ORLANDO, Fla. – The No. 15/12 Tennessee Lady Vols came out on top, 49-41, in a hard-fought battle on the road against UCF at Addition Financial Arena on Friday night.
Jordan Horston returned to the lineup after missing the season opener and did not disappoint. The junior guard finished with her second-career double-double, recording 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal in 30 minutes of action.
Thanks to a stifling defensive effort, UT (2-0) held its second-straight opponent to less than 50 points. The Lady Vols allowed the Knights (1-1) to shoot just 27 percent from the field and 3-of-13 from beyond the arc while also forcing 24 turnovers that led to 20 points on the offensive end.
UCF, which boasted the nation’s best scoring defense last season, gave Tennessee’s offense some trouble at times and used a late run to cut it to a two-possession game. However, the Lady Vols would never trail again after taking a 3-2 lead in the opening minutes of the contest.
Freshman Sara Puckett had a solid performance, recording eight points, four rebounds, two assists and one block. Sophomore Tess Darby knocked down a pair of threes to finish with a career-high eight points on the night. Graduate Keyen Green added seven points, four boards and a pair of steals, while graduate Alexus Dye posted eight rebounds, five points, three steals and two assists.
The opening quarter of the game set the tone in the defensive battle, as both teams forced eight turnovers. The Lady Vols held UCF to just 3-of-14 shooting from the floor. The Knights scored the first basket of the game, but it was a 7-0 run by Tennessee that helped the Big Orange take the early 10-9 lead.
A 13-2 run to end the first half swung the momentum in favor of the Lady Vols. Tennessee’s defense continued to cause UCF fits, holding the Knights to just 10-percent shooting and five points in the quarter. UT shot 50 percent from the field and held a 13-2 edge on the boards to take a 26-14 lead into halftime.
Horston came out hot on both ends of the floor, posting 11 points and seven boards in the first half. Darby and Puckett each had five points at the break.
UCF fought back to cut Tennessee’s lead to just 34-30 at the end of the third quarter. The Knights knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to fuel an 8-0 run in the final 1:11 of the period. The Lady Vols shot just 25 percent in the stanza.
UT held UCF without a basket until the 4:05 mark in the final frame, as the Lady Vols opened the quarter on a 10-2 run. However, the Knights wouldn’t go away quietly. UCF rattled off a 7-0 run of its own to make it a two-possession game with 1:40 remaining. Graduate guard Jordan Walker knocked down a midrange jumper that banked in to push Tennessee’s lead to seven with 1:12. UCF continued to fight, but the shot by Walker would prove to be the dagger that sealed the victory for the Lady Vols.
Up next, the Lady Vols will take on their second-straight 2021 NCAA Tournament team, as Tennessee hosts No. 21/22 USF at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday, Nov. 15, at 6:30 p.m. ET. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+ as well as the Lady Vol Network.
STIFLING SECOND STANZA DEFENSE: The Lady Vols held UCF to 1-of-10 shooting and just five points in the second quarter. UT’s five points allowed were the eighth fewest in a quarter in program history and the second fewest in a second quarter.
HARPER’S 10 UNDER 50: For the 10th time during the Kellie Harper era and second time this season, the Lady Vols held their opponent to less than 50 points. After allowing 49 points in its season-opening win against Southern Illinois, Tennessee posted back-to-back sub-50 point defensive efforts for the first time since holding Tennessee State (43) and Stetson (46) under the mark on Nov. 14 and 19, 2019.
KEY MOVES INTO TIE ON LADY VOL BLOCK LIST: Tamari Key finished the day with one block, giving her 161 rejections for her career. That total moves her in a tie for seventh with Nicky Anosike in the Lady Vol record books.