Freshman Rennia Davis scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in her NCAA debut, and No. 3 seed Tennessee set postseason offensive records in a 100-60 first-round victory over No. 14 Liberty on Friday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Lady Vols finished the game shooting an NCAA program-best 61.7 percent (37-for-60) from the field, including an impressive 24-for-30 in the second half. They scored 30 points off turnovers and 60 points in the paint.
“We knew we had to pick it up in the second half and be more aggressive and our press definitely helped,” Tennessee senior guard Jaime Nared said. “It was really just about getting our tempo going and making buckets. That is something we had to adjust, and we did a great job in the second half.”
Tennessee (25-7) plays No. 6 Oregon State in the second round of the Lexington Regional on Sunday with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. Oregon State beat No. 11 Western Kentucky 82-58 in the opening game.
The Lady Vols used a third-quarter offensive outburst to win their NCAA opener for the ninth straight season and remain undefeated at home in NCAA play at 57-0.
Liberty (24-10) entered the game ranked No. 7 in the country in scoring defense (53.7 points per game) but couldn’t hold Tennessee’s offense down for a full game.
The last time Liberty allowed a team to score 100 points was in 1998, when the Lady Flames lost to Tennessee 102-58 in an NCAA tournament game in Knoxville.
Liberty managed to stay close throughout the first half in the rematch, which ended with Tennessee holding a 36-28 advantage. But Tennessee ramped up the pressure in the second half, exploding for 38 points in the third quarter.
Anastasia Hayes and Nared completed back-to-back three-point plays off turnovers to give the Lady Vols a 50-33 lead.The Lady Vols continued to pour it on, with Meme Jackson draining a 3-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer for a 74-48 lead.
“I told them at halftime I thought we were settling. We are a really good team when we get the ball in the paint. We move the ball, we cut harder, set screens,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “We stepped up our defense, and our defense always leads to us getting easy baskets and it kind of gets us hyped.”
Davis led seven Tennessee players in double-figure scoring. Cheridene Green came off the bench to score 15 points and grab 12 rebounds for the Lady Vols.
Lela Sellers led Liberty with 13 points. Keyen Greene, the Big South Conference player of the year, scored 10 points, all in the second half.
“They only missed six shots in the second half, and part of that is turning the ball over and they were getting run outs and layups off that,” Liberty coach Carey Green said. “We handled it fairly well first half. The second half, the turnovers turned into touchdowns.”