KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee withstood a stiffer challenge than expected as the Lady Volunteers prepare to hit the beach for their toughest tests of the young season.
Mercedes Russell scored 17 points and freshman Rennia Davis had her first double-double Monday as No. 12 Tennessee remained unbeaten with a 68-56 victory over winless Wichita State.
Tennessee earned its fifth straight 3-0 start as the Lady Vols head into Wednesday’s Cancun Classic opener against No. 20 Marquette.
“I think it was definitely helpful for us,” said Russell, who also had nine rebounds. “We’re going to have a tough week obviously coming up, playing three games in a row.”
Davis had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Anastasia Hayes added 12 points as Tennessee eventually overcame the obstacles presented by Wichita State’s zone defense.
Tennessee won its first two games by an average margin of 33.5 points and had scored at least 87 points in each of them. This time, Tennessee trailed late in the second quarter and was clinging to a three-point lead midway through the third before finally pulling away.
“It’s the first game we played zone this year,” Wichita State coach Keitha Adams said. “We watched film on them and felt like mismatch issues going man-to-man, and also they’re very, very good going out of their man-to-man offense, so we went to zone and slowed it down.”
Wichita State led 28-25 before Tennessee scored the final four points of the half and the first four of the third quarter to grab a 33-28 advantage.
The Shockers cut the margin to 34-33 before Tennessee reeled off 11 straight points to create some distance. Tennessee made it 36-33 with 6:08 left in the third, then neither team scored for over three minutes before a flurry of Wichita State turnovers allowed the Lady Vols to get their offense going.
“We fought through and we battled,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “I’m really proud of our kids for doing that.”
Wichita State: The Shockers’ inability to keep Tennessee off the free-throw line made the difference. Tennessee was 20 of 34 on free throws, while Wichita State was 5 of 6. So far this season, Wichita State has attempted 44 free throws while its opponents have attempted 99.
Tennessee: Shooting from the foul line and 3-point range remains a concern for the unbeaten Lady Vols. Tennessee is making just 61.5 percent (56 of 91) of its free throws this season. Tennessee went 2 of 12 on 3-pointers Monday and is shooting 32 percent (16 of 50) from beyond the arc this season.
NOT MUCH REST
Russell, Davis, Jaime Nared and Evina Westbrook each played at least 36 minutes for Tennessee. Nared had nine points and nine rebounds, though she shot just 3 of 16.
This game represented a reunion of sorts for new Tennessee assistant coach and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Bridgette Gordon, who spent the last seven seasons as an assistant coach at Wichita State. Gordon played on Tennessee’s 1987 and 1989 national championship teams, and her jersey hangs from the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters.
“I think she has a little bit of Chamique Holdsclaw in her, and that’s a hard act to follow, but she does some great things,” Warlick said about Davis. “She shoots the 3. She rebounds. She can pull up. She’s smooth.”
Wichita State is at New Mexico on Friday.
Tennessee faces No. 20 Marquette on Thursday at the Cancun Challenge in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico.
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