Sara Puckett comes through for Lady Vols basketball with two starters unavailable

Sara Puckett comes through for Lady Vols basketball with two starters unavailable

Sara Puckett got the ball in the post and kicked it out to Brooklynn Miles.

Miles fired off a 3-pointer, but it bounced off the rim. Puckett was there to grab the offensive rebound and hit Miles as she cut to the basket. Miles finished at the rim and drew the foul, too.

That was only one of the impact plays Puckett made in Tennessee’s 69-39 win over Chattanooga (6-5) on Tuesday at Thompson-Boling Arena. With the Lady Vols (5-5) down two starters, Puckett stepped up in the win and recorded the highest plus-minus on the team (+21).

The sophomore was poised in her fourth career start and had eight points, one rebound, four assists, two blocks and a steal. Puckett said the team stressed defense last week in practice and her goal was to let her defense lead to offense.

DOWN THREE PLAYERS:Rickea Jackson, Tamari Key unavailable for Lady Vols basketball; Hollingshead back

FROM SUNDAY:Tamari Key showed she’s capable on offense. Now Lady Vols needs her with Rickea Jackson out

“That’s what I’ve also stressed personally, was my defense and to be able to get some steals out there. It’s not my thing, typically,” Puckett said. “So to be able to do that was just a big confidence booster.”

Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper thought Tuesday was a great game for Puckett, especially defensively.

“She played tough,” Harper said. “I thought she had great awareness on the defensive end and looked more comfortable offensively. So, hopefully, this will really kickstart her and get her going in the right direction.”

Tennessee down three players

Tennessee was without senior center Tamari Key, who was not at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday. Key had 11 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and an assist and a steal in Sunday’s loss to Virginia Tech. Harper said Key’s absence was due to medical reasons and she would provide an update when she had it.

In Key’s absence, sophomore forward Karoline Striplin got her first career start. She found success against the Mocs and had seven points, three rebounds and one block, steal and assist – Striplin even hit a 3-pointer.

Rickea Jackson and Jasmine Franklin were out for the second straight game. Jackson is out indefinitely as a coach’s decision and Franklin is still in concussion protocols. But unlike Sunday, Franklin was at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday.

Hollingshead productive in Key’s absence

Jillian Hollingshead returned to play Tuesday after sitting out of Sunday’s game due to concussion protocols. But she didn’t miss a beat and had nine points, five rebounds and two blocks.

The sophomore forward looked the most confident she has been all season on both ends of the court.

Tennessee utilized her athleticism offensively by getting Hollingshead the ball at the high post. None of the Mocs could stop Hollingshead, who was a nightmare for them on defense, too.

Harper said Hollingshead’s good at the high post, but she also has great post moves, providing some flexibility offensively.

“I love the fact that we can move her around,” Harper said. “I think the more she’s played, the more comfortable she has been.”

Hollingshead didn’t give up anything easily in the paint and jumped multiple passes into the post. On one of her blocks, Hollingshead nearly sent the ball into the stands because she swatted it so hard.

Tennessee defense suffocates Chattanooga

The Lady Vols held the Mocs to single-digit scoring in the first two quarters.

Chattanooga only scored 15 points before halftime, hitting 6-of-21 field goal attempts. It pulled even with Tennessee’s scoring in the third, matching the Lady Vols’ 14 points. But Tennessee ramped things back up defensively in the fourth quarter and only allowed 10 points.

The Lady Vols logged eight blocks and seven steals, forcing 21 turnovers total. They scored 19 points off the turnovers.

Lady Vols have balanced offense in win

The Lady Vols shot well and made 46.6% of their field goals, but they were a few under their average field goal attempts due to personnel. Tennessee averages 61 field goal attempts per game and only had 58 Tuesday.

Jordan Horston, who played 12 minutes, led the team with 14 points. All of the 12 Lady Vols who played scored except Edie Darby, but no one besides Horston scored in double digits.

Up next

Tennessee plays again at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday (2 p.m. ET, SEC Network+) when it will face Wright State.