KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jordan Walker scored 16 points, Tamari Key added 13 points and 11 rebounds and No. 7 Tennessee beat Alabama 62-44 on Thursday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Leading by six at halftime, the Lady Volunteers (12-1) missed their first seven shots of the third quarter as the Crimson Tide (9-3) rallied to momentarily lead, 32-30. With the game tied at 35, a 3-pointer by Tennessee’s Tess Darby as the shot clock expired with a minute left in the third quarter gave the Lady Vols a lead they never lost.
“That was the biggest bucket of the game,” Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said. “That was huge. It gave our team energy and got the crowd in it.”
Alabama shot 24% for the game. The Tennessee defense kept the Crimson Tide from making too much of the Lady Vols’ middle two quarters when they shot a combined 6 of 27 from the field and scored just 15 points. A 24-7 fourth-quarter run iced the victory.
“The main message we had in this game was to get stops,” Walker said. “I’m really proud of the way this team pulled together to get through the adversity.”
“I knew we’d have to win with defense,” said Harper. “(Between the third and fourth quarters) I told (the players) to move past everything that had already happened. That group that was in there at the end of the third quarter settled us down. They had the poise and confidence that allowed us to hang in there.”
Brittany Davis scored 12 points for Alabama, and JaMaya Mingo-Young added 11. The Crimson Tide had 18 offensive rebounds against much-taller Tennessee, but scored just six points off the second chances.
“I like the fact that we outrebounded (Tennessee) on offensive rebounds,” Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. “When you get 18 offensive boards, you’ve got to convert more of those.”
Tennessee scoring leader Jordan Horston missed her second straight game because of an illness that school officials said is not COVID-19. Harper said she expects Horston to be ready for Sunday’s game at Arkansas.
Rae Burrell came into the season as Tennessee’s top returning scorer (16.8 points). She played 17 minutes of the first game and, after scoring 12 points, went down with a knee injury. Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said Burrell has been doing individual work in practice and that she expects Burrell to start doing drills soon.
Alabama: Tennessee was the second ranked team the Crimson Tide had played this season. Alabama dropped a three-point decision to No. 15 Duke in November. The road will get tougher in the coming weeks while playing quality competition in the Southeastern Conference. After having two games canceled because of COVID, Alabama hadn’t played since Dec. 13.
Tennessee: Throughout the nonconference portion of the schedule, the Lady Vols developed depth in their roster. Sara Puckett, Keyen Green, Karoline Striplin and Brooklynn Miles have come off the bench to make contributions. They will be key as the grind of the season wears on.
Alabama: Hosts Auburn on Sunday.
Tennessee: At Arkansas on Sunday.