KNOXVILLE—Turnovers have been a problem for the Tennessee women’s basketball team this season.
On Sunday against Georgia, the Lady Vols had one that didn’t feel much like a negative inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
With Tennessee leading handily late in the fourth quarter, a Rennia Davis steal resulted in a fast break for the Lady Vols.
Rae Burrell dribbled the ball down the court with Davis staying in stride to her right. When a defender blocked Burrell’s path, she swung the ball around her back to Davis, who put it up for a layup. The basket didn’t count, as Burrell was called for a charge. It didn’t seem to matter. The play sent fans screaming wildly. A smile stretched across Davis’ face as she walked to the other side of the court, shaking her head.
“I have fun out there — I don’t know, y’all have fun?” Davis said, turning to Tamari Key and Jordan Horston in the postgame press conference. “It’s just fun playing for a group of people who put the team before themselves.”
The Lady Vols’ athleticism and unselfish style of play were on display in their 73-56 win over Georgia (10-7, 1-3 SEC). Tennessee (13-3, 3-1) shot 66.7% on 3-pointers and 51.9% from the field while recording 20 assists.
It’s the fourth time this season the Lady Vols have hit at least eight 3-pointers in a game, although they had never shot better than 46.2% from behind the arc.
Georgia coach Joni Taylor didn’t hesitate when asked if she was surprised by Tennessee’s long-range shooting.
“No, not at all — they’re very capable,” Taylor said. “They hit timely shots, and we didn’t. That was the difference in the game.”
The Lady Vols’ performance wasn’t flawless. They had 17 turnovers — about what they average — off of which Georgia scored 25 points.
“Most of our turnovers are just careless mistakes,” Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said. “That will be an area we can take a big stride forward if we can get that cleaned up.”
Tennessee opened the game strong, jumping out to a 12-5 lead in the opening five minutes. Georgia rallied back. The Bulldogs shot 69.2% for a 20-19 edge entering the second quarter.
Harper attributed that high shooting percentage to the open looks Georgia was getting from the Lady Vols running into screens.
“Our defense was maybe a step behind on several possessions in the first quarter, which allowed them to get open,” Harper said. “We cleaned that up in the second quarter and did a much better job executing on defense.”
The Lady Vols closed out the half with a 10-2 run, and they never trailed again. They made five of their last six shots for a 35-29 halftime lead, with Horston accounting for half of those points.
Horston tied things up 27-27 with less than three minutes left in the second quarter before putting Tennessee ahead for good with a 3-pointer.
Key kept Georgia from snagging back momentum on its following possession with a block. The 6-foot-5 freshman center finished with four blocks — two less than her season-high, which she set Thursday against Ole Miss.
“People ask me what my favorite part of playing is, and I say blocking shots,” Key said. “I just feel like I needed to get my timing right and, as the games have been progressing, I’m starting to figure that out.”
Tennessee dominated Georgia in the second half, outscoring the Bulldogs 18-14 in the third quarter and 20-13 in the fourth.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Davis and Lou Brown with six and a half minutes left put Tennessee ahead 63-47, virtually pulling the game out of reach for Georgia.
The Lady Vols enjoyed a balanced attack with four players scoring in double figures. Davis led them with 17 points while Horston contributed 14 and a career-high seven assists.
Taylor said she has noticed improvement in Tennessee’s shot selection.
“There were times where you use to watch Tennessee play, you knew you could possibly stay in the game with them because you knew they were going to take some ill-advised shots,” Taylor said. “I think they all have a really good understanding of where they’re getting their shots from, and they share the ball really well.”
Tennessee is leading the SEC in assists with 17.7 a game. Horston said that’s a product of the team’s chemistry.
“Just having this sisterhood and bond and connections that we have, it’s going to carry over onto the court,” Horston said. “It’s not anything that can be coached. I just feel like we all want to win, so we’re going to do whatever we’ve got to do.”