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PREVIEW: No. 14 Lady Vols vs. Ole Miss

The Lady Vols’ No. 3 seed is their highest since 2015
Rae Burrell
Rae Burrell(Randy Sartin | Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)
Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 3:49 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - No. 14 Tennessee (15-6, 9-4), which earned the No. 3 seed by virtue of its third-place regular-season finish, will open play on Friday night at the SEC Tournament in Greenville, S.C.

The Lady Vols will face No. 11 seed Ole Miss (11-10, 4-10), a 69-60 winner of Thursday’s game vs. sixth-seeded No. 13 Arkansas (19-8, 9-6), at approximately 8:15 p.m. ET on Friday at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

In a head-to-head match-up earlier this season, UT erased a 13-point deficit to beat Ole Miss in Knoxville, 68-67, on Jan. 28.

The Lady Vols’ No. 3 seed is their highest since taking a No. 2 position into the 2015 SEC Tourney in North Little Rock, Ark., and advancing to the championship game.

While it may have been forgotten, UT also tied for third in the regular season conference standings a year ago in Kellie Harper‘s first season, but it drew the No. 6 seed for the tourney by virtue of the league’s tiebreaker system.

Tennessee was picked to finish sixth this season by the league’s coaches and media, and was selected seventh by the coaches and sixth by the media last season, overachieving in Harper’s first two years.

TENNESSEE IN THE SEC TOURNAMENT

Tennessee is seeking to capture its league-leading 18th SEC Tournament championship trophy. UT was victorious in 1980, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

The Lady Vols were runners-up on six occasions, including 1982, 1990, 1991, 1995, 2003 and 2015.

UT last advanced to the title game in 2014 and 2015, winning in 2014 as a #2 seed, 71-70, over #4 Kentucky and falling as a #2 seed to #1 South Carolina, 62-46, in 2015.

Tennessee enters Friday night’s game with an 80-24 (.796) all-time record in the 42nd year of the SEC Tournament.

The Lady Vols are 36-5 all-time in their opening game of the SEC Tournament and are 26-10 in their second contest of the tourney.

The Big Orange women are 25-8 in SEC Tournament play since 2007-08.

Tennessee has had 15 SEC Tournament MVPs through the years, with a Lady Vol winning four of the last nine awards.

Isabelle Harrison (2014), Glory Johnson (2012), Shekinna Stricklen (2011) and Alyssia Brewer (2010) were the past four MVPs from Tennessee.

The Lady Vols won the very first SEC Tournament title in 1980, defeating Ole Miss, 85-71, at Stokely Athletics Center in Knoxville.

SEC TOURNAMENT EXPERIENCE

This marks the SEC Tournament debut for four Lady Vols, including Tess Darby, Destiny Salary, Marta Suárez and Jordan Walker.

This is the second SEC Tournament for Kellie Harper and her coaching staff while at Tennessee. UT was 1-1 in 2019-20.

Kellie Harper had an 11-1 record at the SEC Tournament during her time as a student-athlete at UT with postseason tournament titles in 1996, 1998 and 1999. The only loss was in the 1997 semifinals.

Rennia Davis has averaged 14.2 ppg. in six career SEC Tournament games, tallying 16 and five vs. Auburn and South Carolina in 2018, 19 and 16 vs. LSU and Mississippi State in 2019 and 15 and 14 vs. Missouri and Kentucky in 2020.

Jordan Horston is averaging 15.0 ppg. in SEC Tourney play after scoring six and 24 vs. Missouri and Kentucky last season.

TENNESSEE IN SEC PLAY

UT is 414-88 (.825) in SEC regular-season games through the Auburn match-up, winning 18 regular-season championships and capturing 17 SEC tourney titles.

Tennessee Head Coach Kellie Harper is 19-10 in SEC games in her second year leading the team and has a 1-1 record in SEC Tourney play.

The Lady Vols (projected sixth in preseason polls) have beaten three teams ranked above them in the 2020-21 SEC Coaches and Media Polls, including No. 1 selection South Carolina, No. 2/3 pick Kentucky and No. 4/5 selection Arkansas.

UT tied for third a year ago and finished third outright this season, marking its best back-to-back outcomes in league play since taking second in 2013-14 and first in 2014-15.

LADY VOL NOTES

NEXT WIN IS NO. 1,400: The Lady Vols have the most all-time wins by a women’s basketball program in NCAA Division I history, standing at 1,399-349 entering the SEC Tournament.

STACKING UP 20s: Rennia Davis enters the SEC Tourney with a five-game streak of scoring 20 points or more.

HOT-SHOOTING RAE: Rae Burrell leads UT in all games at 17.1 ppg. Her hard work and shooting form have led her to hit 46.6 from the field, 41.9 on threes and 80.3 on free throws this season.

NETS ARE STILL SMOLDERING: Starters Tamari Key (75.0), Rennia Davis (61.3), Rae Burrell (58.3), Kasiyahna Kushkituah (55.0) and Jordan Horston (43.8) have helped UT shoot 52.0 percent from the field over its last two games.

HORSTON’S STAR RISING: Jordan Horston has 27 assists vs. 11 turnovers in her last five games and is third in the SEC in all games at 4.3 apg. and second in league contests at 4.7 apg. this season.

“TK” BOLSTERS UT’S DEFENSE: Tamari Key anchors the back of UT’s defense, ranking second in blocks per game at 3.4 in the SEC and tying for second among peers in all games at 2.9.

KASI FLIPPED A SWITCH: Since becoming a starter, Kasi Kushkituah is averaging 8.4 ppg. and 6.6 rpg.

SEC HONORS: UT had four players honored by the league’s coaches. Senior Rennia Davis and junior Rae Burrell were named to the All-SEC First and Second Teams, respectively. Sophomore Tamari Key was chosen for the All-Defensive Team and Marta Suárez was picked for the All-Freshman Team.

CHERYL MILLER FINALIST: Rennia Davis was announced Wednesday as one of five finalists for the Cheryl Miller Award. She also is a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award and is on several other late season watch lists.

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: UT was picked sixth and placed third in the SEC this season. Kellie Harper’s team is a No. 3 seed - UT’s best since 2015. UT did so despite graduating one starter from 2019-20 and losing two projected starters before the season began. It then lost a starting center to injury and has had a starting forward limited due to injury during the year. Still, the Lady Vols beat four ranked teams, including No. 2/3 South Carolina, and are a projected NCAA Tourney four seed.

SERIES NOTES VS. OLE MISS

Tennessee has won 33 of the last 34 meetings with Ole Miss, with the only setback in that sequence coming in Oxford, 67-62, on Jan. 12, 2017.

The Big Orange, which have allowed Ole Miss to surpass 70 points only once since 1997, faces a Rebels squad that comes in averaging 70.9 ppg.

On Jan. 9, 2020, Tennessee held Ole Miss to 28 points, which tied for the third fewest UT has allowed in a game and the fewest by an SEC foe.

The Rebels scored only 14 points in the second half of that game, which was the sixth fewest ever tallied in the final 20 minutes by a UT opponent. Ole Miss’ two fourth-quarter points tied for second fewest ever in a quarter by a Big Orange foe.

Tennessee’s Rennia Davis has played very well against Ole Miss in four contests, averaging 17.6 points and 7.8 rebounds vs. the Rebels.

UT Head Coach Kellie Harper is 4-0 vs. Ole Miss as a head coach. Harper took Missouri State to Oxford on Nov. 19, 2015, and came away with a 91-78 victory over the (then) Matt Insell-coached Rebels. Her first UT unit claimed an 84-28 triumph in Oxford on Jan. 9, 2020, and a 77-66 win in Knoxville on Feb. 27, 2020. UT earned a 68-67 victory this season on Jan. 28.

Harper was 6-1 vs. Ole Miss during her playing days at Tennessee from 1995-99.

RECAPPING OLE MISS’ LAST REGULAR SEASON GAME

With a chance to escape day one of the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament, the Rebels delivered yet again with an explosive second half and timely defensive stops to upset No. 17 Kentucky, 73-69, at Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 28.

Shakira Austin came up big with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Donnetta Johnson tossed in 14 points, while Madison Scott and Snudda Collins each finished with 12 points. Scott made it a double-double by grabbing 10 boards.

THE LAST TIME UT & UM MET

The No. 20 Lady Vols came from 13 down to hold off an upset-minded Ole Miss team on Jan. 28, earning a 68-67 win in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Senior Rennia Davis led Tennessee (11-3, 5-1) with 21 points and seven rebounds, and junior Rae Burrell logged 17 points and three rebounds. Sophomore Jordan Horston was also in double figures, managing 13 points and three assists.

Donnetta Johnson was the high scorer for Ole Miss (7-6, 1-6) with 19 points, and Shakira Austin and Snudda Collins were close behind with 16 and 13, respectively.

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