Lady Vols advance to Sweet 16 in thriller with Belmont
Published 12:54 am Tuesday, March 22, 2022
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CONTRIBUTED BY UT ATHLETICS
KNOXVILLE – Tennessee advanced to the Sweet 16 on Monday night, defeating in-state foe Belmont in Thompson-Boling Arena, 70-67. It will be Big Orange’s 35th trip to the Sweet 16 and first since 2016.
Lady Vol head coach Kellie Harper will be taking her second team to that stage, having led Missouri State to the 2019 Sweet 16 before being hired by UT after the season.
The fourth-seeded Lady Vols (25-8) were led by graduate Alexus Dye who posted a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Junior Tamari Key and freshman Sara Puckett were also in double figures with 18 and 12, respectively. Puckett hit a corner-three with just under 18 seconds remaining to put the Lady Vols ahead for good.
Destinee Wells was the high scorer for the 12th-seeded Bruins (23-8) with 22, while Madison Bartley contributed 16.
Dye got Tennessee on the board, driving to the basket a minute into play. Eleven seconds later, Belmont took its first lead of the game off a 3-pointer by Bartley, and the game became a back-and-forth affair with three ties and three additional lead changes before Tess Darby knocked down a trey at the 2:26 mark and Brooklynn Miles followed it up with an old-fashioned three-point play to give UT a six-point lead with just over a minute remaining in the first.
Tennessee maintained that lead through the end of the quarter, taking a 19-13 advantage into the second period.
Belmont got the ball to start the second, but Miles came up with a steal and Key turned it into two points on the other end. The Bruins responded with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five, but back-to-back scores by Dye and Puckett stretched UT’s lead to double digits at 26-16 with 7:00 to go in the half.
Tennessee led by as many as 13 before a three by Bartley cut it back to 10 with a minute a half to play. Dye closed out the scoring with a layup, making the halftime score 35-23.
Both teams came out hot in the second half, swapping buckets on the first three possessions. The Bruins cut the deficit down to single digits just over two minutes in, but Tennessee rallied back with six straight points to lead 43-29 by the 6:53 mark.
A minute later, a three-point play by Tuti Jones gave Belmont a spark, setting off a 15-2 BU run that tied the game at 46-all with 1:02 to go in the third.
A long-range jumper by Puckett just before the buzzer gave the Lady Vols a two-point advantage as the game entered the fourth quarter.
Burrell scored the first points of the fourth, and Key followed it on the next possession to stretch UT’s lead to six, but a three-pointer by Wells with 8:01 left in the game kept BU alive.
Key answered with four points in a row for UT, but a 3-pointer by Jones and five quick points by Wells put the Bruins back on top by one at 58-57 with just under six to go.
The lead changed four times over the next four minutes, as Dye scored eight straight points to keep UT within range, tying it up with a jumper with 2:40 to play.
The Bruins went back up by two, a lead they would hold until the closing seconds when Puckett her trey to give UT a 67-66 lead with 18 second remaining.
Tennessee got the ball back with just over 10 seconds to play, forcing BU to foul, and Key hit both free throws to build the Lady Vols’ lead up to three.
Jones knocked down the second of a pair of free throws to get BU within two, but Key added one more free throw for UT, and Belmont’s mid-court heave at the buzzer came up short, giving UT the 70-67 victory.
The Lady Vols will travel to Wichita to face the No. 1 seed Louisville on Saturday. Game time and broadcast details will be announced at a later time.
Graduate Alexus Dye recorded her fourth straight double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds against Belmont. She’s managed a double-double in all four of UT’s postseason games thus far.
TK ON TOP:
With three blocks against the Bruins, Tamari Key rose to the top of Tennessee’s career blocks list, moving her total to 276 to pass Candace Parker (275). She did so in a shorter amount of time, needing 89 games to Parker’s 110. Earlier this season, Key also took down the UT season record that was previously held by Kelley Cain.
PUCKETT GETS BUCKETS:
Freshman Sara Puckett hit a clutch 3-pointer in the closing seconds to secure the win for Tennessee and move her total for the day to 12 points. It’s her seventh game with 10+ points on the season and first since logging 10 against Arkansas on Jan. 31.