KNOXVILLE – Tennessee basketball opened on two fronts Tuesday night with the Vols playing UNC Asheville in Thompson-Boling Arena and the Lady Vols facing East Tennessee State 105 miles to the east in Johnson City.
Both teams began their respective makeover projects in different fashion, almost too different for the Lady Vols.
Playing without departed stalwarts Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander, the Vols won 78-63, pulling away to start the second half and leading by as many as 25 points.
Kellie Harper’s coaching debut for the Lady Vols featured six newcomers. They withstood a furious rally by the Bucs to win 72-68.
Lamonte Turner led four double-figure scorers with 17 points for the Vols, who played in spurts and were not overwhelming.
UT coach Rick Barnes was critical of Turner and fellow senior guard Jordan Bowden for committing 10 of the Vols’ 17 turnovers and for the team’s overall shot selection.
“They have to realize we have new pieces that we’ve got to put them together,” Barnes said.
Barnes also wasn’t happy with his team’s overall focus.
“Certain guys space out,” he said. “They forget the purpose we’re playing with.”
Along with missing the aforementioned foursome, Tennessee also was without 7-foot transfer Uros Plavisc, whose waiver request for eligibility this season was denied by the NCAA. Although UT’s initial appeal was denied, Barnes said on Monday that UT had another appeal option left.
“I’ve got full confidence in Coach (Phillip) Fulmer and our compliance people are going to do everything they can,” said Barnes, referencing Tennessee’s athletic director. “We’re all disappointed and somewhat surprised to be quite frank, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Plavsic began his U.S. basketball odyssey at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga. A four-star recruit in the 2018 recruiting class, Plavsic originally committed to play at Cleveland State, where Drazen Zlovaric, a former graduate assistant under Barnes, was on staff. He signed with Arizona State, though, after Zlovaric was added to the Sun Devils staff.
Plavsic redshirted during his freshman season. He transferred to UT after changes in Arizona State’s coaching staff left Zlovaric out of a job.
Tennessee’s comments on Plavic’s behalf drew the attention of Connecticut, which urged UT to offer more support for guard Evina Westbrook, who transferred to UConn from Tennessee during the offseason. Her waiver request also was denied and the Huskies are appealing the decision.
Westbrook’s departure factored into the Lady Vols starting their season without nearly 50 percent of their scoring from last season. They were without nearly 60 percent of their rebounding, too.
The Lady Vols led by 13 points early in the fourth quarter but didn’t make a field goal during the final three minutes. ETSU, led by guard Erica Haynes-Overton’s 41 points, stalked an upset in whittling the deficit to two inside the final minute.
However, Lady Vols Zaay Green, Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell combined to shoot five for six from the free throw line in the final 27 seconds to avoid the collapse. Green led UT with 17 points.
Despite the program’s rich tradition, Harper became the first UT women’s coach to win her first road since Mabel Miller guided UT past Cumberland (Ky.) on March 10, 1922.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at email@example.com.