KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - No. 18/17 Tennessee advanced to the NCAA Second Round on Saturday, defeating Buffalo in Thompson-Boling Arena, 80-67.
With the win, Tennessee improves to 32-2 all-time in NCAA First Round games and keeps the Lady Vols' record a perfect 24-0 when playing in Knoxville.
Graduate forward Alexus Dye turned in a double-double for fourth-seeded UT (24-8), tallying 18 points and 11 rebounds, as did junior center Tamari Key, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Senior guard/forward Rae Burrell was the high scorer for UT with 19 points, and graduate guard Jordan Walker added 13.
The 13th-seeded Bulls (25-9) were led by Dyaisha Fair, who managed a game-high 25 points, while Georgia Woolley was also in double figures with 15 on the day.
The Lady Vols came out hot, scoring on their first four possessions to lead 8-0 three minutes into the game. Fair scored the Bulls' first points of the contest with a trey at the 6:23 mark, the first of seven straight points that pulled Buffalo within one by the media timeout. A pair of free throws by Walker following the break put UT back on top by three, a margin Tennessee would maintain until the Bulls closed out the first with back-to-back buckets that included a trey at the buzzer, sending the game into the second quarter with the Lady Vols trailing 17-15.
Woolley added another trey to start the second, stretching Buffalo's lead to five points before Key converted on an old-fashioned three-point play on the other end. Key reclaimed the lead for Tennessee a minute later, and Dye followed it up with a 10-foot jumper on the next play to put UT ahead 23-20 with 7:20 left in the half. Loren Christie ended the drought for UB, hitting a jumper to set off a 6-2 run that gave the Bulls a one-point advantage two minutes later. The teams traded baskets for the next four minutes until Walker and Brooklynn Miles scored layups on back-to-back possessions to give UT a three-point lead with 1:30 to go. In the closing seconds, Summer Hemphill added a pair of free throws for Buffalo, and Walker hit one for UT, giving the Lady Vols a 32-30 lead at the half.
The Bulls tied it up at the outset of the second half, but Dye answered with layup on the next possession. Hemphill knotted it up once more before Dye and Burrell combined for a 6-0 run that put UT ahead by six at the 6:41 mark. Two minutes later, BU tied it up at 42-all off a 3-pointer by Fair, but Tennessee responded, getting three points each from Burrell and Key to lead by six with just under four left in the period. The Lady Vols maintained that lead through the end of the third, taking a 57-51 lead into the final stanza.
Dye hit a pair of free throws to open the scoring in the fourth, but Fair responded with a trey on Buffalo's next possession to make it a five-point game. Key answered with a layup, and Burrell followed it up with a trey to put the Lady Vols up by 10 with 8:41 to play. That set off what would become a 10-0 UT run that moved the score to 68-54 two minutes later. Saniaa Wilson ended the Buffalo slump with a pair of free throws, and Hemphill added a layup to pull UB within 11, but UT rallied back with four quick points to lead 73-58 with just over five minutes remaining. The Bulls whittled the deficit down to 10 with 3:47 to play, but that's as close as they would get as Tennessee capitalized on free throws to take an 80-67 victory.
UP NEXT: Tennessee will play host on Monday to the winner of Saturday night's Oregon vs. Belmont match-up. Game time and broadcast information will be announced later.
HARPER AT HOME: Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper has taken four different teams to the NCAA Tournament during her 18-year tenure as a head coach, but the win over Buffalo marks the first time she's played an opening round game in her home arena. The win moves her record at UT to 2-1 in NCAA play.
POSTSEASON SNOOP: Since entering postseason play, Alexus Dye has racked up three straight double-doubles, averaging 20.0 ppg. and 11.7 rpg. over the last three contests.
CLEANING THE GLASS: The Lady Vols out-rebounded the Bulls 56-37, marking the 14th time this season UT has grabbed 50+ boards. Twenty-four of those boards came on the offensive end, marking the second-most O-boards recorded by UT this season. Tennessee's season high of 26 offensive rebounds was set against Georgia State on Dec. 12 and tied against ETSU on Dec. 20.
CASHING IN AT THE LINE: Tennessee shot a solid 72.4 percent from the free-throw line against Buffalo, scoring 21 points from the charity stripe. Twenty-one made free throws ranks third on the season behind 24 against Georgia State and 23 at Arkansas.