KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The last time Lady Vol head coach Kellie Harper was involved in a home opener for Tennessee, it was November of 1998. A lot has changed between then and now, but after coaching in Thompson-Boling Arena for the first time in the regular season, one thing remains the same.
"It will never get old, walking out to Rocky Top, ever. I love coming out and seeing our fans, I love Thompson-Boling Arena and I always will," Harper said after the game.
The Lady Vols welcomed Harper back to TBA with a 63-36 win against Central Arkansas. After allowing 18 points in the first quarter, Tennessee gave up 18 for the rest of the game.
"We got after it at halftime, we really had a discussion, well not a discussion, I told them that they weren't giving us what we needed defensively," Harper said.
36 points is the fewest Tennessee has given up in a game since Nov. 18, 2018 against Florida A&M.
The starting lineup shifted a bit as well, redshirt junior transfer Jaiden McCoy, who started against ETSU, will be out for an undetermined amount of time according to Harper with a left hand injury. McCoy was seen on the bench with a brace on her hand. Redshirt senior Lou Brown and freshmen Tamari Key and Jordan Horston were inserted into the starting five. They found out just before the game, how did they handle it?
"In my head I was like, 'Oh shoot!'" Key laughed. "I know we were excited for each other, I think we just looked at each other and said, 'It's go time.'"
Horston played the best game of her very young career, scoring 17 points while adding 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 0 turnovers. This comes after she led the team in turnovers against ETSU. Her teammates called her a playmaker.
"We've got to keep up, we've got to keep up!" Brown laughed. "The way she pushes the ball pushes the whole team."
Unrelated to the game, Harper's son Jackson stole the show before things got started. He warmed up with the team, wearing his own Tennessee jersey with his mom's No. 14. Apparently it's become a tradition for Jackson wherever Harper is coaching, but seeing him on the Summitt in orange is a special experience for the Harper family.
"I have to sneak out in the tunnel to watch him warm up before the game. There's something a little bit different about my son wearing 14 on our court, it's kind of cool, it's special to be able to share what we're doing with our children, Jon and I, with both Jackson and Kiley, it's an unbelievable place to be," Harper said.
The season continues with Tennessee's third game in less than a week. The Lady Vols will travel to South Bend, Indiana to take on preseason No. 16 Notre Dame.