Freshmen lead way for Lady Vols

The Holly Warlick era had a successful debut as the Lady Vols won 104-44 in a romp over Carson-Newman in the exhibition opener. Go inside for game story, Inside Tennessee's Take and videos.

When Holly Warlick was announced Thursday as the head coach of Tennessee, the crowd gave her a sustained ovation. The coach she succeeded, Pat Summitt – who was on the sidelines for 38 years – was in the first row behind the bench.

"It hit me when she wasn't there for the pregame," said Warlick, who played for Summitt from 1976-80 and sat beside her on the bench for 27 years. "I walked out and saw her sitting behind the bench. Yeah, it was at first very strange, but then I snapped back to it and got to reality and understand what I'm doing and why I'm here.

"It was different, but it's Tennessee basketball and what I've been doing and what I've been trained to do. I had a little brief moment and then I had to come back to reality."

Senior Taber Spani, who selected Tennessee to play for Summitt, walked over to the head coach emeritus and hugged her before the game.

"It was something that I thought about before the game," Spani said. "This is the first of many things for a lot of us. I wanted to make sure to go over and honor her, and I will probably end up making a tradition of it every game."

Against that backdrop – the first game at Thompson-Boling Arena without Summitt on the bench – the Lady Vols had to play a basketball game with a young and inexperienced team.

Warlick went with Spani and junior Meighan Simmons, who have 57 and 58 career starts, respectively, and sophomores Cierra Burdick with three career starts and Isabelle Harrison, who was making her first. Sophomore Ariel Massengale has 24 career starts but she was rested because of tendinitis in her left Achilles so the nod went to freshman Andraya Carter, who was making her college debut.

Warlick had planned to use the exhibition games to look at various lineups and a different five is likely to open Sunday's game against Coker.

"We will start a different group on Sunday," Warlick said. "I am just trying to get a feel for them and what I really want to do is see who plays well together and we are trying to keep up with that and understand who are our best offensive teams, who are our best defensive teams, who doesn't turn it over at crucial times.

"I am just trying to look for rotation and see who fits in what and realize combinations of who plays together well."

Carter, a combo guard, handled the point duties and Warlick was overall pleased with how the freshman handled the responsibility.

"We had to play without Ariel, and I thought that was good that Andraya got us off to a good start," Warlick said. "Overall, I was pleased with our freshmen and what they did."

Tennessee's first basket came after Simmons grabbed a defensive board and went nearly the length of the floor before hitting a jumper just inside the lane.

The lead was in double digits, 10-0, after two free throws by Burdick who was fouled on a drive at the 15:43 mark of the first half.

Jasmine Jones entered the game at that point and scored on a jumper 41 seconds later – assisted by Carter – to boost the lead to 12-2. The freshman then hit her next three shots and free throws – a drive from the wing; an and-one jumper from the elbow and converted from the stripe; a perfectly executed head fake and layup; and two free throws after she was fouled posting up.

Jones led all scorers at the break with 11 points on 4-4 shooting from the field and 3-3 from the line.

"She can finish on contact, which I love," said fellow freshman Bashaara Graves, who recorded a double-double with 17 points and 15 boards. "She can do so much in the game and bring a lot to the table."

Tennessee took a 47-15 lead into the break and Warlick had used all nine players available – sophomore Jasmine Phillips remains out with a quad injury – with six players reaching double digits in minutes and three players tallying nine each.

Jones hit a jumper and a layup in the second half to post a 6-6 stat line from the field before missing a layup with 2:34 left in the game. She finished with 16 points.

"I tell you, Jasmine Jones does not disappoint me every time I watch her play," Warlick said. "She was 6-for-6 and Dean (Lockwood) made the comment that Jasmine hadn't missed a shot, and about that time, she missed one so I blamed him and said he jinxed her."

Tennessee's 32-point halftime mushroomed in the second half and reached 41 points, 59-18, with 15:19 left in the game on two Simmons' free throws.

Simmons led all scorers with 24 points on 8-16 shooting after starting the game 2-7 from the field.

"In the first half, I didn't shoot as well, and I was a little more patient with my shots in the second half," Simmons said. "My teammates were able to continue to hook me up. I feel like there are still some things we need to work on, but today was a good start. It's just the beginning."

The lead reached 50 points, 77-27, on a free throw by Graves with 8:59 left in the game. After a slow start – Graves was 1-3 in the first half – she settled down and shot 3-6 in the second half.

"I thought at the beginning of the game she was pressing and a little nervous," Warlick said. "But Bashaara plays hard, and you have to have some kind of effort if you have 15 rebounds."

The lead reached 60 points, 98-38, on layup by Harrison after she got a steal and went to the rim with 4:05 left. The crowd cheered a layup by Jones that boosted Tennessee's scoring output to 100 with 3:10 to play.

Nia Moore scored the last basket of the game after Carter found her for a baseline jumper with 1:21 left and then Tennessee dribbled out the clock on its last possession to end the game at 104-44.

Carson-Newman shot 20.0 percent (11-55) overall, 31.6 percent (6-19) from long range and 61.5 percent (16-26) from the line.

The Lady Eagles were led by Chante Markus, who connected on 3-4 from the arc, with 12 points. Lashawnda Peacher, who is from Springfield, Tenn., scored 10 points and declared herself to be a Tennessee fan after the game who relished the chance to play at the arena.

"Pat Summitt was one of the main reasons why I even played basketball because she started recruiting two of my favorite players in Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker," Peacher said. "As I watched them, I started to love watching them play, and then I started playing myself.

"When I was in high school, my coach offered us to come over and watch a Vanderbilt and Tennessee game, and everybody was in there for Vanderbilt, and I was screaming for Tennessee. They said, ‘What are you doing?' I said, ‘I'm a Tennessean by heart.' They were like, ‘Well, Vanderbilt's in Tennessee.' I'm like, ‘No, Tennessee is Lady Vols' base.' It was amazing. It was the best feeling ever."

Carson-Newman coach Mike Mincey knows his team is going to lose the exhibition games against Division I teams, so he sets realistic goals and looks for how his team responds to adversity.

"I'm happy with our performance; I'm happy with our effort," Mincey said. "It's kind of hard to believe when you're talking about a 104-44 defeat, but as long as we can kind of hold them within that 100-point range and we can get somewhere near 50, those are always our team goals when we come down here to play one of the best basketball programs in the country."

Tennessee shot 55.2 percent (37-67) overall, 40.0 percent (4-10) from long range and 66.7 percent (26-39) from the line.

Five players reached double figures led by Simmons with 24 points, followed by Harrison with 19, Graves, 17, Jones, 16, and Spani, 11.

Tennessee tallied 21 assists with Burdick dishing a game-high six helpers. Simmons and Carter had five assists each. The Lady Vols had 16 steals with Carter, Harrison and Kamiko Williams grabbing three each.

The Lady Vols dominated on the boards, 55-32, led by Graves' 15 rebounds. Burdick and Harrison had seven each while Simmons grabbed four boards.

Carson-Newman had 25 turnovers, which Tennessee converted into 35 points. The Lady Vols had 15 turnovers – guards Simmons, Carter and Williams had just one each – and the Lady Eagles got 13 points off of miscues.

Tennessee scored 54 of its 104 points in the paint and got 41 points from its bench.

All nine Lady Vols logged double digits in minutes, which was by design. The staff intended to get extended looks at multiple players and was able to do so.

"Three things that I was happy with is that we won the basketball game, number one," Warlick said. "Two, everybody got a lot of playing time and I was pleased with that. I thought for the most part we played hard."

INSIDE TENNESSEE'S TAKE

Game film.

That is what Tennessee's coaches get from exhibition games, especially in one such as Thursday when the opponent, Carson-Newman, is a Division II school and woefully overmatched.

Carson-Newman is grateful for the payday – the Lady Eagles have said in the past that the money received from Tennessee for playing the game is a boost to their athletic department coffers – and the Lady Vols are happy to have a teaching tool.

"Well, as always, our annual trip down to Knoxville to play the Lady Vols was another exciting event for our players and for our program," Carson-Newman Coach Mike Mincey said. "The exposure we get is great, and I'm glad Coach Warlick has allowed us to continue to come down and play. We hope to continue to do this for years to come."

Holly Warlick was looking forward to the exhibition game so that she could finally get a look at her team in a game. While they have held squad scrimmages, coaches can learn a lot more when the proverbial lights come on and fans are in the seats.

Speaking of fans, the announced attendance was 10,647. That would be tickets sold – and some fans were in the 300 level – with actual attendance at roughly 7,000. It should be noted that was about average for an exhibition game with Pat Summitt on the sideline.

She was behind the bench in the front row and perhaps Carson-Newman's Lashawnda Peacher said it best: "Weird. Weird."

It was definitely an adjustment. Warlick said she needed a second to regain her composure when she saw Summitt in the stands. Mincey also was aware of the icon behind the team bench.

"Actually what I thought was last year we were the first game for Coach Pat Summitt's last year, and now we're the first game of the Holly Warlick era," Mincey said. "I was really kind of worried because I knew they were going to come out, and they'd want a piece of us, and everybody was going to be cheering for them.

"How are they going to play for Coach Warlick? How hard are they going to play? I think they played hard. I think they played well. When you've got a 6-2 and a 6-3 kid who can shoot it from 15 feet and farther, they're going to be dangerous."

From Warlick's vantage point, the Lady Vols could have played harder.

"Pleased with what we did, but what we didn't do was play hard all the time, way too many fouls, entirely too many fouls and we gave up 12 offensive rebounds; they had 32 rebounds," Warlick said. "We can get better on the boards, we can get better defending and obviously we can play out of our mistakes and play hard all the time."

Warlick would be correct, especially her post-game observations about the defense.

Taber Spani had three fouls in the first half. Meighan Simmons, Andraya Carter and Jasmine Jones had two each before the break.

"We were playing with our hands and not our feet," Warlick said. "We were touching people, and officials, especially at the beginning of the year, are watching that. We've got to get better at playing with our feet.

"Entirely too many fouls. I was trying to figure out who to play. We were getting close to not have people play and close to having people fouling out."

Jones started the game 4-4 and Warlick inserted her in the second half at the 17:15 mark. She came out nine seconds later after picking up her third foul.

Carter started both halves and committed her third foul with 17 minutes left to play and also had to take a seat on the bench. Both would pick up fourth fouls later in the game, though both played the final six minutes without committing an infraction.

As a team, the Lady Vols committed 23 fouls with the Lady Eagles attempting 26 free throws. Tennessee went to the line 39 times, and Carson-Newman also was whistled for 23 fouls.

Warlick also won't like the three-point defense in the second half. Carson-Newman was 1-9 from the arc in the first half and 5-10 from long range after the break.

The coaches also will decry the missed layups when they watch the game tape. It didn't matter against Carson-Newman because of the Lady Vols' reach and athleticism. But against a stout opponent with size to match, those shots are one-and-done, not an offensive board and stick-back.

"Well, yeah, I would love to shoot 100 percent," Warlick said with a laugh when asked about the need to finish. "I thought they were bringing the ball down, but there are some little things that we have to correct. At least we are in the position to put ourselves in a position to score. We just have to finish."

Warlick will also have to get Carter to look to score. She is an unselfish player who acquitted herself well in her first start.

Carter logged 23 minutes with five assists, three steals, two boards and just one turnover. She got the team in its offenses and played sticky one-on-one defense with a keen eye for anticipating passes.

"I think she is trying to get everyone in the right position right now and trying to be what she thinks the best leader at the point guard can be," Warlick said.

She also attempted just one shot – her three ball looked good leaving her hand but didn't fall – and the turnover came when, instead of driving to the basket on a fast break, Carter attempted to kick the ball to a teammate.

Warlick smiled when she was asked if Carter knew it was OK to shoot the ball. She was the only Lady Vol not to record a point.

"I think Andraya understands that she can shoot it and we will address that," Warlick said. "But I was just pleased with her leadership and the way she directed the team and she will be an outstanding player for us."

Warlick has reason to be excited about her four freshmen. Nia Moore had a nice open court steal and layup in the first half and is able to run the floor. She tallied five boards with three on the offensive end. Bashaara Graves arrived with a reputation for being a beast on the boards, and she showed why with 15 rebounds. And Jasmine Jones may be quiet off the court but she is anything but on it. She plays with energy and displayed some nifty offensive moves in the paint.

"Both those two are athletic and both of them can play multiple positions, and that's what I love about them," Warlick said, referring to Jones and Graves. "I thought their effort was there and they can get so much better.

"Andraya started the game and didn't have any points but I thought she did good things for us. Nia Moore showed good signs on defense and offensively did some good things as well. That's what I wanted, for the freshmen to get playing time, and that's what they did."

The Lady Vols are a work in progress and likely will be all season. They are very young – Ariel Massengale, Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison are sophomores but are considered veterans on this team – and lack experience at key positions, especially in the paint.

But they showed the ability to run and brought some full court pressure defense – the fans reacted enthusiastically to that – and Warlick has noted how willing they are to be coached.

"As long as they play hard and give the effort, which I think this group does for the most part, I'm going to be pleased," Warlick said.

GAME HIGHLIGHTS FROM UTSPORTS.COM

INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE

Lady Vols pre-game

Holly Warlick

Bashaara Graves, Taber Spani, Meighan Simmons

Carson-Newman Coach Mike Mincey, Courdne Miles, Chante Markus, Lashawnda Peacher


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