Monthly Archives: December 2013

Second thoughts and observations on Lady Vols

Tennessee made clear the correlation between Sunday’s 110-42 women’s basketball rout of Lipscomb at Thompson-Boling Arena and a disheartening loss at Stanford eight days earlier.

“We wanted to bounce back from Stanford,” forward Cierra Burdick said of the 76-70 loss. “We felt like that was a game we could have won.”

Funny how a loss can contribute to a victory. Or how a win can help set up a loss. Before Sunday, Tennessee’s most complete effort of the season resulted in an 87-47 victory over SMU on Nov. 29 in the championship game of the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas. The Lady Vols spent the three weeks following that victory squandering the momentum on sloppy, inconsistent play. It played into their performance at Stanford.

For one reason or another, forward Isabelle Harrison’s quote following the Lipscomb victory is worth remembering:

“We took this team serious,” she said, “and we’re going to do that to every team we play from now on.”

— Sunday’s victory underscored the importance of tempo to Tennessee’s play. The Lady Vols didn’t score 66 paint points by simply beating Lipscomb up the floor. The Lady Vols did push the ball up the floor, but they maintained their aggressiveness with ball movement, passing and player cuts.

“I don’t think the ball got stuck in our hands like it had in the past,” UT coach Holly Warlick said.

— Freshman center Mercedes Russell was as physical and active as she’s been in a game this year. In halfcourt sets, she was all over the court and outfought defenders for the ball. On defense, she tracked dribble drive plays and swatted away shots.

Her bottom line was 12 points on 5 for 8 shooting 7 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 assists.

— The starting guard trio of Andraya Carter, Meighan Simmons and Ariel Massengale had 14 total shots on Sunday. Against Stanford, they combined for 39 attempts. Centers Isabelle Harrison and Nia Moore and Burdick combined for 36 shot attempts versus Lipscomb.

— Upon arrival, new Lady Vol Jannah Tucker has gone to work. The freshman guard was spotted at Pratt Pavilion after Saturday’s practice doing extra shooting. On Sunday, she was the first player on the floor before the game.

— Lipscomb coach Greg Brown, a former Tennessee assistant coach, said that UT called about scheduling Sunday’s game. He also said that Tennessee will visit Lipscomb next season.


Freshman center Mercedes Russell was as p


Fielding the best five

Tennessee’s quest to become a better women’s basketball team involves fielding the best combination of players at any point during a game.

To date, the Lady Vols have utilized multiple starting lineups and occasionally substituted in bulk fashion. All of this suggests a work in progess.

Saturday’s game at Stanford — the stiffest test of the season to date — shed some light on where the process stands and where it might be heading.

Tennessee utilized a starting five of Bashaara Graves, Isabelle Harrison, Andraya Carter, Meighan Simmons and Ariel Massengale for the second time. The first was arguably UT’s most complete effort of the season — an 87-47 win over SMU in the Junkanoo Jam championship game.  When Carter went out early after being hit in the nose, the Lady Vols chose her replacement based on defense — opting for  Jasmine Jones.

Simmons was replaced and sat for more than four minutes after missing three shots within the first  four minutes. The Lady Vols substituted multiple players at one time on four occasions before halftime, when they were struggling for traction. They did it just once, though, in the second half.

Jones left with 13:56 remaining after committing her third turnover and never returned. Her three missed shots, along with the unforced turnovers, outweighed her defense.

Forward Cierra Burdick sat for the majority of the first half after picking up two fouls. She didn’t return, though, until replacing Jones in the second half. Her production had been on the upswing recently. Yet her 15 playing minutes against Stanford seemed more like a cameo appearance. She still managed three assists and 2 for 3 shooting from the floor.

In the end, all five starters played at least 26 minutes with Massengale logging a team-high 38. Carter would’ve played more than her 26 if she hadn’t been sidelined early.

Four reserves played 45 total minutes.

— Coach Holly Warlick said that freshman guard Jannah Tucker, who will be enrolling for the spring semester, is expected to join the team when it reconvenes after Christmas break.


Lady Vols enter twilight zone

Troy used several defensive alignments in the hopes of slowing down Tennessee on Saturday. One sounded like it came straight from Rod Serling’s imagination. Trojans coach Chanda Rigby referred to  the defense as a “twilight zone.”

“It’s the zone defense where the two guards come up and try to sandwich the point guard,” she said. “They leave her open to drive the middle but they’re on either side of her. It’s just a different kind of defense.”

— UT’s 103-64 victory started in unusual fashion with Troy assessed a technical foul for not reporting its starters by the 10-minute mark. Lady Vols guard Ariel Massengale hit one of two free throws before the opening tip.

— After shooting 2 for 12 from long range in the first half, the Lady Vols were under strict orders from coach Holly Warlick not to shoot another 3-pointer. They complied, finishing with 56 points from close range.

“I said, ‘if you shoot a 3, you’re coming out,’ ” Warlick said. “They valued playing more than shooting the 3, which was a good thing.”

— Bashaara Graves returned to Tennessee’s starting lineup. She was benched for the start against Texas last Sunday after a poor week of practice.

Jasmine Jones started for a second consecutive game. She was the lead defender against Troy guard Joanne Harden.

“We were in the locker room 30 minutes before game time trying to figure out who was going to start and that’s a good thing to have,” Warlick said. “That means your team is being competitive and playing hard in practice.”

— Playing an overmatched opponent arguably did as much harm as good for UT.  An alarming number of possessions looked more like pick-up basketball.

“I definitely think we just started playing casual,” Graves said. “It doesn’t matter what team we’re playing, we need to come out like we’re playing against top-ranked teams.”

— After outrebounding Troy 74-29, Tennessee has a plus-15 rebounding margin for the season.

— The 103 points were the most scored by Tennessee since scoring 110 against Alabama on Jan. 6, 2011.



‘A flat-out scorer’

Statistics suggest that Troy’s Joanna Harden scores the majority of her points the hard way — striking at the heart of a defense rather than simply firing over the top of an opponent’s alignments.

The Trojans guard takes aim at Tennessee Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena. The 5-foot-7 senior from Pompano Beach, Fla., currently is third in the nation in scoring, averaging 26.6 points per game. She’s scored more than 40 points in a game twice this season with a high of 52 against Alabama-Huntsville — the highest single-game total across all NCAA divisions.

Harden has scored 213 points in eight games, approaching half as many as the 475 she scored all of last season. Yet she’s hit just 15 3-pointers so far and attempted only 38 shots from behind the arc. She’s scored one more point from the foul line than from long range and is an 86.8 percent free throw shooter.

Overall, Harden has made 76 field goals and is an efficient 46.9 percent shooter from the field.

Harden’s offense likely benefits from defense, too. Troy’s opponents average 24 turnovers per game. More than 10 of them on average are Trojans steals. Harden is second on the team with 16.

“Take (Georgia Tech’s) Kaela Davis out, and she is the most prolific scorer we’ve faced, and she is just a flat-out scorer,” Tennessee assistant coach Dean Lockwood said.

Tech’s Davis scored 28 points against UT on Nov. 17. The points were the most by an opposing player this season. Four of Davis’ nine field goals were 3-pointers. Davis connected on all six of her free throw attempts.

The most points scored by an opposing player against Tennessee is 45. Mississippi’s Peggy Gillom did it in 1978 and Texas’ Clarissa Davis matched the feat in 1987.


Making a point with points

When the NCAA mandated stricter officiating this season, a primary hope was creating more offense.

Nobody in their wildest dreams could’ve imagined Kentucky’s 133-130 four-overtime epic women’s basketball victory over Baylor Friday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The game upstaged the Kentucky-Baylor men’s game that followed and shoehorned its way into the national conversation Saturday morning, amid the previews for college football conference championship games.

Several Tennessee women’s  players joined the social media conversation about the game.

“You cnt say that the 4OT UK vs. BU wasn’t great,” forward Bashaara Graves tweeted. “Way to put on for the women.”

Forward Cierra Burdick left the game for her own basketball workout, only to find it still waiting for her when she returned.

“Glad I caught the end!” she tweeted.

Mississippi coach Matt Insell, a former Kentucky assistant, congratulated his colleagues and summed up the game by tweeting: “Great win for them, for the SEC and for all of women’s basketball.”

While the extra sessions ballooned the scoring to record proportions, both teams scored 90 points apiece in regulation. Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims scored a staggering 47 points in 41 playing minutes before fouling out.

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell and Baylor coach Kim Mulkey agreed that the game was good for publicity’s  sake. But Mulkey bemoaned the circumstances, specifically the 47 fouls whistled against her team. Seven Lady Bears fouled out.  Mulkey said that she “can’t stand” the emphasis on calling hand checks.

Overall, 80 fouls were called and 112 free throws were attempted. Three Kentucky players fouled out as well.

Mulkey summed it up as “not basketball.”

Ironically, a game referenced in establishing the new guidelines was Louisville’s upset of Baylor in the  NCAA tournament last season. The intent was to curb the physical play used to guard Lady Bears center Brittney Griner.

Another irony — which Tennessee should note — is Kentucky’s evolution into a scoring machine. Given the new officiating mandate, Mitchell was on the defensive about his team’s pressure defense tactics at SEC Media Days in October. Once the season started, the Wildcats went on the offensive. They’re averaging 98.8 points per game, more than 23 points better than last season’s scoring pace.

No. 5 Kentucky (9-0) had five double-figure scorers Friday night. Guard Jennifer O’Neill came off the bench to score 43 points.

Although their points-allowed average rose to 69.1 per game after Friday, the Wildcats still lead the SEC in steals per game (14.1) and are second in turnover margin (plus-9.3).