Kellie Harper expected one of two teams to show up for Tennessee’s women’s basketball opener on Saturday.
The Lady Vols coach anticipated a squad that was going to be either too tentative or one that was overly aggressive.
She got some of first version at the outset before UT found a better gear in routing Western Kentucky 87-47 at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Lady Vols were more aggressive after the first quarter but didn’t overdo it. That was their intention.
“One of things that we have talked a lot about is pace,” Harper said during her postgame interview on the Vol Network. “And pace is not necessarily fast break all the time. It’s your moving. And it’s how quickly are you getting into your offense. How quickly do you get the ball from one side of the court to the other (side). I thought our pace was pretty good. That’s something that we’ve worked really hard on.”
The Lady Vols had some new pace-setters. Rae Burrell, who came the bench her first two seasons, started and scored a game-high 18 points. She also recorded a team-high seven assists. First-year players Jordan Walker and Marta Suarez also started and combined for 24 points.
Harper said Burrell’s play was a by-product of the offseason she had. The junior wing made the best of a bad situation with the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I was home, gyms weren’t open but my cousins had a little gym set up in their garage,” she said. “So just like lifting weights and making sure that I stayed strong during the offseason was really important. When the gyms started opening up, I made sure I was getting shots up.”
The play of Walker and Suarez, meanwhile, reflected what they’ve shown since arriving on campus.
“That’s what they’ve been this whole fall,” Harper said. “That’s exactly what we expected them to be.”
Walker, who transferred from Western Michigan, scored 13 points, shooting 6-for-10 from the floor. She also had four assists and a steal. Suarez got started early on her scoring and had 11 on 4-for-9 shooting. She had six rebounds and four assists.
Harper sounded intrigued by the possibilities regarding Suarez. She’s a 6-foot-2 freshman from Oviedo, Spain, who is capable of playing multiple positions.
“She makes us better when she’s out there and allows us to do a lot of different things,” Harper said.
The Lady Vols’ pace didn’t result in too many turnovers. They committed 13, a reasonable number considering last season’s problems and Saturday’s tempo. Harper thought some of the first-half turnovers were “silly” in nature but added, “for us at 13 after game one, we’re going to walk out of here with that being O.K. We’ll find ways to correct those.”
Before Tuesday’s game against East Tennessee State, the Lady Vols also will work on getting the ball into the post more often. Although they scored 48 of their points from within the foul lane, no post player attempted more than five shots. Newcomer Keyen Green, who started in the post, had just one shot attempt.
“I wish our posts had a few more touches in the paint,” Harper said.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com.