Lady Vols notch win over Davidson

Tennessee responded to a challenge from coach Holly Warlick with a 75-40 win over Davidson. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis.

Holly Warlick finally cracked a smile - by her players' estimation for the first time in nearly two weeks after Tennessee (8-3) defeated Davidson (4-7) with a stout defensive effort and domination on the boards.

So when had Warlick last smiled?

"Texas," Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison said simultaneously at the post-game press conference.

The two sophomores came off the bench Friday evening as Warlick shook up the starting lineup and inserted three freshmen, a junior and a senior.

"I think Holly was just making a statement," said Burdick, who responded with 10 points, 10 boards and three steals.

The players knew about the changes about 10 minutes before the game.

"The assistants didn't know I was doing that either," Warlick said. "They weren't questioning me but asking if I was sure that's what I wanted to do. But I was absolutely sure."

She wanted to pick a starting five that showed the most consistent effort and production in practice the past two days after the players returned from holiday break off a two-game losing streak and desultory effort against Stanford.

Warlick's message got through to the three sophomores who had been starting - Burdick, Harrison and Ariel Massengale. She also sent the trio in as a group at the 17:10 mark with the Lady Vols down 7-5.

The Lady Vols took the lead, 13-11, at the 13:11 mark on a sweet turn-around by Harrison in the paint and never trailed again. The lead was in double digits, 21-11, after an open court Harrison steal and layup at the 10:53 mark and was doubled by halftime, 41-21, to 20 points.

"The players who came off the bench had something to prove to me," Warlick said.

The players also were motivated to restore Warlick's good mood.

"As soon as I saw a smile on her face I could relax and breathe," Harrison said.

The effort and outcome also had a trickle-down effect on the team.

"It makes us happy as a team, and everybody starts loving each other again," Harrison said with a smile. "She's a head coach; she gets mad at us. She does that to see how we respond, and I think we responded well tonight."

The fact Warlick started three freshmen in regular Bashaara Graves and new-to-the-lineup Nia Moore and Jasmine Jones bodes well for the future.

The fact the three sophomores all played well does, too. Besides Burdick's double-double, Harrison had 13 points and nine points and Massengale applied tight pressure on the ball, which had been missing in the past two games

Junior Meighan Simmons scored just nine points, but she also ratcheted up her defense and retained her starter's spot. Senior Taber Spani was the fifth starter and while she struggled from the field, she was second on the team with three assists.

Fellow senior Kamiko Williams led Tennessee with five assists and had her silky smooth game on display. Williams got to the paint at will against Davidson and tallied eight points. Her ability is never in question. Her consistency from day to day always has been. If Williams can stay engaged, the Lady Vols immediately become a much better team.

"I am not going to settle for us being average," Warlick said.

She was referring to the entire team and its lackluster effort against Stanford stayed with the head coach over the holiday break.

"Her reaction was understandable," Graves said.

Graves remained in the lineup and efficiently added another double-double to her first-year resume with 16 points and 10 boards. She also went 6-6 from the line and had two blocks, two steals, one assist and no turnovers in 25 minutes of play.

"If you come to practice and watch her play, she's our most consistent player," Warlick said. "She lets her work do the talking and I love it."

Graves was a little stunned to hear of the lineup changes and to see herself on the court with two other freshmen.

"It kind of shocked me a little bit," Graves said.

She recovered fast with two offensive boards and stick-backs, a harbinger of what was to come for Tennessee.

The Lady Vols had 21 offensive boards and converted those into 22 second-chance points. Davidson had eight offensive boards and zero second-chance points. The Lady Vols swarmed the glass for a 48-26 advantage.

"The past two practices, they got into us about rebounding," Harrison said. "That's something we didn't do very well against Stanford. Any chance you get, you show them that. Having the presence in the post, you've got to get rebound."

Davidson, the preseason favorite to win the Southern Conference, countered with the 6-4 Sophia Aleksandravicius, who grabbed seven boards, but Tennessee's frontline of Burdick, Harrison and Graves all crashed the glass. They accounted for 29 boards with Jones doing her part by nabbing seven, including four on the offensive end.

"I knew they were going to be all over the boards and try to get second-chance points," Davidson coach Michele Savage said. "It wasn't a surprise to us the way they played tonight."

Davidson wanted to come to Knoxville - there won't be a return trip to the North Carolina college - because the Wildcats won the SoCon title last season and Savage wanted her team battle-tested for postseason.

"I thought last year when we went into postseason play I don't know how much we were ready for that type of crowd and that level of intensity, so our whole idea of putting together our schedule, we were pre-season picked number one in our conference, is that we want to be able to play with a team like Tennessee at the end of the year when we go up to the NCAA Tournament," Savage said.

Aleksandravicius cited the crowd as a benefit of playing at Tennessee. Despite the cold temperatures and threats of sleet, 11,059 fans made it to the arena for a rare Friday evening home game and was in a generally good mood, despite the disappointment of the last trip to the arena before Christmas.

Warlick always has those fans in mind - the ones who supported Pat Summitt for decades and have continued to come to the arena for the next era and a young team.

"I just want us to represent what's across our chests and that is Tennessee and the Lady Vols," Warlick said. "That's the style we're going to play and I think tonight we got it."

Warlick had a lot to like about the box score. Her team shot 45.7 percent overall, collected 15 steals and held Davidson to just 19 second-half points. The Wildcats shot 32.7 percent overall and 14.3 percent from long range.

Tennessee converted 24 Wildcat turnovers into 26 points, while Davidson got just five points off 16 Lady Vol miscues. Warlick would like fewer turnovers - though two players were responsible for half of them as Simmons and Harrison had four each - but they were rarely of the costly variety in the open floor.

Rutgers will bring a different brand of basketball to the arena on Sunday with typical suffocating defense and physical play. It will be the last game of December before Tennessee heads into SEC play next week against South Carolina and Georgia.

The players want the momentum - and Warlick's smile - to remain in place.

"Holly deserves better," Burdick said. " … We need to give her what she deserves, and the way we've been playing lately is not what she deserves. I'm just glad we could come out tonight and give her what she needs and what this team is capable of doing."


Game highlights from utsportstv

Isabelle Harrison, Cierra Burdick, Bashaara Graves

Coach Michele Savage, Sophia Aleksandravicius, Laura Murray

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