WNBA prospect Rickea Jackson had been absent from Tennessee’s lineup since Nov. 9. But after missing more than a month with a lower leg injury, Jackson made her triumphant return to the roster on Dec. 19.

During warmups, she danced because she was back on the court. Then, Jackson did what she does best — she helped her team win.

The Vols came away with an 85-63 victory over Wofford. They looked like their old selves with Jackson back in the game.

“She steps on the court and she changes things,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “Her presence affects them when they step on the court. She gives them great confidence.”

During Jackson’s month-long absence, the Vols (6-5) fell out of the Top 25. But the senior forward and projected lottery pick could help bring them back.

Even though she isn’t 100%, according to Harper, Jackson’s impact was palpable for the Vols. In her 21 minutes of playing time on Tuesday, she scored 11 points and registered six rebounds, two assists and a block.

“Having Kea back, it’s always good to have her. We’ve been waiting a while to have her back,” Tennessee point guard Jasmine Powell said. “I’m glad we got the question now, how good is it to have her back instead of, how do you feel with her out? But she’s great for us.”

Despite not being back to full health, Jackson spent her playing time getting in people’s faces and drawing fouls in the paint — an aspect of her play that her teammates missed. 

“It was great to see that, because we haven’t seen it in awhile,” junior forward Sara Puckett said. “I was just really happy for her to be able to get back out there and still produce and show what she’s still capable of. And she’s been doing that in practice this week, too. So just really proud of her and how she just came back so easily in the flow of things.”

Tennessee basketball is still “evaluating” Rickea Jackson’s injury “each and every day,” head coach Kellie Harper said Tuesday.

The fifth-year senior forward has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since Nov. 9, and she has been wearing a boot on her right foot.

“We’re still in the same situation where each and every day is the day we’re going to be evaluating her,” Harper told the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Cora Hall. “Each day is different. So, literally, I’ll walk in today and find out what she’s doing today. I know (the boot) was definitely off some.”

Last week, Harper said the team could not put a timetable on Jackson’s recovery. Through two games, Jackson led the team with 22.0 points and 12.0 rebounds, but she has missed four games in a row.

Jackson was projected as a lottery pick for the 2023 WNBA draft. But she chose to remain in college for a fifth season, using her extra year of COVID-19 eligibility with the Vols.

Even without Jackson, Tennessee’s 71-57 loss to Indiana on Thanksgiving Day was the most-watched women’s basketball game ever on FOX. With 1.18 million viewers, the contest also stands as the most-watched on any network so far this season.

While Harper called her team “just too nice” after that loss, the Vols rebounded with a 76-73 win over then-ranked Oklahoma. No. 20 Tennessee is 12-30 against ranked opponents in Harper’s five seasons at the helm, heading into its next game against No. 18 Notre Dame at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday.

Oklahoma softball cemented its status as one of the greatest programs in women’s college sports, winning its third straight Women’s College World Series title, its fifth in the last seven years and its seventh overall.

The Sooners’ performance this season – which included an NCAA-record 53 consecutive victories and counting – begs the question: Who are the top dynasties in women’s college sports? While this list is by no means exhaustive, Just Women’s Sports takes a look at 10 programs in addition to Oklahoma who can count themselves among the best.

LSU Track & Field (25 titles)

LSU is the most successful team in the history of NCAA Division I women’s track and field, with 25 total titles — 14 at the outdoor championships and 11 at the indoor championships. The Tigers ran off 11 straight outdoor titles from 1987-97 and five straight indoor titles from 1993-97. Their most recent championship came in 2008 at the outdoor championships.

UNC Soccer (21 titles)

UNC women’s soccer might be the most successful women’s team in NCAA history, across all sports, with a capital P period. Just six other programs have multiple titles in women’s soccer, with none of them even reaching double digits. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, have 21 of them – all of which have come under head coach Anson Dorrance, which makes him the third-most national title-winning coach in NCAA history.

UNC won the first three national titles in NCAA women’s soccer history starting in 1982, before George Mason upset the Tar Heels in 1985. But in 1986, UNC was back on top, reeling off nine consecutive national titles thanks to the likes of Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly.

Starting with the 1980s, there hasn’t been a decade in which North Carolina hasn’t won a national title, although the program’s last one came back in 2012. Since then, Florida State has turned itself into a perennial contender with three national championships, while UCLA has won two.

Maryland Lacrosse (14 titles)

In the sport of women’s lacrosse, two teams have established themselves as dynasties: Maryland and Northwestern. Maryland has won 14 NCAA titles, the most in the history of the sport, with their most recent coming in 2019. From 1995 to 2001, the team rattled off seven straight titles, then won four titles in a six-year span from 2014 to 2019. All but one of those titles came under former coach Cindy Timchal and current coach Cathy Reese.

UCLA Softball (12 titles)

While Oklahoma may be creeping up on UCLA with its seven titles, the Bruins still have won the most in NCAA softball history with 12. The winners of the first-ever Women’s College World Series, they haven’t stopped winning since then, including their run of three straight titles from 1988 to 1990 – a feat only matched by Oklahoma. The Bruins’ last title came in 2019.

UConn Basketball (11 titles)

UConn is always in the conversation when it comes to contenders for the NCAA women’s basketball championship. The Huskies won their first title in 1995, and since then they have been in a battle with Tennessee for the best program in NCAA history. UConn rattled off three titles in a row from 2002-04, then four in a row from 2013-16. The 2016 run stands as the program’s most recent championship.

The Huskies also dominate the regular season, with many of the game’s best – from Diana Taurasi to Sue Bird – creating a force to be reckoned with. From 2014-17, the Huskies rattled off a win-streak of 111 games. They also compiled a regular-season conference winning streak of 145 games, which ended in 2022.

Stanford Swimming & Diving (11 titles)

A perennial powerhouse known for churning out Olympians, Stanford has won an NCAA-leading 11 titles, including five straight from 1992-96. The Cardinal also won three in a row from 2017-19. Recently, Virginia has made a name for itself, winning the last three NCAA titles to start its own swimming dynasty.

Georgia Gymnastics (10 titles)

It’s been awhile since Georgia has topped the gymnastics world, but once upon a time the Bulldogs did just that, rattling off five straight gymnastics titles from 2005-09 and claiming an NCAA-leading 10th title in 2009. Oklahoma has started to creep up on the Georgia dynasty, winning six titles in the last 10 years, including the last two titles.

UNC Field Hockey (10 titles)

When talking about dynasties, UNC field hockey has to be counted among the best. The Tar Heels have won four of the last five national titles to reach 10 total, the most in NCAA history (Maryland has the second-most with eight). Their 10th title capped off an undefeated season, and the Tar Heels also went undefeated in 2018 and 2019 en route to their first national titles since 2009.

Northwestern Lacrosse (8 titles)

The other major player in lacrosse, Northwestern returned to dominant form this season, rattling off 21 consecutive wins to take its eighth national title under Kelly Amonte Hiller and its first since 2012. Bolstered by Tewaaraton Award winner Izzy Scane, the Wildcats dominated in the title game. They won 18-6 over Boston College, which had made six straight appearances in the national championship game. Amonte Hiller’s eight national championships as a head coach are tied for the most ever in NCAA women’s lacrosse.

Tennessee Basketball (8 titles)

For close to four decades, Pat Summitt led a dominant Lady Vols team that won eight national titles. The legendary coach herself held an 84.2% winning percentage. The only team to have appeared in all 36 NCAA tournaments, Tennessee also has made 34 Sweet 16s, including their most recent in 2023. Their last title came in 2008, although coach Kellie Harper has started to build the program back to its former glory.

Kellie Harper is set to remain at Tennessee through the 2027-28 season after agreeing to a contract extension.

The vote of confidence comes after the Lady Vols advanced to the SEC Tournament championship game in 2023. They also reached their second consecutive Sweet 16 – one of just seven teams to do so this season.

The team’s 25 wins and 13 SEC victories are their highest totals since the 2014-15 season. Additionally, Harper coached Jordan Horston to a first-round pick in the WNBA draft, making this Tennessee’s third straight year with a first-round draft pick. She is one of just four active women’s coaches to have achieved such a feat, and one of two Tennessee coaches to have done so, with the other being Pat Summitt.

“Including her tenure at Missouri State, Kellie has guided her teams to three of the past four NCAA Sweet 16s,” Tennessee athletic director Danny White said. “She’s among an elite group of coaches in achieving that, and it didn’t happen by accident. The Lady Vols have a strong program culture, visible player development, a commitment to excellence and intentional leadership in place, and I look forward to watching our program continue to rise under her leadership.”

This season’s postseason appearance was Harper’s 15th in her 19 seasons as a head coach. Additionally, she kept Tennessee’s streak alive at 41 – maintaining its status as the only team to appear in every single NCAA Tournament.

“I couldn’t be more thankful for the belief and trust Danny and Tennessee have placed in me and my staff to lead the Lady Vol program where we all want to go,” Harper said. “The journey to the top isn’t easy, but I’m really proud of the investment our players have displayed in pursuing our goals and fighting through some adversity along the way.

“By playing in the 2023 SEC Tournament title game and advancing to regionals, we have built a solid foundation for next season. I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together during the years ahead.”

The 2023 WNBA draft is here, but some big-name prospects are not.

While many of the brightest stars in college basketball having declared for the draft, others have opted to return for another year, taking advantage of the extra year of COVID-19 eligibility. Just Women’s Sports takes a look at some of those who are running it back.

Rickea Jackson, Tennessee

Rickea Jackson became the first domino to fall in the list of players opting out of the 2023 draft, announcing her intention to return to the Vols before the NCAA Tournament even began.

Before her decision, she was projected as the No. 3 overall pick by Just Women’s Sports analyst Rachel Galligan, making her choice all the more surprising. But her return is big for Tennessee, as the first-team All-SEC selection led the team with 19.6 points per game while adding 6.2 rebounds per game.

Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech

Kitley announced her decision to return in the middle of the national championship game, but it still counted as headline news for Virginia Tech fans.

A former five-star recruit and two-time ACC Player of the Year, Kitley led the Hokies in points, rebounds and blocks per game last season as Virginia Tech made its Final Four run. She’s also the all-time leading scorer in program history.

Georgia Amoore, Virginia Tech

Georgia Amoore is another Virginia Tech senior who opted to run it back, meaning that three of the Hokies’ starting five players will take the court together next season.

Amoore had a standout regular season, averaging 16.1 points and 5.1 assists while leading the team to the ACC tournament title. She’s better against better opponents, making her decision to stay a good sign for the Hokies.

Charisma Osborne, UCLA

While Charisma Osborne opted into the 2023 WNBA draft, she later withdrew her name, instead electing to use her extra year of eligibility. As reported by the New York Times, she even was told by a WNBA coach that the decision to remain an extra year could be a smart move.

Osborne will provide a boost for UCLA, as she has averaged 15.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game throughout her first four years with the Bruins. She also helped the team to a Sweet 16 appearance this year, and will link up with freshman point guard Kiki Rice next year.

Sedona Prince, TCU

Sedona Prince is another player who withdrew her name from WNBA draft consideration. Prince missed their redshirt senior season with an elbow injury and had planned to exhaust their remaining NCAA eligibility to pursue a professional career.

But those plans have changed, as Prince withdrew their name from the draft. She also entered her name into the transfer portal and is headed to TCU with two years of eligibility remaining.

Ashley Owusu, transfer portal

Despite reports that she might enter the WNBA draft, Virginia Tech shooting guard Ashley Owusu has opted to remain in the NCAA. But the former Maryland standout is once again in the transfer portal after spending the second half of the season on the Hokies’ bench.

Cameron Brink, Stanford

There was never a question about whether or not Cameron Brink would return for her senior season at Stanford, despite the fact that she is eligible for the 2023 WNBA draft by a single day. As Brink told reporters last October, college is “fun.”

“Why not stay?” she asked. “I think I want to stay just because I want to just continue to be a kid. Finish my degree in four years, not rush myself.”

The first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament busted many a bracket thanks to upsets by Miami and Ole Miss over No. 1 seeds Stanford and Indiana. Now the Sweet 16 is set, with familiar faces like South Carolina and UConn, and unexpected attendees like Colorado and Ohio State.

Expect more chaos and more upsets in the Sweet 16, as well as wins from the season’s most dominant squads. Here are my predictions for the first round of regional contests.

No. 9 Miami vs. No. 4 Villanova

Maddy Siegrist, a Naismith Trophy finalist, will be the best player on the court, and I don’t expect Miami to contain her. But after seeing the way the Hurricanes defeated No. 1 Indiana, I don’t see that being an issue. While Mackenzie Holmes had 22 points and Grace Berger had 17 against Miami, the Hurricanes were able to keep the rest of Indiana’s scorers in check. Against Villanova, I anticipate a similar attack: Siegrist will get hers, but the Hurricanes won’t let the rest of the team beat them.

Miami attacked the paint against Holmes and had success with Lola Pendande (19 points) and Destiney Harden (18 points). They can do the same against the Wildcats, who don’t have the post defenders to contain Miami’s inside presence.

Pick: Miami

No. 3 LSU vs. No. 2 Utah

This game has the potential to be the best matchup of the Sweet 16, with two high-powered offenses squaring off. Utah ranks third in the country with 83.5 points per game, while LSU is just behind them with 83.2 points per game.

Utah has a well-balanced attack, with 29.8 percent of their points coming from 3-point range and 50.4 percent coming from inside the arc. The problem for the Utes is going to be LSU star Angel Reese on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Reese will get hers as she has all season, but Utah has the tools to neutralize her defensively. Alissa Pili can stretch the floor — shooting 42 percent from 3 — and allow Utah to pull Reese out of the paint, opening up driving lanes for the guards. If the Tigers choose to keep Reese as a shot-blocker and put another defender on Pili, she will be able to use her size and strength to score, once again creating a mismatch.

Pick: Utah

The key to a Colorado upset will be containing Iowa's players outside of Caitlin Clark. (Margaret Kispert/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 2 Iowa

After defeating Duke 61-53 in Cameron on Monday, Colorado guard Jaylyn Sherrod said she likes going on the road, being the villain and feeding off opposing fans. Iowa won’t be the home team in this game, but they will certainly have their share of fans thanks to Caitlin Clark, meaning Colorado will be the villain once more.

The Buffs are a defensive-minded team that has the ability to rattle opponents. They made things difficult for ranked teams like Stanford, Utah and UCLA this season, and they can do it again against Iowa. No one can defend Clark, but the Buffs have the personnel to slow down the rest of the Hawkeyes, including Monika Czinano on the inside with the strength and size of Aaronette Vonleh and Quay Miller.

On offense, Miller will be the most difficult matchup for Iowa. At 6-foot-3, she’s listed as a center, but she also has guard skills. Miller can shoot from long range (averaging 33.3 percent from 3 this season) and attack inside, forcing her defender to consistently play out of position.

Pick: Colorado

No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Louisville

After getting tested in the first round by a worthy opponent in Drake, Louisville got the win behind 25 points from junior guard Hailey Van Lith. Van Lith is already a talented guard, but she takes things up a notch in March, and that energy rubs off on her teammates.

Ole Miss surprised Stanford with its defensive pressure, holding the Cardinal to 32.7 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent from 3-point range while also forcing 21 turnovers. After seeing that game, Louisville won’t be caught off guard, but they will still have to handle Ole Miss’ defensive intensity. Van Lith, Chrislyn Carr and Mykasa Robinson should be disciplined and experienced enough to overcome it, but this one will be close.

Pick: Louisville

Diamond Miller had a game-high 24 points in Maryland's second-round win over Arizona. (Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Maryland

The last time these teams played in the regular season, Diamond Miller’s last-second heroics propelled the Terrapins to victory. This time around, Maryland likely won’t need a buzzer-beater to win. Dara Mabrey and Olivia Miles are both sidelined with injuries, and without two of their best players, the Fighting Irish are going to run into a wall eventually. Maryland has too many weapons: Miller, Abby Meyers and Shyanne Sellers are leading the way, and Faith Masonius is having an excellent tournament so far.

Notre Dame will need huge performances from Sonia Citron, Maddy Westbeld and Lauren Ebo inside to pull off a victory. Ultimately, I think Maryland’s talent will win out, sending them on to the Elite Eight.

Pick: Maryland

No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 1 South Carolina

UCLA stuck with South Carolina the last time these teams played, before Bruins mistakes and timely Gamecocks plays allowed South Carolina to secure a 73-64 win. UCLA had an excellent game plan, packing the paint to pressure Aliyah Boston and forcing the rest of South Carolina’s players to shoot from the outside. It was successful in November, but Dawn Staley is too smart of a coach to let it happen again.

The Gamecocks will adjust and use their depth to overpower UCLA. Kamilla Cardoso was a big factor in the first matchup, scoring 16 points and grabbing nine rebounds, and will likely play a key role again. Senior guard Brea Beal, who didn’t score in the first matchup, is also poised to step up this time around.

Pick: South Carolina

Azzi Fudd's return from injury gives UConn a scoring boost in the postseason. (David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 UConn

Despite having very different histories, these programs have had similar seasons. Both started with high expectations, suffered a rash of injuries, and now are enjoying success when it counts. Jacy Sheldon, back for Ohio State, made her mark in the second-round win over North Carolina with a game-winning shot, 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals. For UConn, Azzi Fudd was absent for most of the season before making her return in the Big East tournament. Fudd also came up big for her team in the second round, scoring 22 points to lead UConn past Baylor.

With Fudd back and playing well, UConn will be difficult to beat. In her absence, players like Aaliyah Edwards and Lou Lopez Sénéchal stepped up and have continued to play at a high level with her back in the lineup. Add in Dorka Juhász, Aubrey Griffin, Nika Mühl and Caroline Ducharme, who is capable of having a breakout scoring game, and the Huskies have too many weapons for Ohio State to handle.

An added point of interest in this game is Juhász, who started her career with Ohio State before transferring to UConn in 2021.

Pick: UConn

No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 1 Virginia Tech

When it comes to teams peaking at the right time, Tennessee and Virginia Tech are at the top of the list. The Hokies have won 13 games in a row, dating back to Jan. 29, while the Vols started their season 7-6 before going 18-5 the rest of the way.

One of Tennessee’s early losses came at the hands of the Hokies, 59-56 on Dec. 4. But Rickea Jackson didn’t play in that game, and the Vols had to rely on Jordan Horston for nearly all of their scoring. Now, Jackson is back and going to be a problem for the Hokies. The 6-2 forward is averaging 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game and can score all over the court. On the other side, Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley had trouble against the size of Tamari Key in the teams’ first meeting, finishing with just six points. Now, with Key sidelined due to blood clots, the Hokies will have an advantage inside.

This game could go either way, but Tennessee is playing with such cohesiveness right now and Jackson has the ability to be the best player on the floor. My gut tells me the Vols pull off the upset.

Pick: Tennessee

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

The NCAA Tournament begins Wednesday with the First Four, and the first round tips off Friday.

Yet while select teams rose to the top during the regular season, some of these will lose out in the tournament. Upsets happen, in spite of high seeding and home-court advantage. It be March Madness otherwise.

Just Women’s Sports takes a look at which top-4 teams are the most vulnerable.

No. 3 LSU

LSU may have finished their season at 28-2. But while the Tigers ran  amok in the SEC during the regular season, they have weaknesses.

For one, they couldn’t manage to hang with the No. 1 team in the nation in their February matchup against South Carolina. The game proved a failed test for an LSU team with a nonconference schedule chock-full of tough opponents such as… (checks notes) Bellarmine and Mississippi Valley.

Then Tigers ran into a roadblock in the SEC Tournament semifinals in Tennessee, which exposed LSU’s vulnerabilities and mounted an improbable comeback to advance to the title game. LSU faces Hawai’i in the first-round, and the Rainbow Warriors could be a tough test. And if LSU advances to the second round, it could face No. 6 seed Michigan, a battle-tested team coming out of the Big Ten.

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No. 4 Tennessee

In all likelihood, Tennessee will advance past No. 13 seed Saint Louis in the first round. But after that, the Vols could run up against No. 5 seed Iowa State. The Cyclones are not only Big 12 tournament champions, but they also boast star player Ashley Joens – who any team in this tournament will find difficult to contain.

Tennessee has its own star in Rickea Jackson, making the possibility of this second-round matchup very enticing. Still, it makes Tennessee susceptible to an early exit.

No. 3 Duke

There’s no telling what kind of run Duke will have in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Some thought that December’s win over NC State was the Blue Devils’ coming out party. But the ACC remained chaotic throughout the season, and Duke received its share of bumps and bruises – in particular, their 58-37 loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament might leave sour taste in the Blue Devils’ mouths as they prepare to face Iona in the first round.

But they’re also the team that put 68 points on Boston College while only allowing the Eagles to score 27. And they also beat Notre Dame back on Feb. 5. Their season-ending loss to UNC was redeemed by a win over the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament, which showcases how hot and cold this team can be – particularly as they approached the end of the season.

If the Blue Devils can bring their best in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, they’ll be hard to beat. But there’s no guaranteeing that an Iona or a Colorado won’t send Duke packing.

Celeste Taylor and Duke lead the ACC, one of the most competitive conferences in the country. (Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 3 Notre Dame

Notre Dame is one of the biggest question marks in this year’s NCAA Tournament, as there’s no telling when they’ll get star player Olivia Miles back from injury – if they do at all.

And if Irish advance past Southern Utah in the first round, they’ll likely face Creighton in the second round. Yes, that Creighton, the same team that upended Iowa in the Sweet 16 last year. The same Creighton who almost beat UConn in February and battled against other top-tier Big East teams like Villanova and Marquette. A Notre Dame team with Olivia Miles going up against Creighton could be one of the best second-round matchups of the tournament. Without Miles, though, the Irish could head home early.

No. 2 UConn

Can UConn stay healthy? That’s the biggest question facing the Huskies in this year’s NCAA Tournament. If they can, then a run to the Final Four isn’t improbable, even in a tough region. Baylor could prove more difficult than anticipated, and Ohio State is a battle-tested No. 3 seed who has also faced injury issues this season but is also once again healthy.

Having Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme back in the lineup helps the Huskies’ chances, and both looked good during the team’s Big East tournament title run. But as the story has been all season, there’s no telling what type of injury this team could face next.

Despite Rickea Jackson’s status as one of the best players in the 2023 WNBA draft class, she plans to return to Tennessee for another season, she announced Monday.

A top transfer to the Volunteers ahead of the 2022-23 season, Jackson will use her extra year of COVID-19 eligibility to remain with the team. Just Women’s Sports analyst Rachel Galligan had projected Jackson as the No. 3 overall pick in April’s draft, but instead the senior forward will join the stacked 2024 class.

“I appreciated all the support from our amazing fans for making this transition to the University of Tennessee so worth it,” she said in a statement posted to her Twitter account. “But we are not done yet. I’m coming back for another year!”

Jackson got off to a rocky start at Tennessee. She was benched for two games in December in a “coach’s decision,” then came off the bench upon her return before working her way back to the starting lineup.

Vols coach Kellie Harper did not provide a reason for Jackson’s benching, but said upon Jackson’s return in December, “I thought she bounced back after mistakes.”

Since then, she has come into her own for Tennessee. She leads the team with 19.6 points per game and also contributes 6.2 rebounds per game. She was a first-team All-SEC seelction.

Tennessee received a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Vols will host No. 13 seed St. Louis in the first round.

Rickea Jackson made a statement in her first game back for Tennessee women’s basketball, and coach Kellie Harper took notice.

Jackson, who missed her team’s last two games because of a “coach’s decision,” was back in action as Tennessee defeated Wright State 96-57 on Sunday. The senior forward finished with 17 points and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes of playing time.

“I thought it was where she needed to be,” Harper told reporters Saturday. “I thought she bounced back after mistakes. I thought she was a great teammate.”

Harper didn’t give a reason for Jackson’s absence, but her benching took place after a particularly difficult stretch for the Vols that included losses to then-unranked Gonzaga and UCLA. The team was struggling to find a leader, and after the loss to Gonzaga, Harper wracked her brain when a reporter asked who her team’s “vocal leader” was.

While she mentioned Jackson and Jordan Horston as players the Vols respected, she stopped short of calling either an on-court leader.

Whatever her concerns with Jackson, Harper clearly was pleased with her efforts against Wright State. The senior was Tennessee’s leading scorer in her first game back, though she came off the bench instead of going right back to her usual starting position.

“She did some really good things and I’m proud of that,” Harper said. “I thought working her in the way we worked her in was a positive thing. She’s unbelievably talented, she’s fun to watch.”

Jackson’s skills have never been an issue.

She came to Tennessee as the most sought-after transfer in her class. After two and a half seasons and three coaches at Mississippi State, Jackson entered the transfer portal. She played 15 games for the Bulldogs before choosing to come to Tennessee and sit out the second part of the 2021-22 season.

At Mississippi State, Jackson led her team in scoring each season, averaging 16.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per contest. But the stresses of three different coaching changes got to be too much for Jackson, so she made the decision to transfer.

Her basketball acumen translated easily to Tennessee, as Jackson is leading the Vols in scoring with 17.6 points per game, and in rebounding with 6.3. But as a whole, the Vols have struggled to start the season.

Harper challenged her team with a tough out-of-conference slate, and the Vols responded by going 6-5 and falling out of the AP Top 25. They started the season ranked No. 5.

Things went from bad to worse when the team announced senior Tamari Key would miss the remainder of the season due to blood clots found in her lungs.

Jackson’s return is a positive as Tennessee looks to get back on track. The Vols take on No. 2 Stanford on Sunday and start SEC play on Dec. 29 with a game against Florida.

The 2022 Red Bull USA Basketball 3X Nationals kicks off Friday, with 16 3×3 women’s teams vying for a national title.

The event will take place at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, and will feature some of the best 3×3 players in the country.

Stanford, Tennessee, Texas and UNC headline the squads competing in the tournament. Tamari Key, Kaiya Wynn, Sara Puckett and Jordan Walker represent the Lady Vols, while Francesca Belibi, Brooke Demetre, Kiki Irafen and Jzaniya Harriel taking the court for the Cardinal.

Other college teams competing include Iowa State and Kansas State. There also is a team of Athletes Unlimited athletes, as well as several independent teams. For example, Texafornia features Lauren Cox and Kianna Smith on its roster, two players recently cut by the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.

“We are excited to welcome back USA Basketball to the Jerry Colangelo Court of Dreams at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame,” said John Doleva, Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame president and CEO. “The 3×3 competition on Center Court produces excitement in our unique space.”

The competition opens with preliminary rounds before the bracket rounds start, where teams will be seeded based on their preliminary performances. Games are played on a half-court utilizing a 10-minute clock and a 12-second shot clock. The first team to 21 points or the leader after regulation time is the winner.

The 2022 Red Bull USA Basketball 3X Nationals will be used as an evaluation tool for the 2022 FIBA 3×3 World Cup, scheduled for June in Belgium.