Playing Notes: Tennessee Lady Vols Basketball stunned at Auburn, suffers second loss of season
AUBURN, Ala. – The No. 4 Lady Vols of Tennessee fell shockingly to the unranked Auburn Tigers on the 71-61 route. The Lady Vols played well from the start but quickly fell behind Auburn in the first half, trailing the Tigers by 11 points at the break.
In the third quarter, Tennessee was a different team, scoring 23 points, ten from Horston and seven from Walker, to take a 51-50 lead after three.
However, the fourth quarter saw the Tigers bury the Lady Vols, edging the nation’s fourth-ranked team by 11 points and claiming victory at home. The win marks the first time Auburn has beaten an AP Top-5 team since 1997, according to SECN+, and the first time the Tigers have beaten an AP Top-5 Lady Vols team since 1991.
Turnovers have finally caught up with Tennessee. The Lady Vols have been struggling to return the ball lately, having committed 15 in the first half against Georgia. Against Auburn, Kellie Harper’s team was responsible for 22 turnovers, leading to 22 points behind on turnovers for the Tigers to UT’s 11 points on Auburn’s nine giveaways.
Below are some game notes from a disappointing night for Lady Vols
turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
As mentioned above, Tennessee’s struggles with turnovers have finally caught up with them. At the start of the season, the Lady Vols’ elite defensive play allowed for slow offensive starts and led to some serious wins. As the season progressed and Jordan Horston continued to shine, the Lady Vols became dominant on offense despite increased turnovers and won games easily.
Against Auburn, Tennessee’s defense was flat most of the night, scoring ability was rare, and 22 turnovers were too many.
And a handful of them also came at crucial moments in the game, like when the Lady Vols trailed in the final five minutes and Alexus Dye and Rae Burrell got the Tigers back in possession. Those two turnovers were key to thwarting Tennessee’s ability to make a comeback attempt.
Head coach Kellie Harper spoke about turnovers in the post-game press conference, noting that it’s not about learning but rather about executing.
Keyen Green’s absence means a lot for the team’s confidence
This week, Kellie Harper announced that role player forward/center Keyen Green will not be available with a torn ACL for the rest of the season. The loss of Green is a blow to Tennessee’s leadership on the court and in their presence at the post, as Green’s maturity as a sixth-year senior and presence in the paint have been critical to the Lady Vols’ success this season.
Auburn’s game was Tennessee’s first without Green, and while the paint presence was a bit lacking and there wasn’t as much aggression in the board game, the team’s confidence has the suffered more, according to Harper.
Emily Saunders played seven minutes in relief from Tamari Key, who played 27. Karoline Striplin didn’t play a minute, and Harper’s small rotations of putting Dye or Puckett under goal had left their defense helpless.
Key remains one of Lady Vols’ best players, but the absence of a role player such as Green may hurt Tennessee more than some thought – perhaps more than Lady Vols thought – as that was certainly the case against Auburn.
Tamari Key finished with seven points, including three on the line, eight rebounds and three blocks.
SEC teams cannot be taken lightly
Tennessee entered Auburn Arena as a heavy favorite on Thursday. The Lady Vols were undefeated in conference (7-0) and Auburn was 0-7 in SEC games. Granted, the Tigers had kept many games against Kentucky, Alabama and Florida closed late, but, on paper, this was one of UT’s biggest layups remaining on the schedule.
Next, unranked Auburn topped the No. 4 Lady Vols and handed them their second loss of the season. Thursday night shows Tennessee can’t ignore any SEC team, and that’s not to say they did, but UT laid one of its worst offensive eggs of the season and let the Tigers score. more points than they had against any other opponent in the conference.
Harper and the players paid tribute to Auburn for their performance and mentioned that this game served as a teaching moment moving forward.
If Tennessee’s self-inflicted injuries weren’t enough Thursday night, the Lady Vols faced one of the best nights of the season from Auburn’s Aicha Coulibaly. The Tigers’ star guard lit up Tennessee for a season-high 26 points and 10 field goals.
Coulibaly continually found ways to reach the edge and attack the UT defense, which spread out in an attempt to guard the three-point line. Kellie Harper explained how Auburn being a post player hurt Lady Vols’ defensive scheme.
“The fact that they lost their position player hurt us,” Harper said. “It spread us further and forced us to keep their shooters because they have five on the field.”
Coulibaly’s 26 points are his second-highest total of the season and the most against a conference opponent. The No. 5 was also almost error-free, as she committed a turnover, unlike Tennessee’s leading scorer, Jordan Horston, who committed six.
Harper also credited Coulibaly for playing a miraculous game during the postgame media availability.
“Coulibaly played exceptionally. She scored a lot in the paint, and we didn’t keep as well as needed,” Harper said.
Along with becoming the second team to beat the Lady Vols and the first team in the SEC to do so, Auburn has scored the most points of any team this season at Tennessee except Stanford. The Tigers and Cardinal are also the only two teams to lead by double digits at halftime on UT.
The positive points
Although the Lady Vols lost disappointingly, there were a few positives to take from a cold night in Alabama.
-The sense of loss is likely to ignite more than one flame in Tennessee. This was already the case with Jordan Horston.
-Learning to play without Keyen: This was the first game without Green. Harper and the players will have a better idea of how to attack without No. 13 advancing.
-The loss came sooner rather than later: Tennessee lost this game with a lot to play for. As for the standings, the Lady Vols have plenty of time to climb back into the top five, especially with a pair of wins over UConn and South Carolina.
-It happened on the road: Who likes to lose at home?
-Third-quarter performance shows Lady Vols can get back to life whenever they want: Down 11 at halftime, Lady Vols knew they needed a big second-half performance to secure a victory. They came out strong in the third quarter and put down 23 goals over the Tigers in the third quarter to take the lead. The Lady Vols fell apart again in the fourth, but the third quarter performance shows that UT’s grit and explosiveness are alive and well.
what will happen
The Lady Vols return to the Thompson-Boling Arena Monday night to host Arkansas at 7 p.m. ET. It will be a rematch of the early January game in which Tennessee won by seven points at Fayetteville.
Photo Credit: Tennessee Athletics
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