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Kellie Harper reacts to Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament loss to Virginia Tech

The season ends in Seattle.

Tennessee v Virginia Tech Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Just like the men, the Tennessee Lady Vols will exit the NCAA Tournament this season in the Sweet 16. After a slow start on Saturday night in Seattle, Tennessee’s comeback efforts ended up coming up short, as the Lady Vols fell to Virginia Tech 73-64.

The Hokies started the game with a 9-0 run and carried a 35-22 lead at the break. That lead grew out to 40-22 before the Lady Vols would make their run. Rickea Jackson and Jordan Horston went to work on the offensive end, and Jordan Walker came up with a steal and a bucket to slash the lead down to 51-47. Jasmine Powell would eventually cut it down to a one point game after knocking down a three.

However, the Lady Vols ran out of steam from there. Virginia Tech answered the comeback with a back-breaking 8-0 run, putting things just out of reach for Tennessee. The Hokies got 29 points out of Georgia Amoore, who continued her hot run through the tournament.

Virginia Tech advances to face No. 2 seed Ohio State in the Elite Eight.

Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper reacted to the loss below.

KELLIE HARPER: Yeah, obviously this is not the outcome that we were hoping for. We’ve got a lot of hurt folks in our locker room right now. So it’s pretty tough one.

Hat’s off to Virginia Tech. Obviously, they’re playing great right now. They came in and played their game. They did a great job sticking with their game plan. They got it inside. Obviously, Amoore was aggressive. And then their first half defense, I thought was really — and our offense was really the difference in the game.

Q. You guys cut it to one. What happened after that, in your mind?

JORDAN HORSTON: Honestly, I can’t — I don’t even remember everything. It’s a blur right now. I knew that we was getting stops and scoring. I can’t even tell you what happened, honestly. I got to go — it’s a blur. I’m sorry.

Q. Obviously, that slow start, Coach, you touched on it, I mean, what do you think kind of contributed to the way you came out of the gates there?

JORDAN WALKER: I just think on our offense we just weren’t moving enough. I felt like we were locked in and focused before the game. We had good energy in warmup, so nothing with that. But we just were a little stagnant on the offensive end.

JORDAN HORSTON: I feel like we was playing into how they wanted us to play. Took 12 threes before halftime and that’s not us. We wasn’t as aggressive as we should have been. But hat’s off to them. They’re a great team. And hat’s off to us. I mean, you look at our journey, how far we’ve come, and like I said this before, I won’t want to step out on that court with no other team.

Q. I was hoping you could talk about this year at Tennessee. It really looked like you didn’t want things to end out there tonight. What intensity do you bring and just reflecting on the season here.

JORDAN WALKER: Well, I guess you want me to cry. But this year and all my years at Tennessee have been a blessing. Without coming to Tennessee, I don’t know where I would be. I’m so blessed and fortunate to be here and have played on the teams that I have been on. This year was amazing. It showed me a lot about myself. It showed me about a lot of other people that I was with every single day. I’m just really proud of where we ended up.

Like Jordan touched on, a lot of teams, you know, who went through what we went through at first probably would have folded. It would have been different. It wouldn’t have been a Sweet 16 team. But I think it’s just a testament to who that team is and how special it is. So this year really meant a lot to me with it being my last. I didn’t want it to end. But, again, credit to Virginia Tech. They played really well. I love my teammates, I love my girls, and, yeah.

Q. You guys turned ‘em over a bunch of times in a row, cut the lead down. What did you like about the way you guys fought there to get yourselves back in the game?

JORDAN HORSTON: Yeah, we was down 13 or 14? 13? 12? One of those. We was down. And we didn’t lay down. That just shows to who we are. We don’t back down no matter what. I feel like we fought. But like I said, credit to Virginia Tech. They just knocked down some big shots, made some more plays than we made. But credit to our effort. We wanted it so bad. Like, it hurts because we really wanted it. I felt like we gave everything we got, everything we had, just our slow start in the beginning kind of hurt us.

Q. For both of you, you play in the SEC, which is a very physical league, but was this game even by SEC standards maybe extra at times on both ends of the court?

JORDAN WALKER: Yeah, I would say it was pretty physical on both ends of the court tonight.

JORDAN HORSTON: Yeah, I have a busted lip, so it was.


JORDAN HORSTON: It was pretty physical.

JORDAN WALKER: But it’s March, so you’re going to have to play through that.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, ladies. We’ll excuse you and take questions for coach.

Q. I think it was about early in the second quarter you yelled at your team, Who are we? I think it was after another three-point attempt. I guess what wasn’t working offensively for you guys early? And did you feel like you were just playing into what Virginia Tech was wanting you to do?

KELLIE HARPER: Yeah, you know, Virginia Tech’s scouting report was to crowd the paint. There’s no doubt they wanted to keep us out of there. They did a good job with our first attack, and we got really impatient. I thought we were really stagnant offensively, and therefore, we were settling. Yeah, we took way too many threes for us in the first half. Now, if they’re falling, that’s one thing. But they’re not going in and we’re taking jumper after jumper after jumper and because we didn’t get enough ball movement and player movement, then we couldn’t get to the offensive boards. They’re already in rebounding position.

So our offense just — we just weren’t able to get downhill. And you got to credit, obviously, Virginia Tech and their game plan, but would like to have seen us move it a little bit better.

Q. You played a really tough schedule. You’ve seen a lot of really good teams. How good is Virginia Tech?

KELLIE HARPER: You know, I think everybody watches and knows how good they are offensively because they have such a balanced attack. They really can score from five positions in their own right. But I think today defensively they showed some physicality and, really, game plan defense. They controlled the pace a lot of times, which allows them to play with six, maybe seven players. So they’re a No. 1 seed. They should have been a No. 1 seed. They won their tournament. They’re playing great right now.

Q. You guys pressed — you had the full court press, you cut it to one, what happened after that?

KELLIE HARPER: I think we had three straight turnovers. I think we cut it to one, and — I may be wrong on that, but I know we turned the ball over. And those opportunities, well, you got to capitalize. And we missed some free throws. I’m not sure how many we missed in the fourth, but I feel like we missed some in the fourth. Let’s see. Yeah, we missed five free throws in the fourth quarter. So going down the stretch, you’ve got to be able to knock those down as well.

Q. In terms of that press, was it something specifically that you saw in Virginia Tech that you wanted to attack or was it more about just speeding up the pace for yourselves?

KELLIE HARPER: Well, you know, we’re down, so we had to speed the game up a little bit, try to turn them over, get some opportunities. Once we got a couple turnovers, I thought they played a little bit passive. I think towards the middle of the fourth they started getting a little bit more aggressive attacking the press. But our players utilized their athleticism, their length, and we mixed it up a little bit too with the presses we were throwing at ‘em.

Q. Amoore had a big game for them. Was there anything you were hoping to do defensively against her that did not work out tonight?

KELLIE HARPER: It’s just really tough. She’s such a high-volume shooter. You can’t keep the ball out of her hands. We switched out on some screens, we went over some screens, unfortunately, we went under some screens, and therefore, she hit a few shots there. We had a few breakdowns, but really with her you’re just trying to make it tough, make it as tough as possible. She hit some — she hit a couple really tough shots.

Q. Obviously you were in the room there with both of your players, emotional, just how hard is it to see them like this and what did you tell this team after the game?

KELLIE HARPER: Oh, it’s hard. It’s really hard. You don’t go into a game with this speech prepared. You don’t. And, really, at this point, you don’t talk about the game. You talk about the season. I told ‘em I was proud of ‘em. I told ‘em that what they went through this year would have broken a lot of people — or a lot of teams. It would have. They were fun to coach. I love ‘em. I really do. I hate that we’re not playing any more basketball. They wanted it so bad. They really did. And I know everybody does. Goodness, I get that. But I know it’s hard. It’s hard to walk in that locker room and see the tears and know that this season’s over.

Q. You’ve touched on this, but just reflecting more on the season of starting out rough and then finding your footing at the end and then having to end like this.

KELLIE HARPER: Yeah, obviously, we had to figure some things out early on. We did not have a schedule that gave us any mercy as we were trying to figure ourselves out. We had no margin for error early on, and we had several losses, but they still believed. They believed that they could be something special, and I’m proud of them for that. I’m proud of them for coming back to practice every single day willing to get better and willing to fight, and they did. We’re sitting here with back-to-back Sweet 16 opportunities because of that, because of their belief. You want to keep playing, right? Everybody does. But it’s been a special group for us to coach and that’s why it hurts.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Jillian’s minutes in the second half. Did that have something to do with the press or was there another reason for that?

KELLIE HARPER: Well, I thought she — at one point, I didn’t think she was playing her best. I thought it was a tough night. But then we decided to really spread out their defense. We put five perimeter players on the court, and that’s where we found our success offensively, and we just had to roll with it. We had been so stagnant early on, as soon as we found any success offensively, we just had to go with that lineup. It just didn’t have our bigs in there. We went pretty small to try to attack, or at least be physical enough that we could at least matchup on the other end.

Q. You mentioned a little bit at the beginning. What kind of led to the early struggles, what kind of helped Virginia Tech get out in front, and you guys never really felt like at the beginning you had a grasp of it until you guys cut it to one?

KELLIE HARPER: Yeah, offensively, we just couldn’t find ourselves there in the first half. They did a great job of taking away transition opportunities. They had our post pushed out. We weren’t getting a lot of deep post touches. We weren’t getting a lot of paint touches. And that’s who we are. That’s the strength of our team is getting the ball to the paint and we were settling for jumpers. We made a few, but not enough to continue to play that way.

We talked about it at halftime and then just had to try to find some adjustments throughout the second half to crack their defense. They just — they did such a good job of collapsing in and when you shoot 3-17 from the three, kicking out three, that’s not a problem for them. They were fine with that.

Q. You coach one of the legendary programs in this game. The Final Four is going to have no UConn, no Stanford, no Notre Dame, no Baylor. What do you think about this for the game?

KELLIE HARPER: I’ll be honest with you, I think the way that the season has played out, it’s showing right now in the outcomes of these games. It has been a wild season in women’s basketball. I think you see so many teams that have the ability to win big games. At this point, it’s not about your seed, it’s about your matchup, and there are teams that just matchup well and we have seen that going down the stretch.

I think there are a lot of really good players in women’s basketball. It’s not just a few teams. There are a lot of really good players on a lot of different teams. I think you’re able to see some of that this year.

Q. Building off of that, I mean, you’ve played a lot of really good teams this year, but does anyone match up to South Carolina. In your estimation?

KELLIE HARPER: I think South Carolina is head and shoulders above everyone right now. That doesn’t mean that they can’t lose. But I think they have proven time and time again, against so many different teams, different matchups, different lineups, to me, if you go undefeated, it’s really special. They have no blemish. Like, they — even their goofups they won, right? So they’re really, really talented, and I think head and shoulders above everybody right now. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be beaten. That’s why you play the games.