Tennessee adds 5-star recruit Julian Phillips to roster

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee has signed forward Julian Phillips, the fourth high school All-American and seventh five-star prospect to join the Volunteers under men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Phillips is ranked among the top 18 overall prospects nationally by two recruiting services. The South Carolina native helped Link Academy in Branson, Missouri, go 33-2. Phillips had nine points, three assists, two rebounds and a steal in the McDonald’s All-American contest.

Phillips joins incoming guard B.J. Edwards as the Volunteers’ prep commitments in this year’s class along with graduate transfer guard Tyreke Key from Indiana State.

Hollingshead transfers from Georgia to Tennessee Lady Vols

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jillian Hollingshead has transferred to Tennessee after her freshman season, giving Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper four players from the transfer portal.

Harper announced Hollingshead’s commitment Monday.

The 6-foot-5 forward is a 2021 McDonald’s All-American from Powder Springs, Georgia, and ranked No. 37 in espnW’s 100.

Hollingshead played 20 games as a freshman for Georgia, averaging 5.1 points and 2.5 rebounds. She was limited by illness and injury but was a two-time Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week. She scored a season-high 15 points in the NCAA Tournament against Dayton.

Tennessee has added 6-2 forward Rickea Jackson from Mississippi State, 5-6 point guard Jasmine Powell from Minnesota and 6-1 Missouri State graduate transfer Jasmine Franklin. Justine Pissott, a 6-4 guard-forward who is the No. 11 overall player in the 202 class by espnW HoopGurlz, signed in November.

Lady Vols escape Belmont for 1st Sweet 16 berth since 2016

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A freshman got Tennessee back to the Sweet 16 for the first time in six years, returning the Lady Vols to a spot they had been to so many times before in the women’s NCAA Tournament.

Sara Puckett hit a 3-pointer with 17.5 seconds left to put Tennessee ahead to stay as the fourth-seeded Lady Vols held off neighbor Belmont 70-67 on Monday night to advance to their first Sweet 16 since 2016.

“As soon as I got it, I knew what I was going to do with it,” Puckett said of her lone 3-point attempt of the game.

Puckett wasn’t the first option. Her teammates had no doubt about the shot from the player nicknamed Sara Bucketts.

“We all knew as soon as it left her fingertips that it was good,” Lady Vols junior center Tamari Key said.

The Lady Vols (25-8) improved to 23-1 on their home floor in the second round.. They earned the program’s 35th Sweet 16 berth in the 40th women’s NCAA Tournament, and they will meet top-seeded Louisville on Saturday in the regional semifinal in Wichita, Kansas.

Coach Kellie Harper wanted a Tennessee team that has fought through key injuries all season long to get rewarded with more basketball.

“This has been an amazing, amazing journey,” Harper said. “And they have said it all year. They have said this is a special team, and this team can do some special things in March. Here we are.”

Tennessee had to scrap for this win after blowing a 14-point lead in the third quarter to lead only 48-46 going into the final quarter. The Lady Vols scored the first four of the final quarter for a 52-46 lead.

The Bruins went up 61-60 on Madison Bartley’s layup with 4:07 left. Tennessee tied it at 64 on a jumper by Alexus Dye with 2:39 left. Bartley put Belmont ahead 66-64 with another layup with 2:23 remaining.

Jamilyn Kinney, who attempted only seven free throws all season, missed both tries with 25.7 seconds left. After a Tennessee timeout, the Lady Vols got the ball to Puckett in the left corner, and she hit nothing but net.

“They didn’t blink,” Harper said of Tennessee.

Tamari Key hit three of four free throws for Tennessee inside the final 10 seconds. Bruins guard Tuti Jones hit her first free throw with 3.8 seconds remaining, missed the second on purpose. Destinee Wells had a final chance to force overtime, but her long 3 hit off the backboard above the rim before the buzzer.

“Once the buzzer went off, I saw the ball didn’t go through the net. It hurt,” Jones said.

Dye led Tennessee with 20 points and 11 rebounds, her fourth straight double-double. Key finished with 18 points, and Puckett had 12.

Belmont (23-8) wanted to take advantage of being so close to home as only three programs all-time with a winning record against the Lady Vols. They snapped a 13-game winning streak trying to join Quinnipiac in 2017 and San Francisco in 1996 as the only 12 seeds to reach a regional semifinal.

“We proved that we can keep up with anybody, and that’s just plain and simple,” Bartley said of Belmont.

Wells led Belmont scoring 11 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter. Jones had 17, and Bartley 16.

The Lady Vols led 19-13 at the end of the first quarter and outscored Belmont 16-10 in the second for a 35-23 lead at halftime. Tennessee appeared ready to coast until the Bruins’ furious comeback.

BIG PICTURE

Belmont: The Bruins take quite the resume to the Missouri Valley Conference on July 1 with seven NCAA Tournament appearances and back-to-back berths in the second round. The Bruins are only the second program to win back-to-back NCAA Tournament games in consecutive seasons as a 12 seed or lower, joining Middle Tennessee (2004 and 2005).

Tennessee: Now Harper has her second Sweet 16 berth as a coach and first at her alma mater with a roster where none of the Lady Vols have ever played in a regional semifinal. The further they go, the odds increase leading scorer and rebounder Jordan Horston might return from a broken left elbow that sidelined her in mid-February. Harper said it will be fun to find out Horston’s status.

PASSING CANDACE PARKER

Key finished with three blocks and now has the Tennessee career blocks record with 276 in 89 games. She topped the mark of 275 set by Candace Parker in 110 games between 2005-08.

“Any time that you are even mentioned in the same sentence as Candace Parker, you’ve probably done something right,” Harper said.

Michigan in Sweet 16 again as Brooks puts away Vols late

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INDIANAPOLIS — Eli Brooks put Michigan ahead for good with a three-point play and delivered four critical points in the final minute, and the 11th-seeded Wolverines booked the most surprising of their five straight trips to the Sweet 16 by beating No. 3 seed Tennessee 76-68 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

Brooks finished with 23 points, including a looping, improvised hook shot and two free throws as Michigan (19-14) put away the Volunteers, who had a six-point lead with 8 1/2 minutes left but then went four minutes without scoring. Their cold shooting continued until it was too late.

Big man Hunter Dickinson had 27 points and two of his 10 rebounds in the closing seconds for the Wolverines, whose five straight Sweet 16 appearances are the most in Division I. Gonzaga is the only other team to make it four straight times.

Michigan will face either second-seeded Villanova or longtime rival Ohio State, the No. 7 seed, in Thursday’s South Region semifinals in San Antonio, Texas.

Hardly a conventional Cinderella given its resources and pedigree, this Michigan team nonetheless came into the tournament amid low expectations. The Wolverines have the worst record of any team left in the field and did the bare minimum down the stretch to secure an at-large berth. Their consecutive wins in the tourney are their first since mid-February.

But coach Juwan Howard’s squad still has plenty of talent and elevated its play down the stretch against the Southeastern Conference champions. Howard himself had to learn some lessons about composure when he was suspended for five games late in the season for hitting a Wisconsin assistant during a postgame handshake line.

Kennedy Chandler had 19 points and Josiah-Jordan James had 13 for Tennessee (27-8), which had a seven-game winning streak snapped. Two days after shooting a school tourney record 60% from the field, the Vols shot 41.8% and came up short again in the postseason. Tennessee lost to Oregon State in the first round last year, also at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

This year, the arena was filled to the rafters with an orange hue and Vols fans repeatedly belted out the lyrics to “Rocky Top” during timeouts – a stark contrast from last year when attendance limited to about 25% of capacity because of COVID-19 restrictions, the energy made a difference.

Wolverines starting point guard DeVante’ Jones returned from the concussion protocol, only to be pulled in the first half after colliding with teammate Moussa Diabate.

Michigan controlled most of the first half until the Vols used a late 13-4 run to take a 37-32 halftime lead. Tennessee played from the lead most of the second half until Michigan went on a 14-5 run.

The Wolverines twice tied the score on tip-ins from Terrance Williams II. And then Brooks swung the game.

His three-point play with 3:21 to go made it 65-62. Chandler’s jumper cut the deficit to 66-64, but James missed a 3-pointer and Brooks answered with his old-school hook before Michigan closed it out at the free-throw line.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: The Wolverines played better than their seeding in Indianapolis, winning the first game with a backup point guard before beating the SEC champs. Now, in Howard’s second season, Michigan is two wins away from another Final Four appearance.

Tennessee: Coach Rick Barnes’ team appeared to be peaking before the tournament, which will make this loss difficult to accept.

UP NEXT

Michigan will try to win its third in a row for the first time since late January.

Tennessee uses balanced offense to beat Longwood 88-56

Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
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INDIANAPOLIS — Tennessee used its stout defense to win the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

If the Volunteers shoot as well as they did Thursday in Indianapolis, they could be headed toward an even bigger celebration.

Santiago Vescovi scored 18 points on six 3-pointers, and Tennessee pounded Longwood 88-56 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, showing exactly why it felt it deserved better than a No. 3 seed.

The Volunteers (27-7) shot 60% from the field and had four players score in double figures. Josiah-Jordan James had 17 points, and John Fulkerson finished with 15 on 7-for-8 shooting. Kennedy Chandler scored 13 and Zakai Ziegler finished with 10.

Next up for the Vols is 11th-seeded Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines beat sixth-seeded Colorado State 75-63 in Thursday’s first game in Indianapolis.

“It’s really fun to play this way when you know everybody on the team is just focused on winning,” said Vescovi, who went 6 for 8 from deep and finished with seven assists. “It’s really fun when we start moving and everybody starts moving off the ball and on offense, too. That’s when we’re playing our best basketball.”

This one will be hard to top.

Tennessee wanted to show the NCAA Tournament selection committee it made a mistake by putting the Vols on the No. 3 line – even after snapping a 43-year conference tourney title drought.

Playing a first-time NCAA tourney team in front of a crowd largely dressed in bright orange, the Volunteers used their depth and defense to avoid a repeat of last year’s first-round exit against Oregon State in the very same venue.

Led by Vescovi, they shot 14 for 24 from deep while producing the program’s top regulation scoring total in NCAA play since a 121-86 victory over Long Beach State in 2007.

Longwood (26-7) never really had a chance to make it interesting.

“They’re very talented and they move so well without the ball,” said Lancers guard DeShaun Wade, who had 10 points. “For a defense like us, where we try to switch everything, that was very difficult. But then you’ve also got to really fight for rebounds and on top of that they play pretty good defense. So it’s a pretty good team, all around.”

The Big South champs, from the tiny town of Farmville, Virginia, were led by Justin Hill with 13 points. But the nation’s fifth-longest winning streak ended at eight.

With 11:15 left in the first half, Tennessee only led 17-15. That’s when coach Rick Barnes tweaked the SEC’s top scoring defense, asking the Vols to switch more often.

It worked, and Barnes’ team picked up its play offensively, too.

With 11:15 left in the first half, Tennessee only led 17-15. That’s when coach Rick Barnes asked the SEC’s top scoring defense to make an adjustment. It worked and offensively, Vols also flipped a switch, completely change the game.

Tennessee used a 10-2 run to break it open and scored the final 13 points of the half to take a 54-29 lead. Longwood never made it close in the second half, and Tennessee’s starters got some extra rest.

“We were one of those teams (last year) who just thought things were going to happen. We weren’t really playing desperate,” James said. “We just talked this week, leading up to the game, about being the more desperate team and knowing that every team in this tournament is a championship team so you can’t take anything for granted.”

BIG PICTURE

Longwood: Coach Griff Aldrich and his players weren’t awestruck by the prospect of facing the SEC’s top team. But on the court, they couldn’t make it close. Clearly, Aldrich has this program heading in the right direction – especially if they build on this historic run.

Tennessee: The Volunteers have reached the second weekend of tourney play in five of their last nine tourney appearances. Another regional semifinal trip won’t suffice, though. Tennessee has only reached the Elite Eight once in school history, and it hopes to change that just as quickly as it did with the conference tourney title drought.

STAT PACK

Longwood: The Lancers had gone 18-1 in their previous 19 games. … Jordan Perkins had a team-best four rebounds. … Longwood was 7 of 22 from beyond the arc.

Tennessee: Chandler also had five rebounds and five assists, and Ziegler finished with six assists. … James also had nine rebounds. .. The Vols recorded 29 assists on 33 baskets.

UP NEXT

Tennessee needs a win over the Wolverines to reach the South Region semis in San Antonio, Texas.

No. 9 Tennessee tops No. 5 Kentucky, reaches SEC final again

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TAMPA, Fla. – No. 9 Tennessee just might be the Southeastern Conference’s top team. The Volunteers certainly can make a strong case after their latest victory.

Kennedy Chandler scored 19 points, Zakai Zeigler added 11 and Tennessee held off fifth-ranked Kentucky 69-62 in the final minutes Saturday to reach the SEC Tournament final for the third time in the last five years.

The Vols (25-7) have won 11 of 12 and six in a row, including victories against fourth-ranked Auburn, 15th-ranked Arkansas and now the Wildcats in the last two weeks. They’re one win away from a championship and potentially a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee will face eighth-seeded Texas A&M in the league’s title game Sunday.

“People say, `Well, you might be better off to leave, go home and regroup,”‘ Vols coach Rick Barnes said. “I don’t know of any coaches that I’ve ever been around that thought like that.

“This time of year, every game is a playoff game. … And you want to be playing your best basketball because we also know that it can go the other way real quick. You want to keep building that momentum,” he said.

The Vols look ready for anything following their performance against Kentucky. They held the Wildcats (26-7) to 34.4% shooting, which included missing 18 of 20 shots from 3-point range. SEC player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe also was a non-factor for much of the afternoon.

“We were 2-for-20, folks,” Kentucky coach John Calipari quipped. “We could have won this game. I think we had a couple were air balls from good shooters, like the best shooter in the conference.”

Kellen Grady missed all five shots from behind the arc. TyTy Washington was 1 for 7 from distance.

Still, the Cats kept coming and forced two turnovers in the waning seconds to close within 65-62. But they missed four 3s in the final minute, with Keion Brooks, Grady, Washington and Sahvir Wheeler all misfiring. It was a fitting end to a frustrating day for the Wildcats.

Brooks led the way for Kentucky, ending up with 19 points. Washington had 17, and Wheeler 10.

The Wildcats had been penciled into a top seed in the NCAA field, but losing to Tennessee twice in three meetings could flip the script. Chandler, Ziegler and Josiah-Jordan James helped author the changes.

Chandler made 8 of 16 shots and seemingly had an answer every time third-seeded Kentucky looked like it would make a run in front of a pro-Big Blue crowd inside packed Amalie Arena.

“Coach Barnes has great trust in me and knows I’m going to deliver the ball to my teammates or find a great shot to get the ball,” Chandler said.

James finished with 10 points, including eight early as Tennessee built a double-digit lead. Zeigler came up big down the stretch, making three free throws that closed it out.

OSCAR PERFORMANCE

Tshiebwe had 13 points and 11 rebounds to notch his 15th consecutive double-double and 27th of the season, breaking the single-season mark set by Kentucky great Dan Issel in 1969-70. Tshiebwe played just 8 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble and fouled out with 3:37 to play.

“This was kind of an off-day for us,” Tshiebwe said. “We didn’t really make a shot. We still have our confidence, and we’re going to be ready next week.”

CAL’S MILESTONE

Calipari will have to wait a year to potentially break the school record for most wins in the SEC Tournament. Calipari tied Tubby Smith with No. 24 in the quarterfinals Friday. He trails Florida’s Billy Donovan (27) and Alabama’s Wimp Sanderson (25).

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: It’s possible the Wildcats blew a chance to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and that could be costly. The Cats have won just one national championship (1998) in eight tries as a 2 seed. They’ve had four chances since and failed to reach the Final Four each time (2001, 2005, 2017, 2019).

Tennessee: The Volunteers will try to win their fifth SEC Tournament title and first since 1979. They are 0-4 since that one more than four decades ago, losing in the championship game in 1991, 2009, 2018 and 2019.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Awaits its NCAA Tournament seeding and first-round pairing.

Tennessee: The Vols won their regular-season meeting against Texas A&M 90-80 in Knoxville on Feb. 1.