The No. 16 Tennessee Lady Volunteers are got off to a concerning start to their 2021-22 season, defeating the Southern Illinois Salukis — who were picked to finished eighth in the MVC — by just 10 points in a contest that was even closer than the final score indicated.
The Lady Vols scored 59 points in that opener and 49 in their second game — an eight-point win over Central Florida. And while they were offensively challenged again on Monday, they were able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing they recorded their first big resume win of the season by defeating the No. 23 South Florida Bulls 52-49 at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
Tennessee (3-0, 0-0 SEC) had to come back from down six entering the fourth and won on the strength of a 5-0 Jordan Horston run to end the game. Horston converted on a 3-point play that gave the Lady Vols a one-point lead with 39 seconds to go and then went 1-of-2 from the line at both 24 seconds and 11 seconds remaining. South Florida’s Elena Tsineke missed a layup in between the last two free throw makes and Maria Alvarez missed a three a the buzzer that would have tied it.
In the absence of senior star Rae Burrell, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury, Tennessee’s other two key stars who returned from last year — Horston and Tamari Key — stepped up. Horston, the No. 2 recruit from 2019 who has struggled to live up to superstar status, was the best player on the floor with 24 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. Meanwhile, Key offered 10 points, 10 boards and an whopping six blocks. Troy transfer Alexus Dye, who impressed with 12 points and 13 rebounds to help salvage the win against Southern Illinois, was held to six points and seven rebounds.
The Lady Vols fell behind when they were held to just eight points in the second quarter. They claimed the victory despite going 0-of-13 from distance and 8-of-18 from the free throw line.
South Florida (2-1, 0-0 AAC) endured a scare of its own in its opener, defeating UT Rio Grande Valley — picked to finish 10th in the WAC — by just seven. The Bulls scored just 63 points in that opener and against Tennessee shot 28.6 percent from the field. Rebounding phenom Bethy Mununga hauled in 13 boards, but it was not enough. Tsineke led the Bulls with 13 points.
South Florida went 8-of-23 from beyond the arc for a better percentage than it shot from the field. However, Tennessee won points in the paint 40-12.