Lady Vols fall to No. 1 Stanford

The Lady Vols fell to Stanford and for the first time this season Holly Warlick questioned her team's effort. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis.

Holly Warlick's remarks were Pat Summitt-like after Tennessee (7-3) dropped a home game to Stanford (11-0), and they were also spot on, as the Lady Vols' defense softened as the shots continued to misfire.

The result was a 73-60 loss that didn't at all seem that close from Warlick's spot on the sideline.

"The whole game I was in disbelief," Warlick said. "Because we didn't affect Stanford one bit."

It was similar to the start of the Baylor game, but in this case, while Tennessee trailed the entire game, the Lady Vols hovered throughout both halves, even trimming a 16-point second half deficit to just nine with nearly nine minutes left, much to the delight of an energetic crowd of 13,016.

But the Cardinal found a soft spot in the defense or got a key offensive board and every orange rally got snuffed out before it could really get going.

The flurry of misses in the past two games - Tennessee shot 25.6 percent in the first half - has holstered the Lady Vols' best weapons. They can't set their press on defense, and the scouting report now says for opponents to focus on getting back on defense, so their running game has been slowed.

"I think early in the game we came out slower than we should have and I feel like we should have put the pedal to the metal way earlier because we had spurts in the second half where we actually looked good running," Meighan Simmons said.

"That's what Tennessee does. We get the ball out and we run. We have to do that early on in the game. We can't have a bad first half and then try to come back in the second half. It's too late then."

Stanford also used its considerable size to pack the paint so while the Lady Vols were missing open looks from the perimeter, they also weren't finding any room to maneuver inside.

"They were doubling down a lot and we were trying to kick it out," Bashaara Graves said. "So it was kind of hard in the beginning to kick it back out to the guards, but I think we ended up adjusting to it."

Tennessee trailed at halftime, 33-21, and then played Stanford nearly even in the second half, 40-39, for the final 73-60 score.

Warlick spent most of her time in the post-game press conference expressing her disappointment in the team's lack of effort and taking the blame for the Lady Vols not being ready to play.

"We had a great opportunity to play the number one team in the country on our floor and quite frankly, we were never in the game," Warlick said. "It's a learning moment for us, and it seems like we've had a number of learning moments for us and learning moments for the coaches as well."

Warlick and the players won't offer excuses, but Tennessee did indeed look tired. The Lady Vols had three games in seven days, including two on the road in the state of Texas and it showed Saturday.

Cierra Burdick said after the game that her legs weren't there - she air-balled a shot in the second half - but she quickly added that the players have to get themselves ready via rest and rehab.

The Tennessee players were late to recover on defense, and Stanford, which runs a precise offense of motion and ball movement, took full advantage.

Stanford arrived with a defeat of South Carolina, and a No. 1 ranking after its upset of Baylor in mid-November. The Cardinal will host No. 2 Connecticut after the Christmas break.

"It's awesome to defend our ranking," said Stanford's Bonnie Samuelson, who went 3-3 from the arc and tallied 11 points. "We came into this week knowing it was going to be tough, and we prepared well. We knew both of these teams were going to be excellent.

"I think it's exciting to see our team step up to the pressure. Both games were very competitive, and it's really exciting to get two wins and go home and be happy before coming back to go against UConn."

Tennessee's players head into the brief holiday break on a two-game losing streak before returning to Knoxville to host Davidson and Rutgers.

Graves said she intended to get in the gym in Clarksville while she was home.

Graves has become the exception to every notion that freshman post players aren't quite ready at this level and especially with Tennessee's tough schedule.

But Graves tallied a team-high 33 minutes with 15 points and 12 boards, including nine on the offensive end.

The freshman has been the most productive and consistent player for Tennessee this season.

"I was really happy for her because, as a freshman, she has the same mentality that I did," Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike said. "Crash the boards and hustle. I see a lot of promise in her and in this team.

"It was cool to go against her. She's strong and she's making me stronger."

Ogwumike's sister, Nneka, who graduated last season, was courtside for the game. It was the first win for Stanford in Knoxville since 1996, although their last two trips to town went to overtime.

"One thing Nneka didn't do was get a win here at Tennessee, so I wanted to one-up her," Ogwumike said. "It was a great game. I know in my freshman year, it was a heartbreaker when Tennessee won against us in overtime.

"We were very fortunate to go against this Tennessee team and get the win before Christmas."

Ogwumike, a junior, nearly went the distance and tallied 21 points and 19 boards. She also had five assists and two blocks.

Tennessee's Kamiko Williams (4) leaps for a rebound over the top of Stanford's Toni Kokenis.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

Tennessee has very few veterans on their team and just one in the starting lineup in Simmons, a junior who had 12 points.

"We are freshman and we are sophomores, that is it," Warlick said. "We can't do anything about it. We have to go back and we have to learn and we have to compete.

"I don't care if this is your first game of your college career. You compete. Until we compete we aren't going to win basketball games."

Tennessee is getting plenty from Graves. She needs some help from the other youngsters and the upperclassmen have to show more consistency going forward. Senior Kamiko Williams followed an All-American performance at Baylor with 1-7 shooting, though she did grab six boards. Simmons let her offensive struggles affect her defense.

"I feel like we let our offense dictate our defense," Simmons said. "For me personally, that's how I feel. … People will underestimate us, but we just have to come out and play hard. We have to have a sense of urgency when we go out and play."

Simmons had plenty of company.

"Your offense should have absolutely zero affect on what you do on the defensive end," Warlick said. "You have to make it a priority. You have to get ticked off because your man scored, not just because you have missed a shot. You need to be extremely upset and mad that you missed a box out. You just let the team down.

"You are not going to shoot every shot but you can affect on the defensive end. Until they get that point and until they get that across we are going to keep doing this because one night we are going to shoot in the 40s-50s and the next night we are going to shoot in the 30s.

"People scout us and they know what we are going to do. But we scout them, too. We had no affect on what Stanford did today. None."

That was a brutal but accurate assessment. And to Warlick's credit, she focused not just on the players, but the staff, too.

"You've got to have a relentless effort and a big heart," Warlick said. "You've got to make your own breaks, and we're not doing things to make our own breaks. We're throwing the ball up there and hoping it goes in, and you're not going to win like that.

"You've got to affect them on the defensive end, and in big games we have not done that. It's my job to make sure we straighten that out and change that."

While Warlick was upset, as was Burdick - she called her remarks to the media a broken record since she said the same things needed to change after the Baylor game - it is December.

The Lady Vols rode a wave of a seven-game winning streak with stellar shooting, stiff defense at opportune times and relentless board work.

The crisp cutting and ball movement were not there - Tennessee had just eight assists with Ariel Massengale tallying five of them with Williams adding two - and the offense broke down at times to one-on-one play.

All of that - defense, rebounding, sharing the basketball - faltered in the past two games and the result was an 0-2 record to enter the Christmas break.

"I'm just going to go home and have a good Christmas with my family, but I'm still going to get in the gym," Graves said. "I'm going to come back and get better and work on getting more wins."

That was a freshman talking. Warlick needs a team full of those kind of first-year players.

GAME HIGHLIGHTS FROM UTSPORTSTV

POST-GAME VIDEO

Holly Warlick

Bashaara Graves, Meighan Simmons

Cierra Burdick

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, Bonnie Samuelson, Chiney Ogwumike


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