Lexington, KY – No. 7/7 Tennessee improved to 13-0 overall and 1-0 in the SEC on Sunday, defeating Kentucky (8-7, 0-1 SEC) 63-49 in front of a crowd of 8,921 at Rupp Arena.
The victory was UT’s first in the venue in three tries. The Big Orange women lost to the Wildcats during the 2005-06 season and fell to USC here in the 1986 NCAA Final Four semifinals. The triumph was only the third in Tennessee’s last seven trips to the Bluegrass.
The Lady Vols, who improved to 55-11 in the all-time series, were led in scoring by freshman Evina Westbrook who notched 17 points, tying her career high. Senior Jaime Nared recorded her sixth double-double of the season, contributing 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Fellow senior Mercedes Russell added 16 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots, while freshman Rennia Davis just missed a double-double with 11 rebounds and nine points.
Maci Morris was Kentucky’s high-scorer with 18 points. She was the only Wildcat in double figures, as Tennessee held UK to 30.3 percent shooting for the game. The Lady Vols now have held 12 of 13 foes this season under 40 percent from the field (Marquette, .437, is the only one to shoot better than 40 percent).
Evina Westbrook and Meme Jackson set the tone early for the Lady Vols, each knocking down threes for Tennessee’s first two buckets of the game. Kentucky started the game cold, going 0-of-6 from the field.
The Wildcats scored their first points off a Morris jumper with 5:50 remaining in the first quarter to end a 10-0 run by Tennessee. Jackson and Westbrook combined for three additional treys before the end of the quarter to help build a 19-point lead and head into the second stanza up 26-7.
The second quarter was a more evenly matched affair, with Kentucky scoring 13 points to Tennessee’s 10. The Wildcats began hitting from distance with Makenzie Cann and Morris both knocking down threes in the opening minutes. The Lady Vols weathered a 4:24 scoring drought at the end of the half to take a 36-20 lead into the break.
UT opened the second half with a 9-3 run to claim a 22-point lead at the 7:01 mark. Davis and Russell scored five points apiece in the third to help Tennessee to a 49-31 lead entering the final stanza.
Tennessee and UK traded buckets to start the fourth before UT went on an 8-3 run to lead by 23 with 3:33 to play. The Wildcats answered by scoring seven unanswered points and closed out the game with an 11-2 run. It wasn’t enough to overtake Tennessee, however, and the Lady Vols claimed a 63-49 victory.
Tennessee is one of only five undefeated teams remaining in NCAA Division I women’s basketball. The other squads are Connecticut, Louisville, Mississippi State and West Virginia. All four are playing today.
Westbrook Heating Up
Over the last four games Evina Westbrook has averaged 15.8 points per game, more than doubling the 7.2 points she averaged over the first nine contests.
UT went on to a 26-7 lead after the opening 10 minutes, improving its season advantage to 308-162 in the first quarter. It was the fourth start of 10-0 or better this season by Holly Warlick‘s squad. UT went up 12-0 vs. Alabama State and Troy, and had another 10-0 game-opening run vs. Marquette.
Early Three-Point Blitz
Tennessee hit five of eight three-pointers in the first quarter for the most in any quarter all season long. Evina Westbrook had three of them on four attempts. The long-range bonanza ended, however, as the Lady Vols went zero for nine the rest of the way.
Though she didn’t have her best shooting day, Jaime Nared managed a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds and added six assists and a pair of steals. She tied Mercedes Russell for the team lead in “D-Ds” this season and has 15 for her career.
Next Up for UT Women’s Basketball
Tennessee returns home to host Auburn on Thursday, January 4th, 2018 at 7:00pm in Thompson-Boling Arena. The game will be available online via SECN+.