KNOXVILLE - With Rennia Davis struggling recently, the Tennessee women's basketball team has needed someone else to help alleviate point guard Evina Westbrook's scoring load.
The sample size is small, but it appears Zaay Green has started to step up to the responsibility.
After five double-digit scoring performances in the first 12 games of the season, the 6-foot freshman guard has matched that in the past seven games for the Lady Volunteers (12-7, 1-5 Southeastern Conference), who will try to end a six-game losing streak when they host LSU (12-6, 3-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday in the "Live Pink, Bleed Orange" game at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Among SEC freshmen this season, Green ranks second in scoring at 10.6 points per game, and she is tied for second in rebounding (4.4) and tied for third in assists (2.4). She's Tennessee's second-leading scorer in SEC games this season, having averaged 11.3 points.
With the Lady Vols stepping out of conference play Thursday night against top-ranked Notre Dame, Green had one of her best performances, finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists (with no turnovers) in 37 minutes, her most this season.
"I felt very confident in my shot during the first and second quarters, and then in the third quarter I noticed they were packing it in," Green said after the Lady Vols lost 77-62 to the Fighting Irish (19-1). "The paint was kind of packed in, so we had to kick it out a lot, but our shots are going to end up falling in, and we'll be all right."
Westbrook, a 6-foot sophomore, can use the help, wherever it comes from. She has shouldered a much bigger load this season, with nine performances of at least 20 points after having none as a freshman. She averaged 19.7 points in her past six games, and her season average of 16.8 is double what she averaged in 2017-18.
Despite handling most of the scoring load, she also leads the team with an average of five assists per game, up from 4.2 a year ago.
But the Lady Vols have been looking for someone to help Westbrook, and until Davis, a sophomore forward, returns to her all-conference form, Green could be that player.
"Zaay did exactly what we expect her to do," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said Thursday. "She penetrated and is one of our best players that can penetrate the gap and take good shots. I thought she took good shots. She did not take the floater. She stopped and jump shot.
"Her defense, I thought, was solid. We need her to do that all the time. I expect her to do that, and it has always been expected. Now she showed she can continue to do that."
The Lady Vols, who have seven underclassmen on the roster, are immersed in the program's worst losing streak since 1970. But four of the losses in the skid have come by four points or less, and Tennessee led Notre Dame at the end of each of the first two quarters before the Irish took control late in the third.
Tennessee fans no doubt hope the fight the Lady Vols showed means they still have a chance to turn things around.
"I think what really flipped the switch is that it didn't matter who it was or who we were trying to play, we just really wanted to win," Green said. "I think that was in all of our heads. We just need to get it together and get the win.
"In the fourth quarter we fought hard, no matter what."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.