Three Observations: Lady Vols 77, Ole Miss, 72

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    The Lady Vols advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday night with a 77-72 win over Ole Miss. Saturday will be the first time Tennessee plays in the semifinals since 2016.

    Rennia Davis led the way for the Lady Vols (16-6, 10-4 SEC) with 33 points and 11 rebounds, tallying yet another double-double. The senior forward was one of just three Tennessee players to reach double-figures. Junior guard Rae Burrell scored 18 points, seven of which came in the fourth quarter. Sophomore guard Jordan Horston added 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

    Donnetta Johnson led the way for Ole Miss (11-11, 4-11 SEC) in the Rebels’ upset bid. She scored a team-high 20 points on 9-for-19 shooting. A night after Shakira Austin scored 31 points in an upset win over Arkansas, the Lady Vols held Austin to 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting.

    Survive and advance

    It was far from easy for the Lady Vols. They led 24-16 at the end of the first quarter after a halfcourt heave from Horston went in at the buzzer, but Ole Miss quickly responded with a 13-2 run to begin the second quarter and claim a 29-26 lead. The Rebels went on to out-score the Lady Vols 25-13 to take a 41-37 lead into the half.

    Not much changed for Tennessee in the third quarter. It scored just 12 points in the frame, eight of which were from Davis, and was out-scored by four in the third to trail 57-49 going into the fourth quarter.

    Like Ole Miss did to begin the second quarter, Tennessee quickly got to work to begin the fourth quarter. The Lady Vols began the final frame on a 19-5 to turn the eight-point deficit into a six-point advantage.

    “Obviously Ole Miss had momentum most of the game,” Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper said following the game. “Our players never panicked. I thought the timeout between the third and fourth quarter was really big for us. It settled us down and got us locked into what we needed to do.

    “Our players stepped up and made plays on both ends of the court to swing the momentum our way.”

    Tennessee limited its turnovers in the fourth quarter after failing to do so in the previous three quarters. It turned it over 23 times for the game, but only did so five times in the final frame to out-score Ole Miss 28-15 in the fourth to secure the win and advance.

    “I think Ole Miss did a really job of being active defensively,” Harper said. “They had several deflections that led to steals on their part. I thought we got careless with the ball a few times and I thought we made decisions that weren’t the best decisions in those moments.”

    Davis delivers monster performance

    Tennessee received little production outside of Davis over the first three quarters. She single-handedly kept the Lady Vols in the game despite turning her ankle in the first quarter. Davis went on to tie her career-high in points (33), and has now scored at least 20 points in six consecutive games, the longest streak since Lady Vol great Candace Parker did so in 2007.

    “I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from getting back out there,” Davis said. “In the fourth quarter, we came together like we always do. Winning is so important for this team. We have something to prove and we weren’t going to go out like that tonight.”

    Davis was 10-for-19 shooting from the field, 11-for-13 from the free throw line and 2-for-3 from three. Her 14 rebounds moved her up two spots on the career rebounding list, passing Nicky Anosike (914) and Bridgette Gordon (915) to rank 11th all-time among Lady Vols with a career total of 923. Four of Davis’ rebounds were on the offensive glass.

    Time for the rematch

    Tennessee advances to face 2-seed South Carolina with the win. The two teams will square off at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU Saturday evening. The Lady Vols upset the Gamecocks 75-67 back on Feb. 18 in Knoxville.

    “It’s going to be a tough, physical game,” Harper said. “That’s what we have to expect. They’re going to come in with great confidence. They’re coming off of a terrific win today and feeling good about how they need to play.”

    No. 7 South Carolina (20-4, 14-2 SEC) beat Alabama 75-63 in the game prior to Tennessee’s. Zia Cooke scored a team-high 22 points, while Aliyah Boston had 16 points and 13 rebounds, respectively, as the Gamecocks withstood a late charge from the Crimson Tide after leading by 26 in the second quarter.

    “I expect South Carolina to come out hard,” Davis said. “South Carolina is a good team, but so are we. We’re just going to play our game. We’re not really focused on what they’re going to do. We’re just going to have to handle it.”