Jordan Walker set tone for Lady Vols all season – start of March Madness was no exception
Jordan Walker took off down the court after knocking the ball out of Julia Martinez's hands.
The Lady Vols basketball guard scored easily on a fast break, setting the tone out of halftime like she has done all season for Tennessee. Rickea Jackson followed it immediately with a steal-and-score off the Saint Louis inbounds pass. Walker grabbed the rebound after a missed Billiken 3-pointer and found Jackson easily on the next transition layup.
Saint Louis called a timeout, not even a minute and a half into the third quarter at Thompson-Boling Arena.
But it didn't stop the bleeding – or Walker.
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Walker grabbed another steal out of the timeout and launched a pass to Jackson across the court for another bucket to make it an 8-0 run. The run out of halftime extended Tennessee's second-quarter run to 29-0 en route to a 95-50 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
"We were up by quite a few (at halftime), but anything can happen, it's March," Walker said. "So really just coming out, start off strong. I knew that would be critical for us just to set the tone for the rest of the game as well. So that was really my mindset. We have had some games where, third quarter we don't come out and have that, but I think we have grown from that. I think that's a testament to what we been working on and how we've come together this season."
Tennessee (24-11) was led by senior duo Jordan Horston and Rickea Jackson, but Walker's toughness and steady contributions were critical to put the game away less than two minutes after halftime. The Lady Vols will face No. 12 seed Toledo (29-4) on Monday (6 p.m., ESPN2) for a chance to go to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.
"We talked about wanting to set the tone for the second half as well – and we did," Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper said. "I mean, we came out and we were really aggressive on both ends. Obviously, Jordan Walker makesplays. She has been so good and so consistent. She's just tough. You love that about her. I think they just fed off each other and the energy in the building to start that second half."
A story of perseverance
Jasmyn Walker watched from the stands with her family in Thompson-Boling Arena as her younger sister played in one of the last games of her college career.
The Walker family is one that tries to go to everything, Jasmyn said, and she made time to get to a lot of games this season, even though it was her first season as Butler women's basketball recruiting coordinator.
"We know she can be her own biggest critic, so being able to see the joy and happiness – a lot of the parents over here remarked how happy they all looked," Jasmyn said. "Because it was just fun. Basketball is fun at the base of it, so just really happy for her."
Jasmyn and Jordan both played at Western Michigan, their time overlapping by two seasons – though they only ever played 20 games together because of injuries to both sisters. To watch Jordan have 11 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals in Tennessee's first game of March Madness was proof of how far she has come.
"Her perseverance, her desire and her ability to push through adversity with her injuries, transferring ... knowing that she persevered through a lot and to see the success on the end of it ... it's a story of walking by faith and not by sight and just a consistent will of 'I'm going to do this,'" Jasmyn said. "She has chosen to embrace her role as a leader. Jordy's always been one of those people that leads by example, so seeing her be vocal, seeing her step up – it makes me really proud of her."
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Jordan Walker played crucial part in Lady Vols' first March Madness win