Three Observations: No. 20 Lady Vols 79, Florida 65

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    The 20th-ranked Lady Vols defeated Florida 79-65 on Sunday afternoon inside of Thompson-Boling Arena to win their third consecutive game and fourth in the last five contests.

    Tennessee (12-3, 6-1 SEC) was led by a team-high 23 points from sophomore Tamari Key, which also tied for the game-high. Key was one of two players to reach double-figures for the Lady Vols. Junior Rae Burrell scored 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting while grabbing nine rebounds and tallying two steals. Senior Rennia Davis had 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal.

    Florida’s (9-8, 2-7 SEC) Kiara Smith and Lavender Briggs accounted for 70.7% of the their team’s points. The two scored 23 points apiece to combine for 46 of the Gators’ 65 points. Smith was 10-of-24 shooting from the field, while Briggs was 5-of-15 from behind the 3-point line, respectively.

    Here’s a look at the three biggest observations from Tennessee’s 12th win of the season:

    Key makes history

    Key turned in one of the best performances in Lady Vol history against the Gators. With 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks, she became just the fourth Lady Vol ever to record a triple-double. She joins the club with Jordan Reynolds (14 rebounds, 11 points, 10 assists vs. UNCW on Dec. 29, 2016), Shekinna Stricklen (17 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists vs. Oklahoma on Jan. 3, 2010) and Shelia Collins (18 points, 10 rebounds, 10 steals vs. Florida State on Feb. 8, 1985).

    “It’s exciting,” Key said following the game. “I’m speechless, honestly. There are so many great people who have played here, and to be one of the four people to have a triple-double is—I’m at a loss for words right now.”

    The 6-foot-5 post player was 10-of-12 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. Six of her 10 rebounds came on the offensive glass and her 10 blocks were a career-high. The 10 blocked shots were the second-most in program history behind only Kelley Cain’s 12 blocked shots against LSU on Feb. 22, 2010.

    “She played terrifically,” Harper said. “Her teammates are looking for her. She’s getting on the offensive boards and her put-backs are pretty quick. She’s done a much better job of that recently. She wants the basketball. She’s looking for the ball on the block.

    “Defensively, I thought she did a really good job of finding ways to help her teammates out. I don’t know what the numbers were, but I felt like she really executed that in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. She came over and provided a lot of help. A lot of people just aren’t going to get shots off on her when she’s helping around the paint. I’m really proud of her.”

    Fourth quarter turnaround

    The Lady Vols led Florida 58-54 following a 6-0 Gators run to end the third quarter. It extended to an 11-2 run as the fourth quarter began, forcing Harper to call a timeout with her team’s lead cut to one with 6:45 remaining.

    Harper’s bunch responded well to the timeout. Florida made just two shots the remainder of the game as Tennessee’s defense turned it up a notch and the Lady Vols closed the game out on a 20-6 run to win the game by 14.

    “I’m really proud of our team’s fourth-quarter defense,” Harper said. “I thought we really gritted our teeth and got stops down the stretch. We showed a lot of toughness.”

    Florida’s Smith and Briggs may have combined to finish with 46, but Tennessee held the duo to only two combined points in the fourth quarter. Smith was 1-of-5 shooting in the frame for two points, while Briggs was 0-of-5.

    Injuries starting to pile up

    Injuries have begun piling up for the Lady Vols. Marta Suarez missed her second straight game on Sunday with an ankle injury and it doesn’t appear she’ll return anytime soon. Senior Kasiyahna Kushkituah started in her place and scored eight points while grabbing 12 rebounds.

    “We’re still trying to work through some things with Marta,” Harper said. “We’re hopeful, but I don’t know how much we can get connected over the next few weeks. We’ll figure it out.

    “Obviously, not having Marta (Suárez) out there changed our lineup. When we knew Marta was not going to play, we had no worries about putting Kasi in the lineup… Kasi has played well. I think she’s been solid. Her defense has been really strong, as well as her putting up good numbers on the offensive end. I feel very confident having her out there to start the game.”

    Suarez is one of three post players who likely won’t play the remainder of the season. The Lady Vols lost graduate transfer Keyen Green at the beginning of the season due to a torn ACL and senior forward Jaiden McCoy hasn’t played since Dec. 10 due to a head injury. Like Suarez, it doesn’t appear McCoy will be playing anytime soon either.

    “We’re still trying to progress with (Jaiden),” Harper said. “It’s doubtful (she returns) at this point, but I wouldn’t say it’s not possible.”

    Up Next

    The Lady Vols now hit the road for three straight games following a four-game homestand. They’ll travel to No. 21 Mississippi State (8-5, 3-4 SEC) on Thursday night for an 8 p.m. tipoff before traveling to No. 8 Texas A&M (16-1, 7-1 SEC) next Sunday for a 3 p.m. start time.

    “We’re on a three-game road swing now,” Harper said. “I thought this was a big game for us to get in the win column. We can take a breath now and get fired up again to take on these road games… I think our team has traveled well this year. We’ve done a good job when we’ve been on the road, and I’ll expect no different this upcoming week.”

    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.