KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee is still undefeated in SEC play, and with all double-digit wins against their first six conference games as they dominated Georgia 68-55 on Sunday afternoon in Knoxville.
The Lady Volunteers debuted their Summitt blue jerseys during the game and it’s a look that fans and the team alike seemed to be proud of.
“We were excited to get those on,” head coach Kellie Harper said. “It was an opportunity to show those off to our fans.”
Georgia and Tennessee, both 13-6 before facing each other, remain unranked but on the rise in SEC play. Lady Vol legend Candace Parker was present in Thompson-Boling Arena, cheering on her alma mater from the courtside.
“We know she is busy with her own schedule, but to just make time to come back and talk to us, it’s an amazing feeling,” graduate guard Jordan Walker said following the game.
“She is one of the greatest to ever do it,” Harper said, “and she’s ours.”
With both teams performing well, yet being unranked, the game was a true test for both to see who deserves to climb into the top-25. While the Lady Volunteers might need to find a few more wins before they see it, this game proved that they are one of the better teams in the SEC.
Rickea Jackson led the Lady Volunteers in scoring with 23 points throughout the game, followed by Tess Darby with 16. Jordan Horston followed behind Jackson in performance with 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists.
After going on a run in the first quarter, the Lady Bulldogs could not seem to catch up with the Lady Volunteers until the fourth quarter, when they went on an outstanding run, out-rebounding Tennessee 14-8 in the final quarter and outscoring them 37-35 in the second half.
“In the second half in particular, we weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be,” Harper said. “We didn’t have the attack that we needed to be and have.”
However, there was no doubt that Tennessee had the offensive weapons necessary to win. Jackson brought her usual ability to outscore everyone else on the court, Darby brought her consistent three-point shooting game, and Horston brought her physicality and toughness.
“We did a great job with (Jackson) defensively, boxing her out, because she’s an offensive rebounding monster,” Georgia head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. “She does a great job for them, but obviously, she’s one of the best players in the league.”
In addition to Parker, Tennessee heroines such as author Mary Ellen Pethel, U.S. Olympian Missy Kane, tennis star Elizabeth Henderson, former athletic director Bettye Giles, softball coach Karen Weekly, former sports information director Joan Cronan, and former sports information director Debby Jennings were present in the arena. Accompanied by the Summitt blue jerseys, there was a definite empowerment and sense of pride toward the late Pat Summitt in the air.
Abrahamson-Henderson referenced the rivalry between Summitt and former Georgia head coach Andy Landers, as well as their outstanding records with respective teams.
“You want to do well for the brand and the brand that Pat made for Kellie and the brand that Andy made for us and me,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “We both have much pride for our programs.”
Harper thanked Tennessee fans for showing up and cheering on the team, and it’s a homecourt advantage she says the team will be hoping for in future games, such as Thursday’s game against Florida and the Jan. 26 matchup against No. 4 UConn in the “We Back Pat” game.
“I’m so proud of our fans, and the crowd today was amazing. We walked out, and I was so excited to see so many people there. A lot of them had their blue on, with the anticipation of the jerseys,” Harper said. “We’ve got a lot of big games coming up. We’ve got a big game on Thursday. I think this is a team that our fans can really get behind and enjoy watching and pulling for.”
The Lady Volunteers look to remain undefeated in the SEC with Florida on Thursday night in Thompson-Boling Arena. Although it’s a team they beat last month as their first SEC rival, Darby says that each conference team they take on is a new challenge.
“Every SEC opponent is so different in the way they play, but we also have to respect everyone and we know that,” Darby said. “Just looking at it like it’s the next person up and hopefully just coming out with a win.”
The matchup takes place at 6:30 p.m. EST and will air on SECN+.