Tennessee’s offense struggled throughout the evening and they led for just 1:32 in the second half. Still, the Lady Vols were able to muster a 52-49 win over No. 23 South Florida Monday.
Here are three takeaways.
Tennessee Controls The Paint
Tamari Key made a layup to open the scoring in Monday night’s top 25 layup. It set the tone for a Tennessee team that scored 40 of its 52 points in the paint.
Key gave the Lady Vols an elite inside presence throughout Monday’s game, both on the offensive and defensive end.
The Tennessee center scored 10 points while grabbing 10 rebounds — three offensive rebounds. Key also blocked six shots, erasing just about any South Florida action at the basket.
“The scheme really helped tonight,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said. “She was able to roam the paint, find where she can help and did a really nice job. She’s the most effective when we can put her in that position. We can’t always do that, right. It’s completely determined on matchups and personnel but I felt like that helped us for sure.”
Tennessee outrebounded South Florida 48-42, had four more offensive rebounds than the Bulls and had 26 second chance points.
In a game where USF outplayed Tennessee in most facets, the Lady Vols’ inside presence and timely defense proved to be the difference.
Lady Vols’ Shooting Flounders
Life without Rae Burrell continues to be challenging for Tennessee’s offense.
The Lady Vols shot 33% from the field, 0-of-13 from three-point range and 44% at the free throw line in Tuesday’s win.
Those numbers, coupled with the fact that USF started six-of-nine from three-point range and made eight total triples, makes it surprising that the Lady Vols found a way to win.
Without Burrell, Tennessee’s offensive game plan was predicated on scoring inside. 30 of Tennessee’s 66 shots were layups and its starting frontcourt of Alexus Dye and Tamari Key combined to take 18 shots.
“No, I don’t feel like it was their defense,” forward Keyen Green said of the Lady Vols’ offensive struggles. “I think we just rushed some shots. We weren’t focused. That’s another thing that was emphasized at halftime, we have to finish. The score would have been drastically different if we just finished some layups.”
Tennessee is now 3-0 on the young season with wins over two quality AAC opponents and a Missouri Valley title contender. The Lady Vols haven’t reached 60 points yet and have scored less than 53 points twice.
Time will tell how sustainable that is, but it does say a lot about this team’s defense and heart.
“We’re going to have to score at some point,” Harper said. “We know that. We have to put some points on the board at some point, but until that happens hopefully our defense can hang tough.”
Horston Takes Over Late
Tennessee was in the midst of a 5:22 second scoring drought when junior point guard Jordan Horston hit a pull up jumpshot on the right elbow to cut the Bulls’ lead to 46-42.
From there, the talented guard scored 10 of the Lady Vols’ 12 final points to secure Tennessee’s first ranked win of the season.
“I thought Horston just put her team on her back,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “(She) made some big shots.”
Horston — who was thrust into a bigger offensive role after Rae Burrell’s injury — had two crucial and-ones that claimed the lead for UT late. The later finish, at the 39 second mark, gave the Lady Vols a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
South Florida fouled the Columbus, Ohio native twice with the lead late in the game and Horston made one-of-two free throws twice. While neither was a great showing, they avoided disaster. That’s something Tennessee needed in a game they shot eight-of-18 at the free throw line.
“Honestly, I want to put it on my team,” Horston said. “They were the ones keeping me motivated, keeping me confident and without them we wouldn’t have won. It’s not a one man job. Some shots fell for me but at the end of the day we all locked in on the defensive end and that’s how we won.”