Each Monday we recap the previous week’s news and notes from around Tennessee Athletics. This is the place for Vol fans to catch up on any of the action they may have missed from the last week. Over the last seven days on Rocky Top, the men’s and women’s basketball teams solidified their spots in the Top 25 national rankings and the football program started a new chapter.
Written by Rocky Top Insider contributor Spencer Morrell
It did not take long for new athletics director Danny White to find his man to fill Tennessee football’s head coaching vacancy. White looked to a familiar place for his new head coach by naming Josh Heupel as the 27th head coach of the Vols. Heupel had been hired by White three years ago to lead UCF following the departure of Scott Frost.
Heupel owns a 28-8 record as head coach from his time at UCF. He went went 12-1 in his first season, followed by a 10-3 year in his second season. He then went 6-4 in his third season. Heupel’s teams have put up stellar offensive numbers, often with offensive stats being in the top ten in the nation. However, Heupel’s defenses have struggled, and he struggled to recruit at a high level while at UCF. Heupel received a six-year contract from Tennessee that will pay him $4 million annually.
The 18th-ranked Tennessee basketball team started the week with a game against Mississippi State in Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night. The game was ugly from start to finish as both teams struggled to facilitate productive offense. Neither team could get much separation in the back-and-forth defensive battle. Tennessee managed to scratch out a 26-23 halftime lead, but the lead continued to swing as the game went on. The Vols grabbed a meager lead with about seven minutes to go in the game, and they would cling to that lead until the final horn. Tennessee outlasted Mississippi State 56-53 in the rugged affair, with the Vols being led by senior Yves Pons’ 13 points. Pons was the only Vol to score more than 10 points. Freshman Jaden Springer contributed nine points, while also grabbing four rebounds and dealing out five assists.
Tennessee then welcomed the 15th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks to Knoxville on Saturday as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Vols welcomed the challenge and the team turned in one of its best performances of the season. Tennessee set the tone defensively to start the game and that showed on the scoreboard as the Vols led the Jayhawks 40-26 at the half. UT’s lead ballooned to as many as 26 in the second half before the Vols eventually captured an 80-61 victory over the Jayhawks. Tennessee never trailed in the win, and their suffocating defense prevented Kansas from getting quality shots for most of the night. UT’s offense was also efficient as the team shot 53% from the floor and 62% from the 3-point line. Pons again led the Vols with 17 points and five rebounds. Springer scored 13, while John Fulkerson posted 11 points and six rebounds. Josiah Jordan-James grabbed 11 rebounds to go with his nine points. After two victories this week the Volunteers are now 12-3 on the season.
Lady Vol Basketball
The 20th-ranked Lady Vols began their week with a conference battle against Ole Miss on Thursday night in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee stumbled out of the gates to start the game, mustering only eight points in the first quarter, as it trailed Ole Miss 18-8 after the first frame. The Lady Vols chipped into the Rebels lead, but still trailed at halftime 33-30. Tennessee managed to secure a lead by the end of the third quarter but found themselves down one point with two minutes left. The Lady Vols then went on a 6-0 run to secure their largest lead of the game at 66-61, and they hung on to win 68-67. Senior Rennia Davis led all scorers with 21 points to go along with seven rebounds, while junior Rae Burrell put in 17 points, respectively. Sophomore Jordan Horston scored 13.
Florida came calling Sunday afternoon in Knoxville, as the Lady Vols looked to remain tied for second in the SEC standings. The Gators knocked the Lady Vols off-balance early, but Tennessee regained its composure in the second quarter, as it held the Gators to only 10 points in the second frame. Tennessee had a stable 38-31 lead at halftime, but Florida cut the lead to four by the end of the third quarter. That’s when the Lady Vols put the clamps on the Gators in the fourth quarter, and steam-rolled their way to a 79-65 victory.
Tennessee pummeled Florida in the paint all afternoon, out-scoring the Gators in the paint 56-16 and out-rebounding them 57-42. 6-foot-5 sophomore Tamari Key was a big reason why UT dominated down low. Key tallied a team-high 23 points, 10 rebounds, and a career-high 10 blocks in an outstanding triple-double performance. Key’s triple-double is the fourth in Lady Vols history. Burrell added 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Davis contributed 14 points along with seven rebounds. The Lady Vols own a 12-3 record after their two wins this week.
This week the men’s basketball team will travel to Oxford on Tuesday to take on Ole Miss (8-8) at 7 p.m. ET. Tennessee will then travel to Rupp Arena on Saturday night to renew their heated rivalry with the Kentucky Wildcats (5-10).
The Lady Vols will make a trip to Starkville on Thursday for a game against Mississippi State (8-5) before heading to College Station on Sunday to battle Texas A&M (15-1).