Three Observations: No. 20 Lady Vols 78, Missouri 73

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    The 20th-ranked Lady Vols defeated Missouri 78-73 on Thursday night in Colombia despite trailing by five going into the fourth quarter. Tennessee is now 14-6 on the season and 8-4 in conference play as it enters the regular season finale against Auburn on Sunday.

    Tennessee (14-6, 8-4 SEC) was led by two 20-point scorers in senior forward Rennia Davis and junior guard Rae Burrell, who combined for 49 of the team’s 78 points. Davis scored a team-high 28 points, while Burrell dropped in 23 points, respectively. The duo were the only two players in double-figures.

    The Lady Vols out-rebounded Missouri 46-25. They have now out-rebounded 19-of-20 opponents on the glass this season and have done so by an average of 45.9 rebounds to 32.8 rebounds. The only team they did not win the battle of the boards with was No. 2 South Carolina, as the two teams both grabbed 40 rebounds in Tennessee’s upset win.

    Missouri (8-10, 4-9 SEC) was led by four players in double-figures. Haley Troup and Aijha Blackwell each scored 16 points to lead the team, while Shug Dickinson and Shannon Dufficy chipped in 10 points apiece, respectively.

    “We knew this was going to be a tough game,” Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper said after the game. “I thought they had a really good practice on Tuesday, thought we had a good preparation day on Wednesday. They wanted this win and they were focused.

    “Their head was spinning around a few times and that’s what Mizzou can do to you. It wasn’t a lack of try or want to that we struggled early. That preparation and their desire allowed us to figure it out.”

    Here’s a look at the three biggest observations from Tennessee’s win over Missouri on Thursday night:

    Burrell and Davis lead the way

    After struggling against Georgia on Sunday, Burrell came out on fire against Missouri. She scored 18 points in the first half on 7-for-9 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 from the 3-point line. Burrell’s 18 points accounted for over half the teams points as the Lady Vols trailed 36-34 at the half.

    Burrell dealt with a scary situation towards the end of the third quarter when she turned her right ankle and had to be helped off the floor as couldn’t put any weight on her ankle. It looked like Burrell wouldn’t be able to come back in the game, but she checked back in just after the fourth quarter began. She finished 9-for-13 from the field and 3-for-5 from three to finish with 23 points and eight rebounds.

    “The biggest thing about Rae is that she is consistent,” Harper said. “Even on an off night she gives us what she gives us. That’s good for us because she’s got the ability to carry a team, especially on the offensive end. She was getting layups, she was getting jumpers, she was making three’s. I was proud of her because we needed those buckets, especially in the first half when we did not have Rennia out there.”

    “I’m sure will get some treatment on (her ankle) and we’ll probably give her a lighter day tomorrow to hopefully get her ready for Sunday. It was obviously good to see her come back in the game and be able to play.”

    Burrell wasn’t relied on as heavily in the second half as she was in the first half. She passed the baton to Davis, who sat on the bench with foul trouble in the first half and didn’t have a point at halftime. Davis went on to score all 26 of her team-high points in the second half to push the Lady Vols over the hump and pick up the win.

    “I just try to do whatever this team needs me to do,” Davis said. “Obviously in the first half I was on the bench in foul trouble, so we went into halftime down and I knew this was a huge game for us, as well as the next game, so I just did whatever it took to win.”

    Mizzou takes advantage of the great equalizer

    Missouri was able to hang around because of it’s work on the three-point line. The Tigers were 12-for-30 from three as they took the game down to the wire. Five different Missouri players made at least two three’s on the night.

    “It was a source of concern before the game and there was a little bit of frustration there at halftime,” Harper said. “We had to guard some actions we hadn’t seen a whole lot of. We knew that’s how they played but we hung in there. .. We did a much better job late in the fourth quarter of running them off the three-point line.”

    SEC Tournament seeding

    With the win, and following the results of Thursday night’s games around the SEC, the Lady Vols are now third in the standings. Meaning, if they beat Auburn on Sunday, they’ll secure a double-bye in next week’s SEC Tournament.

    “It didn’t have to be hindsight to know how big this game was,” Harper said. “And that’s where I’ve been really proud of our team. Going into this week, that’s part of the reason our preparation was so good. They knew this was a big win. They knew what was on the line here and they wanted to finish out strong.

    “The other thing I’m really proud of them for is that they didn’t pick up a piece of paper and say this is going to be easy. They knew this was going to be hard and a tough battle. … This is a really big win for our team.”

    Up Next

    The Lady Vols now return home to Knoxville for their regular season finale on Sunday. Tennessee will tip with Auburn on Senior Day at 2 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

    “It’s been a heck of a year,” Harper said. “It’s been stressful to say the least, but it’s also been fun and very rewarding. … We plan on playing a lot more basketball.”

    “I’ve been thinking about it,” Davis said of her senior day. “It’s just crazy. I don’t want to go too in depth because I’ll get emotional. That game on Sunday is going to be very special to me.”