The No. 10 Tennessee Lady Vols put away the opponent early for the first time this season Saturday at the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout in Las Vegas.
Tennessee (6-0) extended its 19-point halftime lead to 25 early in the third quarter and never looked back, dominating Oklahoma State (3-3) 80-55 to win both games at South Point Hotel Casino. The Lady Vols defeated all three Big 12 opponents this week (Texas on Sunday and Kansas on Friday).
Jordan Horston nearly had a triple-double, but was subbed out in the fourth quarter when Tennessee had a 76-43 lead with 6:34 left in the game. The junior had 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
"I didn't until after the game, and I'm glad I didn't know, because I wouldn't have wanted to try to decide whether I put her in there to give her a chance," UT coach Kellie Harper said. "Because really, she needed to come out and others needed to play."
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Tennessee defense consistent
The Lady Vols have only allowed opponents to score an average of 53.4 points. OSU shot just 29% in the first two quarters and missed all 11 3-point attempts, too, which led Tennessee to its largest halftime lead of the season, 44-25.
Per usual, the Lady Vols crushed Oklahoma State on the defensive glass, grabbing 38 defensive rebounds and out-rebounding OSU overall 52 to 26.
"It's something that we take pride in, and right now, I feel like our team is taking a lot of pride in our defense as well," Harper said. "Those are two good stats, because those are things that you can always do, right? No matter (if) the offense is great, the offense is subpar – you can always do those two things and that's where we want to be."
The Cowgirls had some size to matchup with 6-foot-6 Tamari Key with Kassidy De Lapp, who stands at 6-5. But De Lapp got in foul trouble when she picked up her third in the second quarter, limiting her minutes to 16. Key, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds, showed her improvement in patience on defense and didn't have a single foul all game.
Key's patience was encapsulated when she tracked Neferatali Notoa to the basket and waited to get a clean block, rather than swatting too early. It's something Key said she's seen improvement in this season, which she started off getting into foul trouble early and only playing 32 minutes in the first two games.
"She is very calculated now," Harper said. "Occasionally she'll get herself out of position, but she recognizes it. And she's doing a better job now of moving in and out of position to block shots and guard a man.
"I think now that she's able to do two things, and then get back and rebound – really love her maturity right now ... I think she's playing with more basketball savvy, especially defensively, now than she ever has."
Sara Puckett looking more confident by the day
Sara Puckett's confidence in shooting has increased every game, and she had already scored a career-high nine points by the second quarter. The freshman is averaging 26.5 minutes for Tennessee, so her progression in offensive production is encouraging.
Puckett showed Saturday that she's looking for shots, rather than taking the ones that she happens to get. She led Tennessee in scoring at halftime with 11 points, shooting 57% off the bench.
"She's got to do a lot of stuff for us," Harper said of Puckett. "She's gaining a lot of experience that is so valuable for her at this college level, and these are really good teams she's doing it against. So I'm really excited about her and how she's playing."
Puckett has shot well all season, but only averaged 5.4 points because she was only averaging 4.25 shots per game before Saturday. Puckett was 4-for-7 shooting Saturday, scoring 11 points.
Best shooting of the season
Tennessee shot 55%, its best of the season, and was shooting 66% at halftime, leading to a season high for points Saturday. The best shooting percentage in a game this season was 42.6% against Southern Illinois in the opener. The Lady Vols averaged 37.1% before Saturday.
It was an immediate improvement from Friday to Saturday and it allowed Tennessee to pull away in the third quarter to a 25-point lead. Oklahoma wasn't able to overcome the deficit, something Kansas did on Friday, keeping the game within a few possessions until the end.
With the lead, Tennessee got 12 players in the game and 11 scored.
"Every team would want that, having players that can come in and match the same energy as you, I love it," Horston said. "This team, everybody's locked in, everybody wants to play, everybody wants to play hard."
The Lady Vols also shot their best from the free-throw line all season at 69%. Before Saturday, Tennessee averaged 55.4% .
The Lady Vols play six of their next seven game at home, starting with Tennessee Tech on Wednesday (6:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network+) in Thompson-Boling Arena.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee Lady Vols basketball beats Oklahoma State 80-55