In order to have a successful meal, you must formulate the right recipe.
Tennessee Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper has her team cooking as they are five games into their SEC schedule.
No. 24 Tennessee (14-3, 4-1 SEC) has dominated early in conference play aside from a toe-to-toe battle with No. 11 Kentucky on the road in Lexington. Their four SEC victories have come by an average margin of 24 points.
In her first year as head coach in Knoxville, coach Harper is laying the foundation and establishing identity that is sustainable for success.
The three simple ingredients for Tennessee’s success down the stretch are rebounding, defending, and an unselfish offense.
Defense, Defense, Defense
Everything that Tennessee does on the court starts at the defensive end of the floor.
Their stingy defense is only allowing opponents to shoot an abysmal 30.7 percent from the field, which is good for number one in the SEC and second-best in the nation, and their 25.8 percent clip from three is the third best the SEC has to offer.
It has been noted that this is the tallest team in Lady Vols history with only one player shorter than 6 feet tall, and only four players shorter than 6’2”.
Their length and athleticism allow them to swarm ball handlers and effectively close out on shooters. It also enables them to clog up passing lanes and intimidate shots in the paint.
Their communication and commitment on the defensive end of the floor gives them an ability to effectively change their defensive looks, whether that be straight up man-to-man, zone, or full court pressure defense.
The Lady Vols are second in the nation in blocked shots and that is in no small part to defensive anchor Tamari Key.
The 6’5” freshman has been the engine that has taken this defense to a new level. Her height and mobility allow her to stuff her opponents in the paint and create havoc in help defense situations. She is sending away 2.7 shots per game and that number balloons to 4.6 blocks in SEC play.
Another area that coach Harper has placed a lot of emphasis is in the rebounding department.
Tennessee currently sits at second in the nation with 49.47 rebounds per contest, and have a rebound margin of 15.5 per game which is the best in the country.
A good defensive possession isn’t complete without securing the missed shot that you forced. To be a good rebounding team, it takes five players being engaged and committed to being sure they get in position to crash the glass.
Tennessee has been dedicated to doing this at the highest level this season. Six players on the roster are averaging at least five rebounds per game, and the second and third highest rebounders are both guards.
This once again speaks volumes about the amount of length and athleticism that the Lady Vols possess.
Tennessee’s offense has been operating like a well-oiled machine so far this season.
As a team, they are shooting 45.9 percent from the floor, which is the third highest clip in the SEC.
Coach Harper has made it known that she wants this offense to emphasize getting in the post and ball movement. This offense is at its best when the ball is moving sideline to sideline and when players are getting to the cup inside.
Tennessee is currently the best in the SEC with 18.2 assists per game. Everyone has the mentality of sharing the rock and giving the ball up to someone with a better look.
Their latest example came in their matchup against Georgia when the team assisted on 18 of 32 shots and 10 of the 11 players got on the scoresheet.
With this formula, it would be no surprise to see this team make some noise down the stretch.
The schedule will only get tougher from here for the Lady Vols. Five of their last 12 games are against teams ranked in the top 25, including No. 1 South Carolina and fourth-ranked UConn both on the road.
Up next, the Lady Vols have Alabama on Martin Luther King Day. Tennessee will be looking to put an end to a five game losing streak to the Crimson Tide.