Tennessee Lady Vols hold off UCF Knights 49-41: Three takeaways

With Rae Burrell out indefinitely due to a knee injury, the Tennessee Lady Vols were going to be tested heavily on the road against a UCF Knights team that captured a share of the American Athletic Conference regular season championship last year and returned everybody. With Jordan Horston back, they were up to the challenge.

UT scored a second straight ugly victory, holding off athletic director Danny White’s former school, whose women’s basketball program is in its sixth year under a head coach he hired in Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, 49-41. Kellie Harper’s team nearly blew a 12-point halftime lead. UCF cut it to four in the third quarter, but UT then pulled away with an 8-0 run into the fourth.

Ranked No. 15 in the AP Poll and No. 12 in the Coaches Poll, Rocky Top improves to 2-0 and will host the South Florida Bulls on Monday. USF shared the AAC with UCF last year and is No. 21 in the AP Poll and No. 22 in the Coaches Poll. UCF will next visit the Virginia Cavaliers on Wednesday. Here are three things we learned from the Tennessee Lady Vols’ win.

1. Welcome back Jordan Horston.

A major storyline surrounding Rocky Top’s struggles in its opener against the Southern Illinois Salukis was Horston being out. With Rae Burrell getting hurt in the game and the team less than two weeks removed from returning starter Marta Suárez suffering a season-ending injury, that became buried. However, without Horston, UT lost lots of explosiveness in the backcourt.

On Friday, Horston returned and made sure to pick up the slack for Burrell’s absence. She scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds along with three assists. However, with her aggression came a major drawback, and that leads to our next takeaway.

2. Turnovers and free throw shooting were nearly costly.

Despite her success in other fields, Horston came away with 11 turnovers on the night. That was part of 28 turnovers the team had overall, a disastrous performance. If the Tennessee Lady Vols are going to have any success this year, they have to avoid that.

In addition to turnovers, they were a disaster at the free throw line again, going just 9-of-16. Keyen Green was 3-of-6 off the bench, and Horston, Alexus Dye and Jordan Walker all went 1-of-2. Turnovers and free throw shooting can’t be a disadvantage with a team that is this experienced, with or without Burrell.

3. Interior could be dominant if Tamari Key avoids foul trouble.

For the second straight game, Tamari Key got in foul trouble. She picked up her third foul early in the third quarter. Combine her absence with Burrell being out, and you can see why UT struggled to be efficient offensively. However, Key has to fix her aggression.

Without her, Dye and Green picked up the slack in certain ways. Dye had eight rebounds and three steals, and Green had four rebounds and two steals off the bench. However, those two are elite fours on the defense. Emily Saunders clearly hasn’t emerged yet, so Key is the Tennessee Lady Vols’ only option at the five. They need her dominance now more than ever.