Tennessee Lady Vols come back vs. No. 23 USF for 52-49 win: Three takeaways

For the third straight game, the Tennessee Lady Vols won a defensive slugfest, this time against the South Florida Bulls. They overcame a 46-40 deficit against the defending co-American Athletic Conference Champions and AAC Tournament champions, who are ranked No. 23 in the AP Poll, with less than four minutes left for a 52-49 win in Knoxville, Tenn. at Thompson-Boling Arena.

UT allowed five points in the fourth quarter and one field goal in the final seven minutes of the game for the win. Two and-ones to give them one-point leads late, one with a minute left, secured the victory as they moved to 3-0 and won their second straight full game without leading scorer and best player Rae Burrell, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury.

Kellie Harper’s team, ranked No. 15 in the updated AP Poll and No. 12 in last week’s Coaches Poll, moves to 3-0 with two fourth-quarter comebacks. They came back from four points down entering that period to beat the Southern Illinois Salukis 59-49 in their opener. Against the UCF Knights Saturday, they only led by four entering the fourth before winning 49-41.

Up next for UT is a home game against the Texas Longhorns Sunday. USF, ranked No. 22 in the Coaches Poll, falls to 2-1 and will next face the Syracuse Orange in their first Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament game Saturday. Here are three things we learned from the Tennessee Lady Vols’ win.

1. Shooting woes continue.

With Burrell out, it’s only gotten worse, and that’s a concern. UT could not buy a bucket in this game. The Lady Vols went 0-for-13 from the three-point line. Making matters more difficult, though, was the fact that they couldn’t consistently hit free throw. They went 8-of-18 from the foul line, including going 4-of-10 in the fourth quarter.

The result of this was USF reverting to a zone at times in the fourth, and that led to a nearly six-minute scoreless drought. until that final three and a half minutes. How long this team can sustain that play without Burrell remains a huge question, but players like Tess Darby need to find their shot to take pressure off the inside.

2. Jordan Horston and Tamari Key were the dynamic duo.

These are the two stars on the team as long as Burrell is out, and they showed it tonight. Jordan Horston reached superstar level. She cut down on her turnovers, only committing four, and had 23 points to go along with four assists, two steals and nine rebounds. Meanwhile, Tamari Key did her part under the basket, scoring 10 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking six shots.

Horston took over, almost in a Michael Jordan-esque way, in the fourth quarter. She was the one to draw the two and-ones to give the Tennessee Lady Vols the lead after being down by two twice. Key did her part with an offensive rebound that Horston hit another field goal off of to cut it to 46-44, and she had a key defensive rebound with 11 seconds left.

3. Interior defense needs more production beyond Tamari Key.

Obviously, with six blocks, Key was dominant on the interior, and that’s a huge reason UT held its third straight opponent to under 50 points. However, they were lucky in this one. USF’s tallest player is 6’2″ in their starting lineup, and they hung tough on the glass because Key had no help, only getting outrebounded 48-42 and getting 16 offensive rebounds. That’s unacceptable.

The Tennessee Lady Vols benefitted from USF missing at least five wide open layups in the fourth quarter. Their final three-pointer to give them their last lead of the game was off an offensive rebound as well. This should be a huge advantage for UT, and Key desperately needs other players to step up. Alexus Dye did get seven rebounds, but more needs to be done.