Our execution of the gameplan was really solid. Our staff did a really good job of preparing our team. I’m very pleased with this one.

    “People are getting to see what we can do. I think we’re putting together a pretty good resume with three top-15 wins right now. I think our style of play is fun to watch, and our team is locked in. We’re playing hard.”

    The Lady Vols held Rhyne Howard, the SEC’s Preseason Player of the Year, to 14 points on 3-of-16 shooting. Howard was 2-of-6 from three on the afternoon.

    Dominating the glass

    Tennessee dominated Kentucky on the glass. The Lady Vols out-rebounded the Wildcats 56-25. They nearly had as many offensive rebounds (21) as Kentucky had total rebounds (25). The Wildcats only grabbed 12 boards off of the offensive glass.

    “I think it gives you confidence to shoot the basketball when you know we’ve got an opportunity to get in there and work to get that board if we miss it,” Harper said. “I tell players in practice, ‘You’ve got to shoot that, because we’re going to get the rebound.’ If we have that mindset and we have the effort and focus every game, I think it does give you a little more confidence on the offensive end.”

    Davis led the rebounding charge. She pulled down 11 first-half rebounds en route to a career-high 20 boards on the day. That total ties her for fifth all-time among Lady Vols for rebounds in a single game. It was the most rebounds by a UT player since Glory Johnson collected 21 vs. DePaul on March 19, 2012, and the most by a Lady Vol at Thompson-Boling Arena since Daedra Charles pulled down 22 vs. Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) on March 16, 1991.

    “That’s what my team needed me to do today,” Davis said. “We really emphasized not letting Kentucky get second-chance points, so I really tried to crash the defensive boards. Plus, someone from home challenged me to get 15, so I had to get a little more than that.”

    Tamari Key shines

    Key led the way offensively for the Lady Vols. She scored a career-high 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting while grabbing four rebounds and blocking two shots in 31 minutes of action. Key has now been in double-digits in five-straight games, averaging 14.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks during this stretch.

    “Tamari has been playing so well,” Harper said. “We’re continuing to find ways to get her the basketball. She scores around the basket. She’s playing with so much confidence right now. I’ll give you an example – she caught the ball in the second half and was about to go score. She saw a double team and very calmly and casually kicked the ball out to Rennia Davis for a wide-open three. Right now, the game is coming to her pretty easily. She’s seeing the floor. She knows what she can do. I think defensively, she’s been locked in as well. Her teammates are playing with great confidence in her.”

    “We just wanted to bounce back,” Key added. “We played well. We had great effort against UConn, we just didn’t finish out the game like we wanted to, so we really used that as our motivation today.”

    Up Next

    The Lady Vols now turn their attention to a home matchup with Ole Miss on Thursday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET and will be streamed on SEC Network+.

    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also the host of the 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.