Tennessee won its exhibition game against Carson-Newman. That was expected. More importantly, the Lady Vols also found a point guard in Jasmine Powell, one of six newcomers on the team this season.
Coach Kellie Harper used all 15 available players on her roster, didn’t play anyone more than 17 minutes and appreciated the 8,103 fans who watched a game that didn’t count on Sunday afternoon. That number indicates the heightened interest in Lady Vols basketball this season.
“It was fun to get back out in the arena and play with uniforms and lights and fans, a lot of fans actually,” Harper said afterwards. “This was fun, much needed. We needed to play someone else so that we can be a little bit more strategic now moving out of this game with what we are working on in practice.”
The 108-63 victory over a Division II program that showed plenty of spunk gave the coaches and players what they needed – film for teaching and a chance to get out any jitters before the regular season starts. For Tennessee, that will be Tuesday, Nov. 8, on the road against a ranked Ohio State team in Columbus and then a short turnaround to host Atlantic 10 favorite UMass in Knoxville on Nov. 10.
Powell played her first game on “The Summitt” since departing Minnesota last January and entering the transfer portal. The 5-6 senior from Detroit gave Tennessee what it needed – an experienced point guard that allows veterans Jordan Horston and Jordan Walker to play off the ball more this season.
“Jasmine Powell is tough,” Harper said. “She sees the floor, she’s been high assist, she shoots the ball well. She’s been practicing very well, and we are excited about how she makes her teammates better. You put her on a team and her teammates play well, and I think that’s a tribute to her and how she plays.”
Harper won three national titles at Tennessee as a point guard, so she knows the position and what it takes to succeed as the extension of the head coach on the court. Powell needed just 15 minutes to tally nine points and three assists. The Lady Vols lofted 80 shots as a team and connected on 51.3 percent of them with 25 assists. Six players had three helpers each, including Powell, Walker, Horston, Tess Darby and two other newcomers in Jillian Hollingshead and Rickea Jackson.
“We got about 80 shots up, which is a lot,” Powell said. “I think that’s what we’re able to do with such great depth and such great players around us is to shoot the ball and to get the ball up in transition. I saw the 25 assists. We’re only trying to make that number grow, and that’s what our game wants to be: moving the ball around, getting to these big players and then playing with them.”
Walker, who is from Muskegon, Michigan, enters her third season for Tennessee after transferring from Western Michigan, where she played at the two guard position off the ball. The arrival of Powell, a fellow Michigander, means Walker can shift back to her natural spot and back up the point position as needed. Despite her small size, Walker is a strong and determined rebounder, fights for loose balls and brings toughness to the court. She tallied the second-most rebounds in the exhibition game with six boards in 12.5 minutes.
Sophomores Brooklynn Miles and Kaiya Wynn also got reps at the point position against Carson-Newman and looked comfortable on the court, so Harper has plenty of options.
Harper also particularly likes to deploy versatile players, and she has a Swiss Army knife in Horston, who can play point, either wing and inside the paint. Horston led the Lady Vols in nearly every statistical category on her way to All-SEC First Team honors before a gruesome elbow injury ended her season last February. She tallied 17 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in just 12 minutes against Carson-Newman. Harper had intended to play Horston a little longer, but she opted to stash her senior safely on the bench after such an efficient outing.
The team held a closed scrimmage 10 days ago at Georgia Tech so both teams could gauge their preseason progress. The trip to Atlanta also allowed the team to visit with Tasha Butts, a former Lady Vol player who now is the associate head coach for Georgia Tech and has been battling advanced stage breast cancer for nearly a year. The players wore “Tasha Tough” T-shirts to show support.
Sunday’s game against Carson-Newman offered the first opportunity to play in a game day routine with fans in the arena. Tennessee’s offense is ahead of its defense for the moment, and the head coach will want to see the rebounding numbers swing up for her team and down for the opponent, despite the 48-28 edge for the Lady Vols.
“The players were excited about playing another opponent, but the staff was, too,” Harper said. “We have a lot to dissect from this game, especially on the defensive end. We will do that, and we will get better this week.”
SINAN THE SQUIRREL: A tiny football helmet-wearing squirrel named Sinan has become quite popular and famous at UT football games. He also was a hit at the Lady Vol Boost (Her) Club’s pep rally held at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame before Sunday’s game.
Sinan met Smokey, who held very still, at the event, posed for photos with fans and generally stole the show as he does everywhere he goes.
Sinan’s person is Saed Awad, who lives in Oak Ridge and rescued and raised the squirrel, who was found as an abandoned baby and in poor health. Of course, Sinan is on social media on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
This season could be nuts for the Lady Vols. Don’t miss it.
Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at Moxley Carmichael since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.