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Kellie Harper: Tennessee needs ‘more punch’ as losses pile up

Kellie Harper, Jasmine Franklin and Tennessee dropped out of the AP Top 25. (Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK)

Tennessee women’s basketball team entered the preseason at No. 5 in the Associated Press poll, but the Vols dropped out of the rankings Monday after their latest loss to now-No. 7 Virginia Tech on Sunday.

The 59-56 defeat, in which just four Tennessee players scored from the floor, left Tennessee with a 4-5 record on the season.

“We’ve got to have people step up,” coach Kellie Harper said. “We need a little more punch.”

The Vols played without leading scorer Rickea Jackson, who missed the game and will be out indefinitely due to a coach’s decision, Harper said.

Senior guard Jordan Horston led the team with 26 points, and senior center Tamari Key added 11, but no other Tennessee player reached double-digits in the loss.

While the Vols are playing a tough schedule, with their other losses coming against No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Indiana, No. 13 UCLA and No. 22 Gonzaga, they’ll need to get into the win column more consistently if they want to compete in the NCAA tournament in March.

Still, Harper saw signs of improvement in the loss to Virginia Tech, she said after the game.

“We just wouldn’t go away,” she said. “I love that grit. It wasn’t by accident. It was a product of the practices and the effort they gave us this week. It’s hard to not be rewarded when you show improvement and you get better and you pour your heart into it.”