KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee women's basketball team opened its 2019-20 season Tuesday night by grinding out a 72-68 win over East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.
The Lady Volunteers face a quick turnaround, hosting Central Arkansas at 7 p.m. Thursday at Thompson-Boling Arena in the opener for the Sugar Bears.
Against ETSU, Tennessee controlled the game from a rebounding perspective and held the Buccaneers to 35% shooting. However, the Lady Vols didn't shoot well from the field — including going 3-for-18 from 3-point range — missed seven of their 16 free throws, were whistled for 29 fouls and turned the ball over 16 times.
Zaay Green scored 17 points as one of four Lady Vols in double figures.
Here are three observations from the game:
1. Will somebody step up? Even with the foul trouble — nobody fouled out, but five players ended the game with four fouls — Tennessee was in control in the fourth quarter, leading by as many as 10 points in the final five minutes. But needing good possessions to salt the game away, the Lady Vols instead settled for quick, bad shots and turned the ball over. Up 68-58 with 3:28 to play, Tennessee proceeded to miss nine of its final 10 shots from the field — including its final five — which allowed ETSU to cut the lead to two twice in the final minute. Leadership was a question for the Lady Vols entering the season, and finding a player to settle things down on the court is important.
2. Sub minutes big: The debut of Kellie Harper as coach of the Lady Vols included 10 Tennessee players getting in the game and each of them being on the floor for at least 13 minutes as foul trouble and ineffectiveness forced regular rotation of the lineup. What was interesting was the plus-minus — an imperfect stat that attempts to show how much better or worse a team is when a particular player is on the court — scores of the team. Four of the five starters Tuesday night had a negative plus-minus score, while all five players coming off the bench had a positive score. Green was the only starter to have a positive score, with the Lady Vols five points better in her 26 minutes. Players including fifth-year senior Lou Brown and the freshmen were key to the first-quarter turnaround and instrumental throughout the game.
3. Freshmen potential: The makeup of the team suggests Harper will have to rely on the freshman class to contribute throughout the season, and they passed their first test. At times, guard Jordan Horston was the best player on the court with her energy, aggressiveness and ball-handling. She had a team-high six assists, but that eagerness also led to seven turnovers, some of the sloppy variety. Still, her energy was infectious. Tamari Key had an impressive start to her Lady Vols career, with 11 points, 12 rebounds (six offensive) and five blocks. She chipped in three assists for good measure and affected a number of shots in the paint. The third freshman to play Tuesday, guard Jessie Rennie, only had one rebound and two steals and missed all four of her shots, but her constant hustle and effort on the defensive end led to a team-high plus-16 in her 24 minutes. The only Lady Vols who played more than her were Green and Rennia Davis, who each contributed 25 minutes.