By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Mercedes Russell scored 17 points and freshman Rennia Davis had her first double-double Monday as No. 12 Tennessee withstood a sluggish performance in a 68-56 victory over winless Wichita State.
Davis had 15 points and 10 rebounds to assure that Tennessee earned its fifth straight 3-0 start as the Lady Vols head into the Cancun Classic later this week. Anastasia Hayes added 12 points.
Wichita State (0-5) gave the Lady Vols their toughest challenge of the young season.
Tennessee had won its first two games by an average margin of 33.5 points. In each of those games, the Lady Vols had led by double figures at the end of the first quarter and maintained that double-digit advantage the rest of the way.
This time, Tennessee trailed late in the second quarter and was clinging to a three-point lead midway through the third before finally pulling away.
After trailing 17-13 at the end of the first quarter, Tennessee started the second quarter with a 12-0 run to take its first lead of the game. Wichita State responded with an 11-0 spurt of its own and led 28-25 before Tennessee scored the final four points of the half and the first four of the third quarter to grab a 33-28 advantage.
Wichita State wouldn’t go away.
The Shockers cut the margin to 34-33 before Tennessee reeled off 11 straight points to create some distance. Tennessee made it 36-33 with 6:08 left in the third, then neither team scored for over three minutes before a flurry of Wichita State turnovers allowed the Lady Vols to get their offense going.
Diamond Lockhart led Wichita State with 13 points, while Jeliah Preston and Angiee Tompkins added 12 points each. Rangie Bessard had nine points and 12 rebounds.
Wichita State stayed close enough all night that Tennessee didn’t substitute nearly as often as it did in its first two games. Russell, Davis, Jaime Nared and Evina Westbrook each played at least 36 minutes. Nared had nine points and nine rebounds, though she shot just 3 of 16.
This game represented a reunion of sorts for new Tennessee assistant coach and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Bridgette Gordon, who spent the last seven seasons as an assistant coach at Wichita State. Gordon played on Tennessee’s 1987 and 1989 national championship teams, and her jersey hangs from the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters.
Wichita State: The Shockers inability to keep Tennessee off the free-throw line made the difference. Tennessee was 20 of 34 on free throws, while Wichita State was 5 of 6.
Tennessee: Shooting from the foul line and 3-point range remains a concern for the unbeaten Lady Vols. Tennessee is making just 61.5 percent (56 of 91) of its free throws this season. Tennessee went 2 of 12 on 3-pointers Monday and is shooting 32 percent (16 of 50) from beyond the arc this season.
Wichita State is at New Mexico on Friday.
Tennessee faces No. 20 Marquette on Thursday at the Cancun Challenge in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico.