Photo by Riley Haltom (@rileyhaltom on X)
By Matthew Silitsky
KNOXVILLE, Tenn – No. 15 Tennessee (2-1) survived 84-74 in an overtime victory against Memphis (1-2) at the Food City Center on Monday.
The game, marked by intense defensive pressure, physicality to no end, and an abundance of turnovers created a wild finish.
Jewel Spear got the Lady Vols started. She showcased an impressive offensive arsenal early in the first quarter, putting the Lady Vols up to a 9-point lead. Spear finished with 19 points and went 7-12 shooting
What started like an excellent first half for The Lady Vols quickly took a turn as the Tigers’ defensive pressure increased. Coach Alex Simmons of Memphis, who made her return to Rocky Top as a former player, spooked the Lady Vols with a full-court press from the get-go.
“Causing hell 94 feet is our identity.” Simmons said
A combination of indecisiveness and lack of poise after turnovers hurt the Lady Vols. The Lady Vols totaled 24 turnovers, 16 coming in the first half.
Take the hard-nosed Tiger defense and add an abundance of 3-point shooting, and it was a close ball game. The Tigers shot 7-20 from downtown and the Lady Vols had no answer guarding the perimeter.
At the end of the half, the Lady Vols were down 36-32. Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper had to work to inspire the team in the locker room.
“She got us good, and we were ready.” said Lady Vols forward Sara Puckett.
Puckett put up a career high 24 points while also tallying eight rebounds, two assists, one block, and one steal.
Puckett mentioned the team spent a lot of time in the weight room this offseason and was a reason why they were able to match the physicality of the Tigers.
The Lady Vols improved their offensive pace to start the second half and it showed.
The absence of Rickea Jackson, a significant contributor on both ends of the floor, was felt by the team.
“Not having Rickea is a blow to the rest of the team.” Harper said.
Jackson, who was sitting out with a lower leg injury, does not have an exact timetable on her return.
All in all, the need for assertiveness in the face of defensive pressure is the biggest fix for the Lady Vols.
“Tonight, we were on our heels, and you don’t want to be passive when you’re being hounded,”
Harper explained, addressing the high turnover count.
Despite an ugly performance, the common theme was a win is a win, regardless of the score. A total team effort with four players in double figures propelled the Lady Vols to their second win of the season.
The Lady Vols face Troy (0-1) on Sunday at the Food City Center, with tipoff scheduled for 2 p.m. ET. The game will air on SEC Network plus.