ESPN: top player house on fire.

ESPN: top player house on fire.

 

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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee – The Lady Vols will visit Florida State on December 4 as part of a 16-game SEC-ACC Women’s Basketball Challenge that takes place over two days. ESPN revealed the first look at Tennessee’s 2024–25 women’s basketball schedule on Wednesday.

That Wednesday, there would be six games between the Big Orange and the Seminoles; on Thursday, there would be ten more. The broadcast designations and tip timings will be made available later.

On November 9 of last season, UT and FSU faced off in Tallahassee, with the Seminoles defeating the Big Orange, 92-91. At the Donald L. Tucker Center, the Lady Vols, who lead the all-time series, 2-1, overcame a 15-point deficit in the first half to lead by six in the fourth quarter. A last-second three-pointer sealed the victory for the hosts.

Nearly every member of Florida State’s NCAA Tournament squad from the previous season is back, including preseason All-America pick Ta’Niya Latson, who finished the previous season as the nation’s No. 14 scorer with 21.4 points per game. ESPN announced its Way-Too-Early Top 25 on May 6 and the Seminoles are placed No. 18.

Tennessee was not included in that poll. Tennessee will start the 2024–25 season under the direction of new head coach Kim Caldwell. Through the transfer portal, the NCAA DI Rookie Coach of the Year at Marshall the previous season and the NCAA DII National Coach of the Year at Glenville State in 2022 will welcome back a veteran core, two gifted redshirt guards, and four accomplished newcomers. The finalization of that quartet did not occur until after the release of ESPN’s poll.

Two starters from 2023–24 are back for the Lady Vols, including Jewel Spear and Sara Puckett, the second and third-leading scorers, respectively. As a senior, Spear, a 5-foot-10 fifth-year guard, drained a team-high 69 three-pointers and finished fourth in the SEC with an average of 13.1 points and 4.4 rebounds. The 6-2 forward Puckett shot 86 percent on free throws, 45 percent from the field, and 35 percent on three-pointers (of which 38 were made) to record career-highs of 9.9 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game. Two players from UT started every one of the 33 games.

Three players who averaged double-figure minutes off the bench last season include Tess Darby, a 6-1 guard/forward in her fifth year. One of the program’s all-time top long-distance shooters, Darby started 73 games in her career and averaged 5.2 points per game and 3.4 rebounds per game in 2023–24. She also ranked second on the team with 44 three-pointers made. 6-5 senior forward Jillian Hollingshead (4.6 ppg., 4.5 rpg.) and 6-0 senior guard Kaiya Wynn (4.4 ppg., 2.6 rpg.) will be returning reserves with her.

Avery Strickland (0.9 ppg. ), Edie Darby (1.1 ppg. ), and Destinee Wells (6.8 ppg., 3.5 apg., 2.6 rpg.) are the other returning guards for the 5–6 team. Wells is still recovering from the lower leg injury that halted her season after 10 games last year.

Two redshirt guards, Talaysia Cooper, a 6-0 redshirt sophomore transfer from South Carolina, and Kaniya Boyd, a 5-9 redshirt freshman early enrollee from Las Vegas, are among the six players who will play for Tennessee for the first time. In the 2022 espnW 100, Cooper ranked as the 18th overall player, the 4th point guard, and received a five-star rating. In contrast, Boyd got a four-star rating in the 2024 espnW 100 and was ranked No. 35 overall.

Since coming to Rocky Top, Caldwell and her crew have added four quality athletes through the portal. This group consists of 6-2 sophomore forward Alyssa Latham from Syracuse, 5-7 senior guard Samara Spencer from Arkansas, 5-11 junior guard Ruby Whitehorn from Clemson, and 6-4 junior big Lazaria Spearman from Miami.

In 2023–24, Spencer was the Razorbacks’ second-leading scorer with an average of 13.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. As a sophomore, Whitehorn started 29 of the Tigers’ 31 games and averaged career-highs of 12.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. While Spearman led the Hurricanes with 6.0 rebounds and 6.3 points per game while shooting 50% from the field, Latham led the Orange with 8.6 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game.

 

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