Tennessee ended 2016 with a four-game winning streak after Thursday’s 90-54 win over UNC-Wilmington and a triple-double by Jordan Reynolds, only the third in Lady Vol history.
Tennessee (8-4) shook off some post-Christmas malaise and essentially shut down UNCW (5-6) after halftime. A 43-35 mark at the break mushroomed to 70-42 by the end of the third quarter.
The only suspense in the fourth quarter was if Jordan Reynolds would tally a triple double – she has come tantalizingly close before – and she answered that with 2:27 left in the game.
Reynolds posted a stat line of 11 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists. Reynolds secured double digits in boards by the third quarter. She reached double digits in points with a layup with 4:15 left in the game.
Meme Jackson was on the receiving end of Reynolds’ final three assists with two layups and a three-pointer.
“Jordan had good looks, she hit me and I was wide open, and I was able to knock the shot down,” Jackson said.
After Jackson’s second layup in the fourth quarter, Diamond DeShields stood up and yelled at Reynolds: “One more!”
When Jackson lined up the three and swished it, DeShields and the entire bench exploded.
“I’ve been close a couple of times, which is so frustrating,” Reynolds said. “My teammates were telling me on the bench, they kept reminding me and I was just looking for the open person. Meme Jackson did a great job running the floor for me. I thought Jaime Nared did a great job as well. They are very consistent at that.”
Nared missed a layup in the third quarter that would have put Reynolds at eight. As Nared ran back down the floor, she apologized to Reynolds.
“Me and Jaime, we miss a lot of layups,” Reynolds said. “I know I’ve been in that position before. We laughed it off because it happens a lot, which it shouldn’t at this level, but it just does. It was just a funny exchange because I’ve been there before.”
“I told her I was sorry,” Nared said. “She knew that I was sorry. And then Coach (Jolette Law) laughed and said, ‘She could’ve had eleven assists!’ ”
DeShields was a spectator for the game as she rested an injured thumb. Warlick said that DeShields would be available Sunday’s game against Kentucky to open SEC play, though she joked that “Diamond will not play Sunday” to throw off the Wildcats, before quickly adding: “Diamond will play Sunday.”
Te’a Cooper wasn’t on the sideline Thursday. Warlick said she allowed the injured sophomore guard – Cooper is out for the season after tearing her ACL last summer – extended time with family over the Christmas break. Cheridene Green was offered the same option, but the juco post is from London, England, and decided to stay stateside in December.
Warlick used all eight available players with seven reaching double digits in minutes logged. Five Lady Vols tallied double digits in points.
Jackson notched a career high with 20 points – besting the 18 she scored in the last game against Troy – while Nared (21 points) and Mercedes Russell (20 points) continued their excellent play this season. Schaquilla Nunn tallied 11 points, while Alexa Middleton added seven. Russell completed the double-double with 11 rebounds.
Reynolds joins Shekinna Stricklen (17 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists against Oklahoma on Jan. 3, 2010) and Shelia Collins (18 points, 10 rebounds, 10 steals against Florida State on Feb. 8, 1985) as the only Lady Vols to record a triple double.
“She has been really focused,” Warlick said. “When she plays within her game, she is an outstanding guard. That means attacking the basket, getting out in the passing lanes on defense, and rebounding.
“We have to have her play in order to win basketball games. It’s that simple. Jordan has to be a competitor. The last couple of games, she has really competed and brought energy for us. I was happy for her.”
Reynolds is the first Lady Vols to post a triple double with Warlick as the head coach at Tennessee. Reynolds headed to the bench after making history.
“To think of all the people who have come before me in this program, I thought I was the 120th person to do it,” Reynolds said. “But to see I’m in good company, it’s awesome to know. My teammates were more excited than I was. Coming out, they just joined me, and they were all over me, just so excited. That’s the best feeling, that my teammates were so proud of me.”
Tennessee can get out of sync when Reynolds leaves the floor, but Middleton and Jackson provided steady minutes when the senior guard, who logged 33 minutes, got some short rest.
The Lady Vols started a tad sluggish – UNCW briefly took the lead in the second quarter after a deep three – but Tennessee built its lead to eight by the break. UNCW would score just 19 points in the final 20 minutes, while the Lady Vols added 47 after halftime.
The third quarter was a killer for us,” UNCW Coach Adell Harris said. “I’m proud of the way our kids fought. Overall if you were a spectator watching the game you definitely couldn’t say UNCW wasn’t a team that was fighting and competing. That was very important.”
Jasmine Steele, a transfer from Alabama, tallied nine points for the Seahawks. The Lady Vols initially struggled to keep the 5-1 senior guard in front of them, and she had one of the game’s highlights with an Allen Iverson-worthy ball fake and then rainbow layup that found all net.
“I think it’s just like a natural instinct sometimes,” Steele said. “I really don’t practice it.”
Steele also went right at Tennessee’s post players and lofted rainmaker shots.
“I just wanted to do what my coach told me to do, attack the post players,” Steele said. “I wasn’t afraid to go in there and shoot over her. I was just wanting to make the shot.”
UNCW shot 30.4 percent (21-69) overall, 18.2 percent (4-22) from the arc and 61.5 percent (8-13) from the line. The Seahawks had 12 assists, just 11 turnovers and 10 steals. Rebekah Banks led UNCW with 10 points, while Jenny DeGraff added nine.
“Obviously coming to Tennessee, if one or two things don’t happen, if you don’t roll up your sleeves and commit to getting dirty early, they’re going to take this thing away in the first three minutes,” Harris said. “I think our kids knew that and we had an agenda, we’re going to come out throwing punches and we’re going to try to execute as best we can both offensively and defensively and see what happens.
“You got to put that together consistently for four quarters. Hopefully our kids will learn how to do that moving forward.”
Tennessee shot 58.1 percent (36-62) overall, 36.4 percent (4-11) from the arc and 70 percent (14-20) from the line. The Lady Vols had 21 assists, 16 turnovers, five steals and three blocks.
Miscues were an issue, especially to open the game, as 10 of the turnovers came before halftime. Several fell in the category of ill-advised passes.
“We were a little rusty,” Warlick said. “Overall, we did some really good things. We didn’t play a perfect basketball game and had too many turnovers. I was pleased that we settled down and did some really good things.”
The non-conference portion of the regular season is over – minus a visit Jan. 16 by Notre Dame – and the SEC starts Sunday with Kentucky coming to Knoxville.
“We came back from Christmas break and had two solid practices,” Warlick said. “These kids are focused and playing hard. I’m excited, and I know they are. We talked about what is ahead of us, and they’re ready. They’re putting in the time, and everybody is getting the chance to play. We are starting to see them play well together.
“They’ve given me a lot of confidence with how they’re practicing, together, talking and trusting. There’s a lot of trust on this basketball team right now.”
Nared has been a major factor in Tennessee’s resurgence of late. The junior forward has been a consistent scorer and also added four assists against UNCW.
While the four losses in the first two months of the season were not the outcomes the Lady Vols wanted, the SEC season is a clean slate and present postseason seeding opportunities.
“I think we’re definitely not where we want to be, but we’re definitely progressing from where we started this season – getting out to four bad losses, losses we wish we could have played again and taken back,” Nared said. “Obviously Diamond is out, and we’re going to need her when SEC starts. I’m excited about how we’re going to take this SEC season. I think we’re prepared, and we’re going to keep preparing. It’s obviously a long season, and I think it’s going to be fun.”
Coach Holly Warlick
Jordan Reynolds, Meme Jackson and Jaime Nared
UNCW Coach Adell Harris and Jasmine Steele