Dan Fleser: Lady Vols Manage To Avoid Another Big-Lead Meltdown

Monday, January 18, 2021 - by Dan Fleser

Kellie Harper could name that rerun in three possessions Sunday afternoon.

 

That’s all it took for Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach to recognize a possible repeat of last Thursday’s third-quarter meltdown against Georgia. After two turnovers and a bad shot, Harper called a timeout just 1 minute, 20 seconds after the halftime break against Alabama.

 

“You probably can guess what the message was,” Lady Vols forward Rennia Davis said.

“We obviously didn’t want a repeat of the last game. I thought the timeout was smart. I think it got us to regroup quickly and realize we’re not about to do this again.”

 

Tennessee stayed the course for a change, restoring its 19-point lead and proceeding to an impressive 82-56 SEC victory over the Crimson Tide.  

 

On Thursday, after extending their halftime advantage to 17 points, the Lady Vols were buried by eight turnovers and five Georgia 3-pointers for the duration of the third quarter. They were outscored 29-9 and never completely recovered, losing 67-66 in their first game after reappearing in the Associated Press Top 25 national poll. The fresh memory inspired the quick timeout.

 

“I wanted to make sure that I had them all back on the same page, that we knew how we needed to play and we were locked in to do it,” Harper said.

 

The significance of Sunday’s outcome went beyond its correlation to Thursday’s loss. No. 23 Tennessee (8-2, 3-1 SEC) has had its share of struggles with Alabama lately. The Lady Vols hadn’t won in Tuscaloosa, Ala., since 2014. They needed a last-second, step-back 3-pointer from Davis to beat the Tide 65-63 in Knoxville last season and end a five-game losing streak in the series.

And this Alabama team had a better resume than any of its recent predecessors. While UT was squandering its lead against Georgia, the Crimson Tide (11-2, 4-2) was outscoring No. 14 Mississippi State by 19 points in the second half and winning in Starkville, Miss., 86-78.

 

“We got beat by a very good Tennessee today,” Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. “… We know that in the SEC, you have good days and bad days. It’s all in how you handle both.”

 

The Lady Vols bounced back from their bad day in impressive fashion. The defense played its part, holding Alabama 24 points below its per-game scoring average. Curry said the Crimson Tide missed nine layups. The Tide also missed 10 free throws.

 

“I thought our players were locked in,” Harper said. “In the first half, they’re in front of our bench, so I can hear it. They were talking to each other. They were anticipating what was next.”

 

On offense, Tennessee shot 51.5 percent from the floor and had four double-figure scorers, led by Davis’ 21 points. After committing 24 turnovers against Georgia, UT cut that number in half to 12. Guard Jordan Horston had seven of the team’s 18 assists.

 

In the end, save for a brief, timeout-worthy flashback, Sunday didn’t look anything like Thursday.

 

“I was irritated live, I was irritated when I watched it and I was irritated when I watched it back with our team,” Harper said of Thursday’s loss. “They knew it. They felt it. I think they responded.”

 

* * *

 

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 danfleser3@gmail.com.


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