This week provided the first tests for South Carolina (at Maryland), Tennessee (at Notre Dame) and Texas A&M (vs. Duke), and they all passed. Here’s a look at how they did it and what stood out.
Lady Vols answered a big question
The biggest question to start the season was “What will Tennessee look like?” after losing both its co-leading scorer and head coach after an early NCAA exit. They’re a talented team, tall and young, and they look just fine.
The Lady Vols’ first game was a shaky four-point win over Eastern Tennessee State, but the nationally televised 74-63 win over ranked Notre Dame at home helped show what they are capable of. (Though, Notre Dame’s ranking has more to do with last season than this one, they’re still not a bunch of scrubs.)
Here’s what I noticed during the game vs. the Irish.
Tennessee’s size and athleticism benefited them (as heard on the broadcast, this current roster is the tallest team in UT history, with only one player under 6’0!) from the opening play of the game.
Outsized Notre Dame defended in a zone, and Rennia Davis, this week’s SEC Player of the Week after her 33 points vs. the Irish, hit 5-of-9 from deep. She also grabbed 10 rebounds, four offensive boards. Two early putbacks help set the tone for her and Tennessee, who remained in control throughout the game. More on her during that game can be found here.
Freshmen delivered with Jordan Horston (12 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) and Tamari Key (11p/5r) contributing from the perimeter and inside.
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Overall, Tennessee passed its first test well. As head coach Kellie Harper said in her post-game press conference, the team was “locked in” from the start. Davis’ performance was likely a confidence boost and is needed after the unfortunate loss of Zaay Green, the leading ball handler and scorer through the first two games. She was also the guard with the most experience. In her absence, Jordan Horston (a phenomenal passer) and Jazmine Massengill are handling those duties.
Tennessee will continue to create scoring opportunities for Davis, but the loss of Green also ups the pressure on Massengill to produce points down the line (I mean, will Davis score 33 every night?). Massengill’s scored seven points through three games while adding 14 rebounds and 14 assists (Horston also has 14 assists through 3 games).
The shortage of guards is not ideal, but Harper’s team adjusted well during its first test. The next big one comes Dec. 8 vs. Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on ESPN2.
The Lady Vols host Tennessee State on Thursday at 7 p.m. on SEC+.