KNOXVILLE – Kellie Harper remembered Tennessee’s game against Stetson last season and that’s saying something considering she was Missouri State’s coach at the time.
She was tracking how the Lady Vols fell behind by 20 points and had to rally in the second half to win.
As Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach, she asked the Lady Vols on Tuesday if they recalled the game as well.
“When they emphatically said ‘yes,’ I moved on,” Harper said.
Their progress, at least with respect to the Hatters, was reflected by a 73-46 victory in the rematch before a crowd of 7,246 at Thompson-Boling Arena. Rennia Davis led four double-figure scorers with 15 points. The junior forward considered trying for a dunk in the second quarter but settled instead for a driving layup.
“I honestly thought I could’ve dunked on that one,” she said, “but I thought ‘the game is kind of close let’s get the easy two.’ ”
It wasn’t close for long.
Instead of scrambling for a 65-55 victory in the final 10 minutes, as they did a year ago, the No. 23 Lady Vols (5-0) rested three of their starters throughout the fourth quarter and still managed their biggest lead at 27 points.
“I thought our team performed better than we did last week,” Harper said. “That growth was good to see.”
Tennessee was more mindful of last Thursday’s 73-43 victory over Tennessee State. The margin of victory belied the Lady Vols’ performance against an overmatched opponent. On Monday, Harper spoke of their overall objective.
“We want to be good because we out-executed our opponent,” she said. “We want to be good because we were better than them, not because we were bigger, faster, stronger. We want to do things the right way.”
While Stetson (2-3) wasn’t the same team has last season, the Hatters showed some of the same characteristics. And they had another dangerous scorer. In this case, it was forward Day’Neshia Banks. The Ole Miss transfer scored a game-high 21 points. She was Davis’ teammate at Ribault High in Jacksonville, Fla., where they won three state championships in four years.
The Lady Vols were different defensively, however, limiting the Hatters to 28.8 percent shooting from the floor (17 for 59) by relying on a half-court strategy.
“Last year, they pressed us more; we could score against their press,” Stetson coach Lynn Bria said. “This year they did not do that. They made us play in the half court and score over their size. You’re shooting a contested shot every possession.”
The reason for Tennessee’s strategy was specific to the game but also part of their long-term objective.
“My philosophy has always been you have to have a solid half-court defense,” Harper said. “That has to be your bread and butter because some teams you just can’t press.”
In other developments.
– Tennessee scored its first six baskets from long range and had eight 3-pointers overall. Freshman Jordan Horston hit four of them.
“That’s something I take pride in, getting better at,” she said.
– Davis complimented point guard Jazmine Massengill’s play by slapping her on the shoulder repeatedly and saying “I love it.” The sophomore from Chattanooga had five assists and zero turnovers to go with 12 points.
“I feel like any scorer loves a point guard that wants to pass the ball,” Davis said. “I feel like she always has her teammates as the first option.”