No. 4 Lady Vols trounce Central Arkansas 102-47 in opener
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Even playing at far less than full strength, Tennessee opened the season Sunday by showcasing arguably its best athleticism and ball movement of the post-Pat Summitt era.
Kortney Dunbar had 24 points and 13 rebounds — career highs in both categories — and the fourth-ranked Lady Vols posted a 102-47 blowout of Central Arkansas.
Tennessee scored the first 17 points of the game and never looked back.
Te’a Cooper added 22 points and six assists and Mercedes Russell had 20 points and 13 rebounds for the Lady Vols, who had only six players available for the season opener.
“These six young ladies who played were outstanding,” said Tennessee coach Holly Warlick, who replaced Summit as the Lady Vols’ coach in 2012.
Sunday’s game marked the Tennessee debut of Diamond DeShields, a former Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year who transferred from North Carolina after only one season. She came off the bench and had 12 points and a career-high seven assists, including a remarkable no-look, one-handed pass that set up Alexa Middleton for a fastbreak layup.
DeShields says she is still working her way into peak playing form after sitting out a year and recovering from a leg injury. Warlick had indicated Thursday that DeShields’ status for the season opener was uncertain.
“I’m still getting back into the groove of things from being hurt, but I’m very blessed to have the ability now to be able to run up and down the floor and be able to play finally,” DeShields said. “It has been a long time coming. It was kind of emotional for me at one point.”
Tennessee used only six players because Bashaara Graves, Meme Jackson, Jasmine Jones, Nia Moore and Jordan Reynolds were unavailable due to what Warlick described as “injuries and violations of team policies.” Warlick didn’t specify which players were out due to injuries and which were unavailable due to violations of team policies but said all five should be ready for Wednesday’s game with Penn State.
Warlick had said last week that Moore was dealing with a rib injury, and Jackson was hit in the face Monday during an exhibition victory over Carson-Newman. The Lady Vols are also missing Jaime Nared, who broke her left hand last month.
Tennessee still had more than enough firepower for Central Arkansas (1-1), which had nobody taller than 6-foot-1 and had no answers for the 6-6 Russell.
“Wow,” Central Arkansas coach Sandra Rushing said. “I don’t even know really what to say. They’re amazing.”
DOING THEIR HOMEWORK
The Lady Vols had prepared for the season by watching tapes of the Boston Celtics teams of the mid-1980s because Warlick wanted them to see examples of great passing.
Tennessee responded by having four players with at least five assists Sunday. DeShields had seven. Middleton and Cooper had six each. Andraya Carter added five.
“I thought with the talent we have and the abilities we have, we can be really difficult to guard if the ball doesn’t get stuck in our hands,” Warlick said.
The last time Tennessee had three players score at least 20 points in a game was in a 95-93 loss to Florida on Feb. 26, 2006. Candace Parker had 34 points and Tye’sha Fluker and Shanna Zolman each had 22 that day.
Central Arkansas: The Sugar Bears’ record against Southeastern Conference teams dropped below .500. Central Arkansas entered the day with a 2-2 record against the SEC that included 1-1 marks versus Alabama and Mississippi.
Tennessee: The Lady Vols earned their 23rd consecutive home victory. Tennessee hasn’t lost at home since falling 75-71 to Kentucky on Feb. 16, 2014.
Central Arkansas: Visits Murray State on Saturday.
Tennessee: Hosts Penn State on Wednesday.