Tennessee relies on defense to drop Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- At a young age, Holly Warlick was taught by Pat Summitt that defense and rebounding would win games.

With the offense struggling against Rutgers, the Lady Vols were able to count on those two staples to pull off a 55-45 victory Sunday.

"You're going to have some nights, you won't shoot the ball very well," Warlick said. "If you're solid on the defensive end and a great rebounding team, you got a chance to win the game. That's what happened for us."

The No. 11 Lady Vols shot just 28 percent from the field but out-rebounded Rutgers 54-42 and held the No. 17 team to just one field goal over the game's final 7:14.

"The main thing we wanted to focus on was the defensive end," said Isabelle Harrison, who had all 11 of her points in the second half. "We knew our shots weren't falling. We got to get a stop, play defense -- that's what carried us through the game."

Trailing 43-39 with 7:14 left, Tennessee scored the next 10 points to take control of the game. Harrison had the first four points during the spurt on free throws.

Betnijah Laney's layup with 1:31 left broke a 5:45 scoreless drought for the Scarlet Knights (8-2) and made it 49-45.

After forcing a shot-clock violation with 57 seconds left, Laney turned it over on the drive, and Cierra Burdick had a basket with 30 seconds left to seal the win.

Laney's left thumb was heavily taped during the game, after she was kicked in the first few minutes.

"We don't know exactly yet," said Laney, who finished with just four points and five rebounds. "I'm going to the doctors."

It was Harrison's first start since she missed five games due to a sprained right knee suffered in the opener against Penn. She had played off the bench in the past two contests.

"I didn't want to let my injury slow me down," Harrison said. "I could tell it was affecting me. I was thinking about it too much."

Tyler Scaife scored 22 to lead the Scarlet Knights (8-2), who have lost the past 10 in the series to the Lady Vols, dating to 2004.

It wasn't an offense showcase, by any stretch. Neither team could put the ball in the basket. Tennessee shot 28 from the field, while Rutgers wasn't much better, at 31 percent.

Rutgers led 14-8 with 8:40 left in the half before going into a scoring drought. Tennessee then scored 10 of the next 12 to take an 18-16 lead on Graves' free throw with 3:35 left. The Scarlet Knights then closed the half by scoring seven of the final nine points to go up 23-20 into the break.

The two teams combined to shoot 16-for-69 (23 percent) from the field in the opening 20 minutes.

The teams traded the lead for most of the second half, until Rutgers took a 39-35 lead on Syessence Davis' 3-pointer with nine minutes left. The Scarlet Knights led 43-39 before the Lady Vols rallied.

"We could of, we should of, and we didn't. Simple as that," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said.


Tennessee: The Lady Vols are 20-3 against the Scarlet Knights, including 10 straight wins. ... The most recent time Tennessee won a game shooting this poorly was in the 2007 Final Four, when the Lady Vols beat North Carolina, despite a 27-percent effort from the field.

Rutgers: Laney was honored before the game for scoring her 1,000th career point on Dec. 4 against North Carolina.


Tennessee hosts Wichita State on Tuesday.

Rutgers visits Iona on Saturday.


TV personality Robin Roberts took in the game to watch Tennessee guard Burdick, who spent the summer working as an intern for "Good Morning America." The two chatted after the game outside the Lady Vols' locker room.


Scaife was 9-for-17 from the field, while the rest of the Scarlet Knights shot just 22 percent from the field (10-of-44). ... Tennessee wasn't any better. Take out Jasmine Jones' making six of nine shots, and the Lady Vols made just 22 percent (13-for-60) from the field, including just one of 10 3-pointers.