Tennessee Lady Vols C Tamari Key out for year: Who steps up?

This is devastating news. Tennessee Lady Vols senior center Tamari Key, who has missed the last game, will now miss the rest of the season due to blood clots in her lungs. The program and Kellie Harper confirmed the news Thursday morning.

Key has been a block machine for Rocky Top since her freshman campaign. She arrived with Jordan Horston, both of whom got there in Harper’s first season. All three of them have worked to rebuild this program, and Key’s role has been crucial in Harper’s system.

Obviously, the most important thing right now is Key’s health. Blood clots can be serious, and first priority is hoping she gets better. However, the Tennessee Lady Vols’ season goes on, and they are 4-5 right now, so who steps up for them?

Rocky Top is already playing severely limited in the post. Rickea Jackson, arguably their best player, and Jasmine Franklin are both out. That’s their rotation at the four right now. As a result, Harper has had to run Tess Darby and Sara Puckett, two three-point specialists, out there.

Horston will still be the one to step up in the backcourt. Until Jackson and Franklin get back, though, who steps up to make for a true advantage in the post? Well, this is where Harper must rely on experience with one player and potential with another.

Karoline Striplin is the one who brings experience. To be fair, she’s only a sophomore, but she’s been in the system, so she knows how to handle it. Against the Virginia Tech Hokies, Striplin played just 11 minutes and grabbed six rebounds.

In their last outing, with Key hurt and Jillian Hollingshead just getting healthy, Striplin got the start. She will have to play some sort of role. However, the player for the Tennessee Lady Vols to rely on most is now going to be Hollingshead.

Harper added Hollingshead as a transfer from the Georgia Bulldogs this past offseason, and she was always supposed to be the heir apparent to Key. With Key now out for the season, that looks like it will come sooner rather than later.

On Tuesday, Hollingshead returned to the rotation, and she had nine points, five rebounds and two blocks coming off the bench. Most notably, she only had one foul. Key and Striplin have had a hard time avoiding foul trouble with their defense, so Hollingshead being able to avoid it is a big deal.

If she can keep that up, she could quickly become a superstar. That would also take some pressure off Horston, who has been trying to win the game in the paint herself. Despite her athleticism and star power, she can’t keep playing like she does. Other post players must step up.

As for Key, the Tennessee Lady Vols can look to Trey Smith. Tennessee football’s beloved lineman had to miss an offseason and the end of one year due to blood clots in his lungs but worked out a situation to be able to play. Now he’s starring in the pros. Everybody is praying the same can work out for Key in the long run.