InsideTennessee's Take on Lady Vols

Tennessee ended the exhibition portion of its schedule Sunday with a 118-44 romp over Coker in a game that often resembled a track meet. Go inside for InsideTennessee's Take on the contest.

The Lady Vols got what they needed out of the two exhibitions this week – plenty of game film and minutes spread throughout the nine available players.

Those nine players, especially the freshmen, should sleep well tonight. Tennessee had its running game on display and, led by freshman point guard Andraya Carter, with help from senior Kamiko Williams, pushed tempo from start to finish.

The only really break in the action came in the final 19 seconds when junior guard Meighan Simmons dribbled out the clock.

"I think there was only one other time that I have played a game that fast," sophomore Cierra Burdick said. "It was with USA basketball my 17-and-under year against Japan. All we did was run. It got to the point that I was so tired that I looked over and said to Rel (Ariel Massengale) can we please slow down, let me get to half court before we shoot another layup because it was that fast.

"This game was extremely high tempo but that is what Holly wants. She wants us to run. Everything needs to be in transition and I think we did a good job of that today."

Running against Coker is one thing. The competition switches to Division I next week, and Burdick knows from her experience a year ago, that the next level is just that – another level. It is a message the returning players must send to the newcomers.

"I think as veterans and returners, we try to stress to them that some of the shots we're getting right now we're not going to get when the season starts," Burdick said. "We talked about that in halftime how we really need to slow the ball and when we're not transitioning the basketball, just really get into our offensive principles. Really swing the ball and get good shots.

"That's the biggest thing that we try to stress on offense because we're not going to get these easy layups we're getting against Carson-Newman and Coker."

Head coach Holly Warlick wanted to see better defense against Coker – specifically not so much fouling – and she got it, especially from Carter, who may be one of the best freshman defenders in program history.

Carter had four fouls against Carson-Newman but just one against Coker and made a highlight play in the second half when she harassed the ball handler, poked the ball loose, dove on the floor for it, secured the ball and passed ahead to Burdick for a layup and a 73-33 lead. The official scorer charted the play as Carter steal, Burdick layup, Carter assist.

Carter is relentless on defense and is capable of picking up the ball deep in the backcourt. Her reaching fouls Thursday were a concern for the coaches. She had a few slipups Sunday but managed to pull her hands back and not commit a foul but once. She watched film between games with coaches Kyra Elzy and Jolette Law, and the study paid off Sunday.

Isabelle Harrison smiled at the post-game press conference when Carter discussed the learning curve of not fouling. Harrison had her share of foul trouble as a freshman – Burdick jokingly reminded Harrison of five fouls in five minutes against Baylor – and she had some advice for the newcomers.

"Calm down and not let the crowd and everybody around you get to you," Harrison said. "Know that you can play your game, slow down and breathe."

Tennessee may have increased its game tempo this season, but Harrison has slowed hers down. And that's a good thing. Harrison played too fast last season and would too often turn loose of the ball. Against Coker, she was 8-10 for 17 points with nine boards.

"I don't feel as rushed as I did last year," Harrison said. "I trust my teammates to score as well. So if I get double-teamed I can kick it back out and see what we are working with."

That is key for Harrison because last season she would have felt like she had to do something with the ball herself. In Sunday's game getting the ball to the guards was a good thing. They accounted for 20 of the 28 assists. Add three from Burdick, who played outside, too, and that's 23 assists from perimeter players.

The posts are the beneficiaries with Harrison's 17 points and a game-high 22 points from Bashaara Graves. Jasmine Jones added eight points and Nia Moore, who Dean Lockwood said needed to be more patient and finish, was 4-5 from the field for eight points and added five boards, a block and a steal.

"I love her effort and when she gets excited I am even more hype for her," Harrison said. "She is just that type of person; I can feed off her energy. Just seeing her improving every day, that is what I love. … I can see her getting better every day. That is what I enjoy."

The coaches will watch the tape and see some of the improvement they sought, specifically fewer fouls and better ball security.

The Lady Vols had just five turnovers in the first half with 14 for the game. Given the breakneck pace, that is an impressive stat.

They committed just nine fouls with Coker content to fire away from behind the arc, and the Cobras went to the line just four times.

Tennessee tallied 28 assists – Taber Spani and Meighan Simmons combined for 13 – and 23 steals with Carter leading the way with five thefts.

Those assist numbers are impressive considering that incumbent starting point guard Ariel Massengale remained out to rest a sore left Achilles tendon. Warlick expects her to be cleared to play for the regular season opener. Sophomore Jasmine Phillips, who is a solid defender, remains out with a left quad injury.

"I think Ariel will be there for the opener," Warlick said. "She could have gone today. I just want to make sure that we aren't doing anything that could make it worse, down the line we are going to need her.

"Phillips, I am not quite sure. I know she has a pretty bad pull. We will turn to the doctors and Jenny (Moshak) to make that decision. On both of them. I didn't want to push it, especially with Ariel. It was a great opportunity for our kids to get playing time and for her to have some rest."

Warlick will also take a long look at the three-ball defense. Coker hit 8-15 in the first half, prompting an irate Warlick to call timeout right before halftime.

Coker was 3-18 from long range in the second half, but Warlick was still a tad steamed.

"You can't give up 11 threes," Warlick said. "We've got to change that, and that's been our MO for a while. We'll just go back and look at it. We knew going in that they shot the 3 ball. That's one side of the game that we've got to get ahold of real quick."

It would be hard to argue with Tennessee's point production – the Lady Vols got 84 points in the paint to just four for Coker – but the three-ball shooting wasn't effective in the two exhibition games. The Lady Vols were 7-24 from the arc in the two contests – 3-14 on Sunday – and are shooting 29.2 percent from long range. On the bright side, they are shooting 58.2 percent overall led by Harrison and Williams, both at 72.7 percent.

"When you get the ball inside and you get three points the old fashioned way with and one's I am OK," Warlick said. "I am good with that. I am not so much concerned with that (three-ball shooting) as I am what we are doing on defense and how we are dictating plays. That has been our focus this preseason.

"We haven't been getting up a lot of shots because we have been focusing on the defensive end. Now, we will taper off a little bit and get more shots. Not really as much concerned about it. Ask me in the next couple days. If we continue to do that I may get a little nervous about it."

Warlick joked with the media when she walked in to the post-game press conference and it was noted that she wasn't pouring sweat like she did after games last season. She smiled and said wait until the team takes the floor in Chattanooga.

The meaning was clear. These games don't count. The exhibitions allow the freshmen to get game experience and for the coaches to try assorted combinations without any real regard for the scoreboard.

But that all changes next week when Tennessee takes to the road to take on Chattanooga and Georgia Tech.

Tennessee wants to be an up-tempo team. Opponents will try to stop it and those foes will provide much stiffer resistance than Division II schools in exhibition games.

"That's our goal," Warlick said. "We want to try to score in transition. Now, we've got to continue to get in shape and stay in shape. I don't think we're quite there yet, but we're getting there.

"But I think this group loves to play up tempo. I want to try to take advantage of that."


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