Abrupt ending made it hard for Lady Vols to get closure

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 21, 2020 at 12:00 PM

Two weeks ago, Tennessee women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper was focused on getting her team ready for the NCAA tournament. Days later, she had to break the news to her players the tournament had been canceled and to focus on their safety with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) threat.

“Just last Wednesday, we were practicing,” Harper said. “Thursday, we had a team meeting about logistics when nothing had been decided about the NCAA tournament, but felt that’s where we were heading.

“Friday, we met with the team to talk about our season being over. It was abrupt, just didn’t feel like we got a lot of closure with our season. We made sure the players were taking care of themselves and the gravity of this virus.”

It wasn’t anything Harper envisioned to end her first season back on Rocky Top. She was more focused on a season which started with a hard-fought 72-68 win over East Tennessee State on Nov. 5 in Johnson City.

Six days later, the Lady Vols pulled off the first major victory of the Harper era, a 74-63 road victory over then No. 15-ranked Notre Dame. The Lady Vols, who were unranked at the beginning of the season, were No. 17 when they lost 66-60 to Texas on Dec. 8.

Tennessee finished its regular season with 20 wins and were 21-10 after losing to Kentucky in the third round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

The Lady Vols were projected as a No. 11 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament by ESPN when the season was halted. Harper talked to her team about the difficult decision, especially when it came to ending the careers of seniors Lou Brown and Kamera Harris.

“I’m in our team meeting on Friday talking about the decision about the NCAA tournament and what’s next,” she said. “These are our seniors and it’s really difficult, hard to put some closure on some things, when basketball takes a back seat, as it should at this time. We wanted to make sure they knew our appreciation for them and what they’ve done.”

Looking ahead, all six leading scorers were underclassmen. They are led by Rennia Davis, an AP All-American honorable mention selection, who averaged 18 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Other leaders included Rae Burrell, who averaged 10.5 points per game, and Jordan Horston with averages of 10.1 points and 4.6 assists per game.

When it comes to recruiting, there is no hitting the trail like years past.

“Recruiting for us right now is simple,” she said. “You do it by phone. There is no on-campus, off-campus evaluations. As a staff, we have to be organized and prepared to do as much as we can through phone calls, face time, e-mails, text. There are still a lot of things to assist us in the recruiting world.”

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