Tennessee takes out Texas

AUSTIN, Texas - The Lady Vols opened the Texas road trip with a 94-75 win over the Longhorns. Go inside with Inside Tennessee for an analysis of the Lady Vols' victory.

Tennessee (7-1) went in the hole by two points to Texas (6-2) because of a tardy lineup to the scorer's table, but that was the only time the Longhorns led in the game.

The Lady Vols did, however, make it interesting in the second half as Texas trimmed a 22-point Tennessee lead to just 10 points. But, just as in the Georgia Tech and Miami games, Tennessee was tested but didn't succumb and held onto the lead.

"We had to use our entire bench, so it was a team effort and a really good win for our basketball program," Head coach Holly Warlick said.

Tennessee did indeed because of foul trouble that put three key players, Cierra Burdick, Isabelle Harrison and Bashaara Graves on the bench for long stretches of the second half.

Harrison also had to sit for nearly 12 minutes to end the first half while Graves went out with eight minutes to go before halftime because she, too, had two fouls. Burdick logged 17 minutes in the first half but had to leave at the 11:37 mark of the second when she got a fourth foul. She returned with six minutes to go and never picked up a fifth.

That left Taber Spani to take the bulk of the minutes since she can play inside and out, and the senior, who has dealt with lower back pain, logged 31 minutes.

She also moved inside to defend post players and had to take on the 6-7 Imani McGee-Stafford and the 6-1 Nneka Enemkpali, who entered the game averaging a double-double.

"I was pleased with her defensive effort," Warlick said. "She didn't hurt us on the defensive end."

The statement wasn't as blunt as it reads in print, but Warlick was being honest, because Spani is not known for her defense. And while Spani has guarded threes and fours, she had to defend the five position for long stretches of the second half Sunday, despite giving up six inches in height, with the help of double teams at times.

Tennessee's running game never really got on track Sunday - 46 total free throws will slow a game down considerably - but the Lady Vols showed that they could win in a half-court setting, too.

The Lady Vols also showed that they can score at a slower pace, too. They put up 94 points against a team that had been allowing only 52 points a game, and they did so with just four fast-break buckets.

That was boosted by the scorching hot start of Spani and Burdick. Both players had talked during the two-week break between games about not over-thinking on offense.

"I know that I have to be a threat, and shooting is what I do," Spani said. "Holly said, ‘Let if fly.' "

Spani was 5-6 in the first half - a perfect 3-3 from the arc - and had 15 points before the break. She finished the game at 15 - she was 0-5 in the second - but she played extended minutes, despite nursing a sore lower back, and she battled post players inside.

Spani will likely need some rehab time with Jenny Moshak between games, as will Harrison, who suffered a right ankle injury with six minutes left in the second half and didn't return.

That brought Burdick into the game with four fouls, and her offense was on track throughout her 30 minutes.

Burdick was 3-4 in the first half and 4-5 in the second half to finish with 14 points.

"Holly said she would rather us shoot than turn the ball over," Burdick said. "I took that to heart and let it fly."

Burdick had just two turnovers, and Spani had none. As a team, the Lady Vols had just 12 miscues, though Texas took advantage of each one with 16 points off turnovers.

Tennessee has been getting its scoring from various players on the team - and it can vary from game to game - which makes the Lady Vols a difficult scout.

Simmons led Tennessee with 18 points, but she needed 20 shots to do so, and was overeager to open the game. That brought in Spani, who helped to stake Tennessee to an early lead.

Texas Coach Karen Aston noticed.

"I really thought the difference in the game was Spani," Aston said.

Aston added Burdick's offense, too, and said the Longhorns knew they had to key on Simmons and Graves. They weren't expecting an eruption from Burdick and Spani.

"We couldn't get a handle on what their tendencies were," Aston said.

Texas was able to make its comeback in the game because the Longhorns shot 85.7 percent from the line at 24-28.

That slowed the Lady Vols' attack considerably.

"You're not only giving them an opportunity to score, you're giving them an opportunity to rest," Warlick said. "I wanted this game faster than it was."

That meant Ariel Massengale had to manage the game at that tempo, and the sophomore guard did just that. She logged 37 minutes and tallied 15 points on 5-7 shooting with seven assists and just three turnovers. She scored from the arc, from drives and from a teardrop floater in the lane.

That meant backup point guard Kamiko Williams was held to just 10 minutes - she also spelled Simmons - but the senior should be ready for accelerated minutes when the pace picks up again.

For this game, the other senior delivered. Spani also had six boards despite battling taller and physical post players. But it was her shooting from the arc at 3-5 - with Simmons getting on track late and going 3-6 from long range - that forced Texas to switch strategies.

Tennessee hasn't relied on the long ball this season and entered the game with just 100 overall attempts at a connection rate of 35.0 percent.

The emphasis has been on scoring in the paint, but Tennessee went 8-15 (53.3 percent) from the arc and it hurt Texas.

"No question," Aston said.

Texas shifted its defense in the second half by extending it and pressuring the ball. That was particularly effective because most of Tennessee's post players were sitting on the bench in foul trouble.

Tennessee's defense also got porous - both Warlick and Burdick put the blame on Tennessee's effort in the second half - and Texas battled back from a deficit that reached 22 points, 62-42, with 13:45 to go on a Simmons drive, basket and foul.

That basket was set up by a skip pass from Spani that was really a skip, skip, skip pass as it sailed over three defenders to reach Simmons. Spani launched it from one sideline to the other and when the defender came out to challenge Simmons from the arc, she put the ball on the floor and got to the rim.

Simmons had family and friends in the stands at the Erwin Center - and with a crowd of just 3,027 for a Sunday matinee game the Tennessee fans made a presence, though outnumbered - and she got away from taking shots within the offense as she had done so well in the first seven games.

"The first half she was forcing," Warlick said.

Warlick did credit Simmons for not letting her offensive struggles - she was 2-9 on the first half and 6-20 overall - affect her defense. Simmons picked up Texas' Chassidy Fussell for most of the first half, and she went 2-7 from the field. But Fussell got loose in the second half from Simmons and other defenders.

Fussell finished with a career high of 31 points and was 9-19 overall and 10-10 from the line.

"I am concerned she was a priority for us, and she got 31 points," Warlick said. "I thought she hit some open shots, and I thought she hit some tough shots."

Texas also missed some wide-open shots. When the Lady Vols were in foul trouble in both halves, the Longhorns kept getting the ball inside and missing at the rim.

"We were getting good shots," Enemkpali said. "We were getting good position. Our shots just weren't going in."

That was an accurate assessment, because Texas did get looks right at the rim and were shooting over smaller players with Graves and Harrison watching in foul trouble.

It meant Texas could trim the lead to 10 points - 78-68 on a Fussell three - but never get closer. Texas also couldn't get stops on the defensive end. Texas scored 48 points in the second half after trailing 45-27 at halftime, but the Lady Vols put up 49.

The Lady Vols shot 46.8 percent overall and had 14 assists to just 12 turnovers. They also nipped the Longhorns on the boards, 47-42.

That enabled Tennessee to beat Texas. A much bigger challenge awaits Tuesday in Waco with Baylor, the 6-8 Brittney Griner and one of the best point guards in the country in Odyssey Sims.

Harrison's status for that game is uncertain. Warlick said Moshak told her she hoped to have Harrison ready to go Tuesday but there was no guarantee.

On Sunday, despite foul trouble, a short roster and four players logging significant minutes, the Lady Vols were able to put away the Longhorns.

"This was a great win for us," Warlick said. "We came off of a two-week break and I was really concerned how we would come out and play. I keep stressing how hard we play and our energy.

"We have the talent, but it's what we do with our talent. We came out and stuck to our game plan and played hard."

JASMINE TIME: Jasmine Jones has shown flashes of what she can do, and that was back on display Sunday in Austin.

Warlick noted the freshman is one of the most athletic players ever signed at Tennessee, and she showed that with several nifty moves in the paint and her prowess on the boards.

"You've seen a little bit of what Jasmine can do," Warlick said.

Jones finished with 10 points and nine boards in 19 minutes of play. After missing her first three free throws, she hit the front end of a one-and-one and the second offering in the second half at a time when Texas was threatening and Tennessee needed more separation.

Assistant coach Dean Lockwood has said that Jones will be outstanding when she realizes how good she really is. On Sunday, it was easy to see what he meant.

LINEUP LATE: Tennessee's starting lineup didn't get to the scorer's table in time so the Lady Vols were assessed a technical foul by rule.

Texas' Chassidy Fussell, who shot 91 percent from the line last season, hit both free throws and the Longhorns had a 2-0 lead before the game even started.

Holly Warlick was asked after the game about the oversight and smiled and said it was a staff mistake, and he had to do pushups at halftime. Michael Beaumont, the director of basketball operations, was in the back of the room, and Warlick stared at him and laughed, which made the media realize who it was that slipped on the lineup submission

"He's a football guy," Warlick said of her hire from Arkansas, and she joked that had Tennessee lost by two points she would have put him on a bus back to Knoxville.

It happened once to Tennessee under then-director Kathy Harston, so Beaumont had company. Harston is now an administrator with Texas and was warmly greeted by the Lady Vol players.


Holly Warlick

Ariel Massengale, Cierra Burdick, Taber Spani

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