For the first time since 2015, incidentally the last time they won a share of the regular season SEC Championship, the Tennessee Lady Vols clinched a top four seed and a double-bye in the SEC Tournament, coming in at No. 3 in the standings. UT did it by dominating the Auburn Tigers 88-54 on Senior Day in their regular season finale to finish 15-6 and 9-4 in the SEC.
A Tamari Key layup three minutes into the first quarter put Rocky Top up 6-4 in this game, and they never trailed again in a Knoxville, Tenn. Sunday afternoon matchup at Thompson-Boling Arena . Going on a 14-0 run from the end of the first quarter into the beginning of the second quarter put Kellie Harper’s team firmly in control with a 26-8 lead.
With the win, the Tennessee Lady Vols finish behind the South Carolina Gamecocks and Texas A&M Aggies and just ahead of the Georgia Bulldogs in the standings. They all won’t play until March 5. Auburn falls to 5-18 and 0-15 in the SEC, last place in the league, and will face the Florida Gators to open the tournament Wednesday. Here are three takeaways fro this game.
1. Interior dominance and elite three-point shooting told the story.
Holding Auburn to 54 points and 4-of-20, or 20 percent, from the three-point line was impressive. However, the Tigers still could have overcome that if not for the elite shooting by UT, which went 6-of-10 on three-pointers. Rae Burrell went 2-of-4 from beyond the arc en route to 14 points. Jordan Horston was 2-of-2 with 12 points. Tess Darby and Jordan Walker each hit one too.
Elite three-point shooting was complemented by dominance on the inside. Kasiyahna Kushkituah had 19 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Tamari Key had a double double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and she had four blocks. Overall, UT had seven blocks on the day and outrebounded Auburn 47-29. They were unstoppable in the paint.
2. Rennia Davis continues her red-hot streak.
Ever since coming back from missing the Kentucky Wildcats game nearly three weeks ago, Rennia Davis has scored 20 or more points every game. She made it five straight on Sunday, and she didn’t need three-point shooting to do it. Davis just had a complete game, going 9-of-14 from the field and hitting all five of her free throw attempts en route to 23 points.
In addition to leading the Tennessee Lady Vols in scoring, she also led the team in rebounding with 11. So on Senior Day, Davis truly delivered a performance to remember. An assist and a steal were also in her stat line, but the real story was Davis’ ability to take over in the paint, as she was incredibly helpful to the dominance inside.
3. Turnovers and missed free throws were a problem.
It’s hard to criticize ball movement when you have 25 assists, including nine from Horston, four from Walker and Burrell and three from Destiny Salary. However, UT also committed 18 turnovers on the day. Horston, Walker, Davis and Burrell all had three. Against a team like Auburn, they could get away with that, but it won’t fly against better competition.
Turning the ball over like that and missing free throws makes it worse. The Tennessee Lady Vols were 14-of-23, or 60.9 percent, from the free throw line. Key missed all three attempts, and Kushkituah was 3-of-7. That’s a problem going forward. UT can’t be dominant inside if its two centers can’t hit their free throws. This is something that has to be fixed.