KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- The Lady Vols (15-6, 9-4 SEC) are gearing up to open SEC tournament play tonight against Ole Miss, a rematch that was decided by one point previously this season.
Tennessee opens play Friday night as the No. 3 seed, their highest conference tournament ranking since the 2015 season — the last time the program played in a title game.
“I know it’s cliché, but every coach says it every year, ‘Record is 0-0, everybody has a fresh start.’ You get a new challenge in front of you,” Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said. “I fully expect this SEC tournament to be competitive. Anything can happen.”
The last time the Lady Vols played the Rebels, Tennessee erased a double-digit deficit to beat Ole Miss 68-67 on Jan. 28. at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee is 4-0 against the Rebels with Harper at the helm, and the program has won 33 of the 34 contests against Ole Miss. Even though the Big Orange bested the Rebels in a come-from-behind win earlier this season, it’s a new ballgame in the SEC tournament.
“I would be just fine if the players didn’t remember anything about the first game or two that you played, because I think you get to the tournament and, you know, it’s different,” Harper said.
“Everybody’s going to throw out all the stops to win, and if they didn’t beat you the first time, they’re going to give you something different. And I think it matters, but at the same time, when you get to tournament play, they’re going to throw everything at you.”
The Lady Vols enter the tournament on a hot streak, shooting 52% from the field in the team’s last two games. Rennia Davis has scored 20 or more points in the last five games and had a 20-plus night in their last meeting against Ole Miss.
Five Lady Vols scored in double-digits in their previous win over Auburn including senior Kasi Kushkituah who elevated her game at the right time, scoring a career-best 19 points with 11 of those coming in the fourth quarter.
All-SEC second teamer Rae Burrell has been a constant power on offense for Tennessee this season, leading the team in scoring averaging 17 points per game.
Harper is 1-1 in the SEC tournament at the helm and 11-1 when she played in orange and white.
Davis has averaged 14 points per game in her six career SEC tournaments and Jordan Horston is averaging 15 points per game in conference tournament play.
While the team is firing on all cylinders at the right time, Harper says it’s critical they have good practices and the right focus leading up to the game.
“We are going to talk about taking care of business. Do your job, whatever that is. Whether that’s on the court or off the court, you have to do your job,” Harper said.
The Lady Vols are looking to win the program’s league-leading 18th SEC tournament championship this weekend.
The action tips off tonight at 8:15 p.m. in Greenville, South Carolina. The game will be televised on SEC Network.