Three Observations: No. 20 Lady Vols 68, Ole Miss 67

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    The 20th-ranked Lady Vols defeated Ole Miss 68-67 on Thursday night to win their second game in a row and third in the last four games. Tennessee now sits at 11-3 on the season and 5-1 in conference play, pulling itself into a tie for second place in the SEC with No. 8 Texas A&M.

    Lady Vols senior forward Rennia Davis led the way with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting, while also grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out three assists and picking up two steals. Junior guard Rae Burrell chipped in 17 points, while sophomore guard Jordan Horston scored 13 points, respectively.

    Ole Miss (7-6, 1-6 SEC) was paced by Donetta Johnson with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Shakira Austin added 16 points, while Snudda Collins had 13, respectively.

    Here’s a look at the three biggest observations from the Lady Vols’ win over Ole Miss:

    Ugly first quarter

    Ole Miss came out of the gates energetic and ready to play. The Lady Vols did not, however, and it showed throughout the first 10 minutes. Tennessee shot 30% from the field, turned it over seven times and allowed the Rebels to shoot 53% from the field, which led to an 18-8 lead for the visitor after one quarter.

    “Ole Miss came out fighting, playing hard,” Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper said. “If you start out by playing with low energy, they’re getting after you, and you aren’t playing with composure, you’re going to turn the ball over. That’s not a great way to start a game. Obviously, what happens in turn – they get energy, they get happy, they get excited. They now are really bought in to their game plan, and how it’s working. We’ve got to come out better – better energy, better confidence, and better composure.”

    Lady Vols win the final three quarters

    The Lady Vols got it turned around rather quickly. They began the second quarter on a 16-8 run courtesy of seven straight points from Horston. It allowed Tennessee to climb back in the game and cut the deficit to three at halftime. After a tough first quarter, the Lady Vols shot 60% and turned it over just once in the second quarter.

    “We tried to make adjustments throughout the game, but nothing different than any other game that we play,” Harper said. “As a coach, you make adjustments throughout – ball screen defense, play some zone, calling different plays. But I think really, it was on our players. In that first quarter, there was not a whole lot that I called that worked. We were able to call the same plays in the last three quarters and get good looks. So, a lot of that was just being a little bit more confident and sure with basketball.”

    Tennessee out-scored Ole Miss 60-49 over the final three quarters after being out-scored by 10 in the first quarter. The Lady Vols shot 46.4% from the field in the second half, out-rebounded the Rebels 20-13 and assisted nine times on 13 made buckets.

    Freshman guard Destiny Salary stepped up and played big minutes down the stretch. Salary only had six points, but her energy helped spark the Lady Vols. She picked up four assists, four rebounds and two assists.

    “I felt like the two things we did not start the game with were energy and composure,” Harper said. “I thought Destiny came in and brought both of those.. I thought she did some really good things on both ends of the court. She played with confidence.

    “She scored some buckets there in the third quarter, which I thought were really big. I thought her defense in the second quarter was good. Again, I think a lot of people have confidence her, because that’s how she been practicing. Her role is to be that energy player for us. She knows that, and I’m really happy for her. I mean, we needed it. We absolutely needed it tonight. She made big plays.”

    No Marta Suarez

    Freshman forward Marta Suarez started the game as she typically does, but was only able to play one minute due to a foot injury. Suarez has started all 14 games this season and is averaging 5.2 points per game.

    “We’ve not practiced her much since our last game and are trying to give her some rest,” Harper said. “As of right now, to be honest with you, I don’t know her status. We knew we were going to try to rest her and get her through a game to see how she did. Obviously, we knew at the tip that we weren’t going to be able to play her and that was unfortunate.

    “I’ll tell you; she has played really well for us. That was a big blow for our team. Obviously, the depth in that position was already slim. So, that hurt us to start the game. We’ll just have to figure that out.”

    Up Next

    The Lady Vols have one game remaining on their four-game home-stretch. Tennessee will host Florida (9-7, 2-6 SEC) on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

    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.