Westbrook helps No. 10 Tennessee beat Belmont 84-76

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick wants to see her young team mature into productive college players.

But as she watched Belmont continually drive to the basket and beat the Lady Vols on backdoor cuts, Warlick wanted to put her players in a fundamental time machine.

“Go back to elementary school – the ball, you and the basket,” Warlick said. “Stay between the ball and the basket and forget about what happened on the other end. You have to have a short-term memory when you make a mistake.”

Evina Westbrook scored 20 points and sparked a late flurry as the No. 10 Lady Vols held off Belmont 84-76 on Sunday in their final tune-up before Southeastern Conference play begins.

Rennia Davis scored 19 points and Meme Jackson and Zaay Green each had 10 for Tennessee, which received a wake-up call on defense in the second half against the gritty Bruins.

Belmont (7-4), a perennial mid-major contender, gave the Lady Vols (11-1) all they could handle, rallying from an 18-point first-half deficit to take a brief lead in the fourth quarter.

But Tennessee managed to hit enough shots down the stretch to avoid the upset in the first meeting between the in-state programs since 1979.

Ellie Harmeyer finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds for Belmont, which outscored Tennessee 50-34 in the paint. Darby Maggard finished with 14 points, Maura Muensterman had 12 and Maddie Wright scored 10.

Belmont entered the game averaging 10 made 3-pointers per game to rank No. 11 in the nation. The Lady Vols focused on running them off the 3-point line, and it worked. The Bruins finished only 4 of 20 from behind the arc while Tennessee was hot from outside early.

The Lady Vols had never hit seven or more 3-pointers in five straight games, but easily reached that milestone by halftime.

Tennessee finished 9 of 13 from deep through two quarters to enter the break with a seemingly comfortable 51-35 advantage.

But the Lady Vols would go cold from deep, failing to hit another 3-pointer for the remainder of the game.

Belmont went inside to stage its comeback, pushing around the Lady Vols near the rim and out-hustling them for loose balls. The Bruins outscored Tennessee 23-8 in the third quarter to trim the deficit to 59-58.

Maggard gave the Bruins their first lead since early in the first quarter with a layup for a 64-63 edge with 6:12 remaining.

“They chose to play small for a lot of stretches there in the second half, so we were able to get some stuff to Ellie and Maddie inside on post ups,” Belmont head coach Bart Brooks said. “But most of our inside stuff was back cuts and dribble drives and floor spacing. We expected that because of how they pressured the ball.”

The teams traded baskets in the fourth quarter before Westbrook helped spark a late run for the Lady Vols to remain in front for good.

BIG PICTURE

Belmont: The Ohio Valley Conference favorites played a challenging pre-conference schedule to prepare for their title defense. The Bruins faced three Power 5 conference teams, including two ranked in the AP Top 25 – No. 9 North Carolina State and No. 10 Tennessee. Belmont has yet to beat a ranked opponent since transitioning to Division I in 1997, falling to 0-20 all-time. But the second-half performance against the Lady Vols gives the Bruins some confidence.

“We came in here ready to win,” Maggard said. “Honestly, it is really encouraging. We are going to take this game and learn more from it and keep moving forward. I think playing teams like this is only going to help us in our conference and down the road when we are hopefully in big-time games in March.”

Tennessee: With six freshmen and sophomores playing more than 13 minutes per game, the youthful Lady Vols have to be happy with their record entering conference play. But they have to be concerned with how easily Belmont pushed them around inside in the second half as they prepare for the rigors of the SEC. Tennessee’s only loss came to No. 6 Stanford, and they beat No. 13 Texas on the road.

ALL THAT JAZZ

Tennessee freshman guard Jazmine Massengill scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds for the Lady Vols, one game after recording a career-high 10 points against Murray State. The Lady Vols have been encouraging Massengill to look for her shot more when she’s open to help keep defenses honest.

“It is amazing. I had a talk with her before I came in here and said, ‘Great game. You just have to be consistent and keep shooting the ball,'” Westbrook said.

HISTORY LESSON

Warlick was a point guard leading Pat Summitt’s team the last time these programs met in 1979. Warlick scored 15 points in a 94-53 win over the Bruins in the first round of the Tennessee College Women’s Sports Federation Tournament at Stokely Athletics Center in Knoxville.

UP NEXT

Belmont opens Ohio Valley Conference play against Jacksonville State on Thursday at home.

Tennessee opens Southeastern Conference play against Auburn on Thursday on the road.