KNOXVILLE — Starting the game off with three missed layups, it seemed that No. 20 ranked Tennessee was in for another offensive struggle at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday against Air Force.
It took the Lady Volunteers almost three minutes before Rennia Davis made the first field goal with the Lady Falcons already leading.
However, once the scoring got going for UT, it didn’t stop until the final buzzer sounded.
Five Lady Vols scored double digits on Sunday and, after a slow start, Tennessee regrouped and cruised to an 81-54 victory.
“I think that on the offensive end we were able to attack today, especially in transition,” Davis said. “I think we did good job attacking and getting the shots that we wanted, especially getting the ball inside.”
Davis led the charge for Tennessee with 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists. She was in foul trouble for much of the first half but came out firing in the second half with seven points in the third quarter alone.
With Davis limited in the first two periods, Rae Burrell filled into her role and didn’t miss a beat. Burrell had 18 points as well on 8-of-11 shooting and had five rebounds.
Coming off the bench, Burrell has given coach Kellie Harper the performances she’s needed, scoring in double digits the past four games. Her 18 points on Sunday were a career high, topping her career high of 17 that she set on Tuesday night against Arkansas Pine Bluff.
“I think that my teammates did a good job of putting me in position to finish the ball,” Burrell said. “I am just doing better in my decision making and being smarter with the ball and making better decisions in all aspects.”
While UT used their height advantage at times, Tamari Key and Kasi Kushkituah each had double digit point totals, the Lady Volunteers struggled to rebound against an Air Force team whose tallest player was just six-feet. The Lady Falcons out-rebounded Tennessee 40-39 in the game.
While the numbers haven’t reflected it in previous games, Harper has preached that her team needs to rebound better this season. Now, with video evidence to back up her concern, UT will need to work on their rebounding game as they prepare for Texas next Saturday.
“I think it’s important that sometimes you just have to have something to back you up,” Harper said. “I am hoping that this tangible stat will help them understand that we have to buy into another level (rebounding). It’s a great opportunity to win, but also learn that we need to do better.”
Tennessee’s defense was its normal self against Air Force, holding the Lady Falcons to 54 points. It was the fourth straight game the Lady Vols held a team to under 60 points and the fifth time this season.
UT had six blocks, three of them coming from Emily Saunders in the fourth quarter alone. Jazmine Massengill had two blocks as well to go along with her 11 points, six assists and four rebounds. Tennessee also had 15 steals, four of them coming from Jordan Horston, and forced 22 turnovers.
“I think that every single night we can go out and shut teams down (defensively),” Davis said. “We just have to commit to do it for the whole 40 minutes. We just have to stay consistent in that area. That’s going to be the biggest thing for us.”
After playing four straight games against lesser opponents, the competition heats up quickly for UT. The Lady Vols have a week off before returning to action to take on Texas on Sunday in the Big12/SEC Challenge. After a game against Colorado State, Tennessee hits the road for their toughest test yet as they take on No. 3 Stanford.
With Tennessee still struggling at times against teams like Air Force and Tennessee State, they will have plenty to clean up in a short amount of time to get ready to play tougher competition.
“My scheduling philosophy has always been that you’ve got to prepare your team,” Harper said. “Prepare your team for conference, and if your team is good enough to be in the NCAA tournament, you’ve got to prepare them with a schedule that gets them there and allows them to be successful.”