The Tennessee Vols bounced back from a sputtering start in their previous game and routed Presbyterian on Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
One night later, the Tennessee Lady Vols showed more scoring depth in beating Tennessee Tech.
Both teams made progress, which arguably is as important now as results. This portion of a basketball season is crucial for sorting through strengths and weaknesses and laying a competitive groundwork for what lies ahead.
The Vols are undertaking a noteworthy makeover of their offense.
According to statistics compiled by Will Warren, 40.2 percent of Tennessee’s shots through six games have been 3-pointers, an increase of nearly 11 percent over last season. The percentage of shots taken away from the rim and inside the arc, meanwhile, are down by more than eight percent. Their scoring has been primarily from long range or at the rim.
The Lady Vols have been reinventing themselves since their season opener, when top returnee Rae Burrell went down with a knee injury. In her absence, junior guard Jordan Horston played a huge role in victories over Texas and South Florida. She was named SEC player of the week on Monday after being named the most outstanding player of last weekend’s South Pointe Thanksgiving Shootout in Las Vegas.
For both teams, these are major undertakings that will be fraught with challenges – almost on a game-by-game basis
The Vols, for example, shot a sizzling 14-for-27 from long range on Tuesday. Transfer Justin Powell hit all five of his 3-point attempts. Four days earlier, the Vols were 2-for-15 on the same shots in the first half against Tennessee Tech.
Forward Olivier Nkamhoua is one of UT’s most improved players. He hit all eight of his shots against Tech and scored 18 points. He had just two attempts against Presbyterian, however, and scored two points. Nkamhoua is OK with the disparity, as long as he’s touching the ball. He thinks that’s vital to Tennessee’s long-range marksmanship.
“I think it’s just understanding it doesn’t need to be a ball-dominant game for the post,” Nkamhoua said. “But there just needs to be an inside-out rhythm to how we play because our best 3s come inside-out. Our best shot selections come when we play inside out. Not that the bigs need to be shooting the ball too much more, but often just touching it, you know.”
For the Lady Vols, graduate transfer Alexus Dye scored a season-high 20 points Wednesday night. She also attempted a season-high 15 shots after coach Kellie Harper urged her to take more jumpers.
Making shots period is the Lady Vols biggest challenge. While they’ve averaged 78 points for the past two games, Harper still sounds like she’s looking between the couch cushions for more.
“Maybe we can get to the free throw line a little bit more; maybe we need to find a few more scores in transition,” she said. “So, there’s still concerns there. I don’t think after a couple of games of decent offense we’ve arrived.”
Harper said the Lady Vols would benefit from fewer turnovers, which would equate to more shots.
“You know, we have to eliminate the turnovers for no reason,” she said, “the just-hand-it-to-the-other-team turnovers.”
Horston could help there as well. She’s too good and too important to have committed 37 turnovers. Many have been unforced, too. Cutting back on them would be a good project for December.
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.