Lady Vols roll Waves in season opener

The Lady Vols defeated Pepperdine by a 32-point margin Sunday, but the coaching staff wasn't particularly pleased after the game because while the effort was enough to beat the Waves, it won't be sufficient when the Hurricanes roll in Tuesday.

No. 3 Tennessee (1-0) has one day of practice before No. 7 Miami (1-0) arrives for a 6 p.m. Eastern tipoff (ESPN2) at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday.

Monday's practice is likely to focus on ball security, because while Tennessee won 89-57, the ball squirted loose 22 times, and Pepperdine converted the miscues into 18 points.

"I thought today we played in spurts," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said in her opening statement at the post-game press conference. "We came out in the second half and shot the ball really, really well, but I'm really disappointed in our one-on-one defense. We put a lot of time in on that, and we just weren't very good.

"We turned the ball over 22 times, and if you turn the ball over 22 times, you're going to have a hard time winning the basketball game.

"But let's keep it all in perspective: We won the game. We're proud of our players for finishing, but we've got to get better. We've got to get a whole heck of a lot better before Tuesday."

Before the game started, Coach Pat Summitt was presented with the 2011 Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias Courage Award to thunderous applause from the 12,147 fans in attendance. The award, created by the U.S. Sports Academy, honors an individual who demonstrates courage in overcoming adversity.

Among those on hand Sunday were former Lady Vols Chamique Holdsclaw, the program's all-time leading scorer, and Kara Lawson. Both received rousing ovations when shown on the big screen on the scoreboard.

Pepperdine (0-1) set up the game over a year ago because the Waves had a player from the area. That player is no longer with the team, but Coach Julie Rousseau said the chance to play in Knoxville was a great opportunity for her program. In the Waves' game notes, they referred to it as going to the "basketball mecca" for women's hoops.

"First and foremost, we are grateful for the opportunity to come in here and play such a great program," Rousseau said. "Obviously, to coach against Coach Summitt is just a delight and honor. We leave here, obviously first half was probably a better half for us, but we leave here with a great experience that I think sets the table for us for the rest of the season.

"Again, a great opportunity for us, and I think we will learn a lot from this."

Warlick said the Waves were welcome to come back and it wasn't because of the final margin of victory.

"Absolutely," Warlick said. "They made us work. You watch the game and nothing came easy for us. For a team to force us to 22 turnovers, absolutely. Very well-coached team."

The Lady Vols did get a standout performance from Glory Johnson, who was rather quiet in the two exhibition games.

The senior forward tallied her 24th career double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds. She feasted on stick-backs after her teammates' misses.

"I thought they were keying on Glory, so I thought she did a very good job of composing herself, and then she was getting rebounds and put-backs," Warlick said. "That's what Glory does. She keeps her composure and takes easy shots, shots that Glory can make.

"That's a great thing for Glory, and that's her game. I thought she was poised, played very good defense, and Glory, I thought, had a real good game tonight."

Sophomore guard Meighan Simmons also was quiet in the exhibition games, but she was aggressive on offense in the season opener and, more importantly to the coaches, much more engaged on the defensive end.

"We really wanted to emphasize Meighan's defense and told her that she was going to be coming off the bench to see how her defense could develop," Warlick said. "I thought Meighan's defense, especially in the first half, was very good. I think she got the message."

Simmons definitely did, and the response will underscore to the coaches that if they demand solid defense in exchange for game minutes, the players will deliver because the alternative – watching from the sideline – is not appealing.

Simmons stuck to her player in the man schemes, was active in the traps, challenged shots and blocked a shot by Pepperdine with two seconds on the shot clock in the first half.

"We need her in the basketball game, especially for her quickness and scoring ability, but we don't want Meighan to be a liability on the defensive end, and I don't think she was tonight," Warlick said.

An offensive drive, basket and foul in the first half brought a primal scream from Simmons, who had been well out of sync in the two exhibition games.

"I can't speak for Glory, but with me, in the exhibitions, I was rushing things," Simmons said. "I wasn't calm. I wasn't letting the game come to me. I prayed to God and told him, ‘Just give me that confidence back. Allow me to be able to play the game that I love and be able to let it come to me.'

"I think tonight, I really did let the game come to me. There were a few shots where I felt like I rushed it, but at the same time, I made other shots to help the team."

The Lady Vols didn't start off the game hitting shots – they got on the board with a Johnson stick-back at the 17:41 mark of the first half – but Pepperdine wasn't finding the net either.

Freshman point guard Ariel Massengale split the defense with a drive and layup for a 4-0 lead at the 17:20 mark. Those were her only points of the game, but she had five assists, two steals and just one turnover.

Ariel is indescribable," Simmons said. "I feel like she came in mentally ready and physically ready."

When Pepperdine made an early game substitution, it was Massengale immediately asking who had the player exiting the game so her teammate would know to pick up the entering one.

"Massengale was just an exceptional point guard," Warlick said. "She runs the show, and when she's in, we seem to have a little calmness to us."

Massengale played just seven minutes in the first half after getting called for a block on what appeared to be a charge – the crowd rained boos when a replay was shown – and Simmons moved to the point. Before the break, senior point guard Briana Bass entered the game and played tight defense.

"I thought Bree and her ball pressure in the first half set the tone for what we need to do all the time," Warlick said. "I think both those two young ladies (Bass and Simmons) had a good night on the defensive end."

Senior forward Shekinna Stricklen, who has not been known for her defense, also was active on that end of the floor. She struggled offensively in the first half – she was 1-5 from the floor – but finished with 13 points after going 4-8 in the second.

"She did some good things but her shooting (5-13) was not typical of her today," Summitt said. "She's usually a lot more efficient than she was today."

The Lady Vols were getting good looks early at the basket, but the shots weren't falling. Despite Warlick's concern about the defense overall, at times it was stout, especially in the half-court, when Tennessee forced Pepperdine deep into the shot clock.

The Waves shot 25.8 percent in the first half with just eight made baskets in 31 attempts.

"My expectation is a lot better than what we had in the first half and the second half," Warlick said. "We gave up too many one-on-one drives. They just missed some shots. They had some open looks they should have knocked down."

Tennessee used its defense to jump-start its offense in the first half with Vicki Baugh snaring a steal out of a suffocating Johnson-Massengale trap and then leading the break. She dished to Stricklen for a 10-6 lead at the 14:56 mark of the first half.

Taber Spani curled around Baugh for a 17-foot jumper and a 12-8 lead at the 13:02 mark. Simmons hit the trey ball on nice ball movement from Johnson to Alicia Manning for a 15-9 lead, Cierra Burdick curled around the defense to hit a 16-footer, got fouled and made the free throw and Simmons drove and hit a short jumper from the wing for a 20-9 lead midway through the first half.

That put the lead in double digits, and Rousseau called a timeout. The Waves hovered – they trailed by just seven points with 6:19 to go before the break – but Tennessee, which used all 10 available players in the first half, managed to get some separation.

Cierra Burdick hit a smooth baseline jumper after Stricklen found her out of a trap, Simmons nailed another three-pointer and Johnson grabbed a defensive board and went end to end for a 34-19 lead with 2:54 left in the first half.

Bass hit two free throws after being fouled on a drive and the Lady Vols led 36-21 at the break.

"As a coaching staff, we expected a little bit more out of our team in this game," Summitt said. "For a veteran team, I thought we had some opening game jitters. We didn't start strong and kind of faded off and just didn't do what we needed to do. Then we got it together a little bit."

Tennessee erupted at the start of the second half as if it had been shot out of a cannon.

"Once we came out at halftime, we just all were saying that we needed to be committed to playing with high energy and just, as a team, having each other's back and just knowing that if you put pressure on the ball, that your teammates will have your back," Bass said.

"We kind of flowed together, because we need to thrive off of defense and that will carry over to our offense. That's what happened at the beginning of the second half."

Johnson got an offensive board and hit a turn-around, Baugh scored at the rim, and Johnson scored in transition off a made Pepperdine basket, got fouled and hit the free throw for a 43-26 lead just 62 seconds into the second half.

Spani got a steal, drove and dished to Stricklen for a three for a 46-26 lead with 17:58 to play, and Rousseau called timeout.

It didn't slow down Tennessee. Spani drained a three on a feed from Massengale for a 49-26 lead and then made a highlight-reel worthy behind-the-back pass to a trailing Johnson for a 51-26 lead.

"I think one thing that we tried to focus on was to forget about scoring, forget about forcing shots and to just work on our defense and rebounding," Johnson said when asked to explain the offensive output to open the second half.

"Everything else will come easy."

Stricklen followed that with a three in transition after Johnson got a defensive board and fired to Spani, who passed ahead to Stricklen for a 54-26 lead, leading to another timeout by Pepperdine at 15:06 mark.

That was followed by back-to-back layups by Baugh, one on a nifty reverse – the first assisted by Spani, the second by Massengale – and a 58-26 lead at the 14:16 mark.

Tennessee rattled Pepperdine with a matchup zone to start the second half that had four players over 6 feet tall in Spani, Stricklen, Johnson and Baugh – plus a 5'6 dynamo in Massengale – to spread out and obstruct entry.

"We just started taking too many quick shots, too many threes," Rousseau said. "We weren't attacking. I thought that we did a great job when we were in our half court, and they were in their player defense. We did a good job of attacking the basket, so they went zone.

"I just think we got a little too anxious. Quick shots create an imbalance which hurt us in transition, and that's where they got all their threes."

The halftime message was to get the running game in gear.

"That tends to make this team get a little energy," Warlick said. "Stealing it. Pushing it. Shooting layups. The message was, ‘Go and take care of the basketball.'

"We had 11 turnovers the first half. We can't have 11 turnovers in the first half."

That was a sore point with the coaches – especially when the second half produced more of the same

"I was not happy at all with 11 turnovers in each half and 22 total for the game," Summitt said. "Not happy at all. We gave away 18 points to Pepperdine off of our turnovers. That really got my attention. …

" … You look at the box, see the score, and think it was a blowout, and it wasn't that kind of game at all."

The Waves made all four of their treys in the second half after starting the game 0-7 from long range and while Tennessee maintained its lead for the final 32-point margin, the play got ragged at times.

"We just need to be consistent with our defense," Simmons said. "We were like a roller coaster in this game. One possession, we played really good defense, and the next possession, our defense didn't rotate or anything.

"One person would be playing really hard on defense, and everybody would be kind of slacking off. We can't have that when we play teams like Miami and Baylor and Stanford and UCLA. We have to be consistent."

The Tennessee coaches did salute Pepperdine's preparation.

"They had a great game plan," Warlick said. "They were trapping us, double teaming the basketball, taking away our inside game. They were making us do things we usually don't.

"We usually get the ball inside, and we couldn't get the ball inside the first half. It was a great game plan. They're a very well-coached team. They're not big, they may not be as strong, but they followed their game plan, and I thought they did an excellent job."

Tennessee was able to go deep in its bench without steep dropoff – in the second half the Lady Vols twice made five for five substitutions – with Bass putting up a perfect line of 2-2 from the arc and 4-4 from the line for 10 points.

"Being consistent is something that we, as a team, have tried to focus on this year," Bass said. "When we get out there, just being ready to go out there and play hard. It's just consistency."

Despite her 5'2 size, Bass also applied defensive pressure.

"You have to love Bree's style of play," Johnson said. "Defensively, she was a monster. You don't expect something like that from someone with her size. And when she comes out and plays defense like that and hits shots like that, what else could you ask for from someone like Bree?

"She's so little, but she packs a punch."

"I just try to stay ready when my number is called," Bass said. "With the team, I encourage my teammates and when I'm on the bench, I stay ready. That's all I can do, is stay ready."

Pepperdine shot 30.6 percent (11-36) in the second half and finished the game at 28.4 percent (19-67). The Waves were 4-20 (20.0 percent) from behind the arc.

Jazmine Jackson led the Waves with 17 points, the only Pepperdine player in double figures.

"I feel like we attacked them fairly well, but I also think, like coach said, that we settled for a lot of outside shots," Jackson said.

Lauren Bell chipped in with eight points and three players, Skye Barnett, Robie Mayberry and Tessa Emerson, added seven each.

"We took care of the ball fairly well," Rousseau said. "We didn't shoot well. We didn't shoot our free throws well, and I think that those are things you can correct."

Pepperdine was 55.6 percent (15-27) from the line, well under its expectations. Tennessee swarmed the Waves on the boards with a 20-rebound margin at 54-34, with a whopping 39 coming on the defensive end.

"They out-rebounded us, but I think a lot of that was on the defensive boards because we didn't shoot well," Rousseau said. "I think that there's a lot of good things that we learned that we will take into the rest of the season."

Tennessee shot 49.2 percent (29-59) for the game, 62.5 percent (10-16) from long range, including 8-10 in the second half, and 72.4 percent (21-29) from the line, a stat helped by the 9-11 mark in the second half.

The Lady Vols had 20 assists on 29 baskets – Massengale and Spani accounted for half of the helpers with five each – with 10 blocks and eight steals. Baugh led the way with three swats while three players, Baugh, Massengale and Spani, had two thefts each.

Five players reached double figures led by Johnson's 17 points. Stricklen and Simmons had 13 each, while Spani added 11 and Bass, 10.

Tennessee dominated the boards led by Johnson's 13. Freshman Isabelle Harrison had eight rebounds in just 13 minutes of play. Baugh had seven boards to go with her eight points, and Manning grabbed six, as did Stricklen.

Tennessee's next concern is Miami, which is led by All-American Shenise Johnson, who nearly posted a triple-double with 20 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in an 83-37 defeat of Texas-Pan American

"We've got a big challenge ahead of us playing Miami on Tuesday night," Summitt said. "They looked very polished in their opening game. I can tell you, we are going to learn a lot about us in that game."

The Lady Vols have just one day to get ready.

"I think it's just a mental thing," Simmons said. "We automatically have to switch gears. Today is pretty much over. The game is over. Now we have to worry about our next opponent. And when we come to practice, we have to be mentally ready.

"Our bodies might be tired, but we have to fight through it and be resilient. One of the adversities we're going to have to face going from one game to another is being able to make that switch and being able to play to our fullest potential."

The coaches clearly had Miami on their minds as soon as the buzzer sounded Sunday on the season opener.

"I think our defense has to get so much better, especially when Miami comes to town on Tuesday," Warlick said. "You talk about quick. They're quick on quick.

"Those are some things that need to get better, and we'll get back to work on our one-on-one play and taking care of the basketball."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Pat Summitt receives award

Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick

Lady Vol players Glory Johnson, Briana Bass, Meighan Simmons

Pepperdine Coach Julie Rousseau, player Jazmine Jones


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