KNOXVILLE – Joni Taylor remembers when Tennessee was apt to hand out some breaks to the opposition.
“They were times when you used to watch Tennessee play and you could probably take advantage of them because they were going to take some ill-advised shots,” Georgia’s coach said.
Sunday wasn’t one of those days, however.
The Lady Vols instead were handing out assists.
There were 20 in all, accounting for the majority of their 28 baskets. Two of them came on consecutive buckets near the midway point of the fourth quarter. First, guard Jordan Horston fed Rennia Davis for a 3-pointer. Davis passed it forward on UT’s ensuing possession, zipping a delivery from one corner of the court to another for a 3-pointer by Lou Brown.
The baskets pushed Tennessee’s lead to 16 points and essentially clinched a 73-56 SEC women’s basketball victory over the Lady Bulldogs before a crowd of 10,036 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“I thought that was one of our better basketball games,” UT coach Kellie Harper said. “I thought we saw some growth on both offense and defense.”
The progress was most apparent on offense, where No. 23 Tennessee (13-3, 3-1 SEC) shot 52 percent from the floor (28 for 54). The Lady Vols were 8 for 12 on 3-pointers. They achieved such marksmanship against a defense that was allowing 36.7 percent shooting accuracy on average per game.
Georgia (10-7, 1-3) shot nearly 70 percent from the floor and scored 20 points in the first quarter but couldn’t keep pace with UT. Davis led four double-figure scorers with 17 points.
In four conference games, Tennessee is averaging 77.5 points and 19 assists per game while shooting 49.1 percent from floor.
“I think they all have a really good understanding of where they’re getting their shots from and they share the ball really well,” Taylor said. “It makes it more difficult because they’re making the extra pass, whereas earlier when they were young – I mean this still is a young team – whoever got it was going to make a play. You just had to rely on trying to get a stop there and boxing them out. They’ve grown in that area.”
The progress likely reflects the ongoing attention to team chemistry. The quality was more evident in how players interacted during Sunday’s postgame interviews than what anyone said. Davis said that she’s having fun and asked teammates Horston (14 points, seven assists) and Tamari Key (13 points, four blocks) if they were as well. Horston interjected an answer to a question that was directed toward Davis.
Davis, who was a part of last season’s dysfunction, did offer a telling comment in saying, “It’s just fun playing for a group of people who put the team before themselves.”
There are bigger tests ahead for Tennessee, opponents that will exploit its ongoing struggle with turnovers (17 corresponded with 25 Georgia points), suspect team depth and any lapses in consistency.
But the Lady Vols have a better shot now than they had at the season’s start. And they all seem to be moving together in the right direction.
“What’s your commonality? Harper asked and answered in saying: “We all want to win. We want this program to succeed. When you have that, you have something to fall back on.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org