Evina Westbrook having breakout season for No. 9 Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard Evina Westbrook is having a breakout season for the Lady Vols.
Westbrook is the first Lady Vol to score 20-plus points in four consecutive games since two-time WNBA Most Valuable Player Candace Parker did it in 2007-08, Tennessee’s last national championship season.
“Scoring four points or scoring 30 points, I’m going to do what my team needs me to do,” Westbrook said.
Over her last four games, Westbrook has averaged 25.3 points and 5.8 assists for the ninth-ranked Lady Vols (8-1), who may fall out of the top 10 following their 95-85 loss Tuesday to No. 8 Stanford.
Tennessee is still battling to show it can once again consistently beat the top programs, but the 6-foot sophomore is helping the Lady Vols close the gap. Westbrook scored 29 points to match a career high and collected 10 assists against the Cardinal.
“She’s matured,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “She’s more confident in what she’s doing and her leadership ability. She’s always been solid with her knowledge of the game. She’s going to continue to get better.”
Westbrook knew she needed to improve after slumping late in her freshman season.
After averaging 10.1 points and shooting 44.3 percent through her first 19 games last season, Westbrook averaged just 6.1 points while shooting 31.2 percent over the final 14 contests. She scored in double figures in just two of her last 12 games.
Westbrook’s mother, Eva, said her daughter had knee problems that limited her effectiveness late last season.
“She’d never been hurt before — we had maybe a little twisted ankle here or there — but she’s never been hurt like this before,” Eva Westbrook said. “Maybe mentally it took her out a little bit. Her body wasn’t able to do what she was used to, the pain she was playing with and not being able to do certain moves was tough for her.”
Westbrook looks like a different player this year.
She ranks third in the Southeastern Conference in scoring (18.0) and fourth in assists (5.3). She has more than doubled her 2017-18 average of 8.4 points per game, thanks in part to a revamped shooting approach.
“I was doing some weird stuff because I was leaning a little bit and I was slinging it,” Westbrook said. “I’d never done that. I think some of my knee problems started causing me to do that last year, so I just changed it.”
Westbrook worked on her shot with Tennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes. Westbrook had been watching the Tennessee men’s team when she and Barnes struck up a conversation that led to a working relationship.
In describing the changes, Westbrook said she made “a couple little tweaks that might not seem major, but it’s a major deal.”
“She gets all the credit for it,” Barnes said. “She’s the one. It wasn’t anything drastic. It was just her wanting to make some changes, and she did. Now their staff I think has done a great job making her get the reps up and continue because she’s going to have to continue to work at it.”
Westbrook is shooting 50.4 percent overall and 56 percent (14 of 25) from 3-point range this season after shooting 39 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent (27 of 85) from beyond the arc as a freshman.
The difference is particularly stark at the free-throw line.
Over her last four games, Westbrook has made 85.7 percent (24 of 28) of her free throws. She had a career free-throw percentage of .495 before this stretch.
Next up is a game against visiting East Tennessee State (2-12) on Friday
Westbrook said she’s been shooting about 500 free throws per week after practice and credits the work she’s done with graduate assistant Nicky Anosike, a member of Tennessee’s 2007 and 2008 national championship teams.
All that improvement is enabling Westbrook to meet her own high expectations. Westbrook was rated as the No. 2 overall prospect in her class by multiple recruiting services when she signed with Tennessee out of Salem, Oregon, where she developed her competitiveness by matching up against her siblings. Westbrook has three older brothers and one younger brother.
“To get a ‘W’ in our house, you have to earn it,” Eva Westbrook said. “The boys weren’t going to let her win just because she wanted to. There were plenty of times she came inside upset because she didn’t beat her brother at one-on-one.
“We have a little guy — he’s 11 — and Evina will block (his) shot and people will kind of laugh and ask why are you doing that. He’s got to earn his ‘W.'”