Lady Vols scoot past Oakland

The Lady Vols remain undefeated before heading to the islands for basketball and Thanksgiving, but they first had to put away a stubborn Oakland team. Go inside with InsideTennessee for analysis and video coverage.

Tennessee (5-0) overcame a sluggish first half and dispatched Oakland (0-5) with offensive contributions from all 10 players and a final score of 84-50.

"We're 10 deep and 10 strong," Lady Vol point guard Ariel Massengale said. "It doesn't matter which lineup the coaches put on the floor. The energy level, compassion and heart should never waver at all.

"Whoever they put out there to play – you have to go out there and produce."

Massengale was answering a question about the change in the lineup to start the second half. After some thunderous halftime speeches, Holly Warlick reached into her toolbox and used the most effective attention getter a coach has – the bench.

Massengale and Bashaara Graves were return second-half starters from the opening tip and were joined by three freshmen – Andraya Carter, Mercedes Russell and Jordan Reynolds.

Massengale said the change was defense-driven – and a recognition that the fans deserve to see better effort.

"Defense. They put in what they thought was our best defensive lineup," Massengale said. "They knew that starting in the second half we had to get after it and score points on that end of the floor."

Warlick's halftime speech specifically addressed the fans, some 10,313 that came out on a brutally cold Sunday afternoon in Knoxville.

"I think what everybody got out of it was – she said we let our fans down," Massengale said. "We have 10-11,000 people here watching us play and in those first 20 minutes we let them down and we needed to get out there on the court, so we knew that in the second half we had to pick it up and give the fans what they came to see."

True freshmen Jordan and Russell accounted for the first four points of the second half with a layup by Russell and two free throws from Reynolds after a Carter steal. Graves got an offensive board, was fouled and hit a pair from the stripe.

The Lady Vols set up full court pressure, and Carter jumped to tip a pass, Massengale snared the ball and fired to Graves, who scored at the rim.

A slim 34-27 halftime lead expanded to 42-27 in just 45 seconds.

"It was great," Massengale said. "Coach Warlick, she was just in the locker room and 45 seconds to start the second half, we scored (eight) points and all (eight) points came off of our defense.

"She said if we can do that for 40 minutes, how good of a team can you be? We have to take pride in that, in understanding defense is what wins ballgames and championships. That's what this whole program is based off of. We have to get back to doing that for 40 minutes."

It wasn't so great on Oakland's end, which, counting the 6-0 close to the first half for Tennessee, endured a 21-0 run, as the Lady Vols pushed the lead to 49-27 less than five minutes into the game before Kim Bee got the Golden Grizzlies back on the scoreboard with a jumper.

It wasn't a lost weekend, though, for Oakland. The team visited the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and toured Pat Summitt Plaza. When a video was shown on the overhead scoreboard of the statue dedication, the crowd rose to give Summitt a standing ovation, which she acknowledged from her courtside seat, a gesture that make the fans roar even louder.

Oakland, which is located in Rochester, Mich., filled an open spot on the Lady Vols home schedule. Coach Jeff Tungate is a close friend of Dean Lockwood, an assistant coach for Tennessee who coached extensively in the state of Michigan before joining the Lady Vols.

The Oakland schedule was set when Tungate took the job last July, but he made room for a trip to Knoxville.

"What an incredible experience for our young ladies to be at the University of Tennessee when Pat was so deservingly honored for all her contributions to the game and to the university," Tungate said.

"That's something these players are going to remember for a lifetime. How the game came about, I don't know but I'm glad it did because it's something they're going to remember the rest of their lives."

Elena Popkey, a 5-6 sophomore guard from Warren, Mich., nodded as her coach spoke. She tallied nine points, four boards and six assists.

Victoria Lipscomb, a 5-7 redshirt senior from East Lansing, Mich., led Oakland with 13 points and four steals. She was also 3-4 from long range.

With 2:29 until halftime, the Golden Grizzlies were within a point of the Lady Vols, 28-27, after a trey by Olivia Nash.

"We were just playing basketball," Lipscomb said. "We were having fun. That's one thing we were talking about. This was just having fun.

"We just came down, ran our offense and made plays. We just wanted to keep up with them."

That game plan worked until the Lady Vols decided to crank the defense to start the second half.

"Obviously, it was a tale of two halves," Tungate said. "First half I thought we played extremely well and did some good things. I thought our zone defense was very good.

"We knew at halftime we would see a different team coming out in Tennessee. They had like two offensive rebounds in the first half and went to the line one time."

Oakland led on the boards at the break, 24-20, a statistic that had to be galling for Lockwood.

"We had a goal to have 25 offensive rebounds (for the game), and we didn't reach that goal," Graves said. "In the first half, our rebounding was nonexistent, and in the second half it got a lot better, but that shouldn't happen."

The Lady Vols prevailed on the boards, 44-37, and ended up with 11 offensive rebounds, five of which were grabbed by Graves. The sophomore post had another double-double – the 12th of her career – with 15 points and 11 boards.

Four other players reached double figures – Meighan Simmons with 14 points; Massengale, 13; Isabelle Harrison, 11; and Russell, 10. Cierra Burdick was close with eight points. She also tallied six boards and three assists.

Simmons had 10 of her points by halftime and was 4-8 from the field by the break. The Lady Vols need Simmons to get on track offensively, but Warlick made it a point to point out how the lone senior has put the team first.

"For that, I've been really proud of her," Warlick said. "I think her overall game has gotten better because of that."

It was the first half overall that displeased Warlick, and by inserting the three freshmen in lineup to start the second half, the coach sent a message to the team about high energy on defense.

"I think we have great fans and they come out and it's huge, it's a huge crowd and they deserve to be, in my opinion, entertained, and what I mean by entertainment is you play every possession as hard as you can play," Warlick said.

It was a team-wide somnambulant start, though Massengale had six assists to no turnovers before halftime. Simmons and Harrison were back on the court within four minutes. Burdick returned less than eight minutes into the second half.

Going forward, Warlick, as she has said in the past, could change the starters, if needed, a situation that could be matchup-based.

"It depends on what we do in practice," Warlick said. "I'm not a coach that has to say we have to keep this starting lineup for the rest of the season. For one reason or another, it just happens.

"I want productivity. If somebody has to start and we take them out 30 seconds into the game, then so be it. I just want them to produce and represent our program and this team the way it's supposed to be represented."

Warlick used the entire roster and the longest minutes logged were the 28 by Massengale. All 10 players got in the scoring and rebounding columns. The Lady Vols shot well as a team – 48.5 percent overall, 47.1 percent from the arc and 85.7 percent from the line.

Two things stand out so far this season – the overall athleticism of Carter and Jasmine Jones and the overall play of Massengale.

Jones and Carter combined for eight assists on the offensive end – both feed the post well – and three steals on defense, a statistic that doesn't reflect how much they affect the ball handler.

They also combined for a defensive series in the second half that led directly to offensive points. Jones rejected an offering by a Golden Grizzly, and Carter leaped for the carom and started the break. She got the ball back and drained a three on an assist from Jones.

On the next play, Russell swatted away a shot, and Carter again scooped up the ball and fired ahead to Simmons, who was fouled and made both. (The senior has struggled from the field to open the season with her long-range connection at 19.2 percent and 32.2 percent overall, but she is solid from the stripe at 91.7 percent).

The Lady Vols had 23 assists on 32 made baskets with the helpers spread among seven players. After nine first-half turnovers, Tennessee had just five miscues after the break. Steals went in the right direction, too – three in the first half and eight in the second.

But the storyline of the season so far has been the play of Massengale, a junior who was a heralded national recruit in high school and declared a starter by Summitt before she set foot on campus.

"It's been a long time coming from a personal standpoint," Massengale said. "It's something the coaches have been talking to me about since day one. It took me a couple years for it to click, but I'm glad it's clicking now.

"I think we have all the pieces to get it done and get to where we want to get to. I'm happy that it's here, that it clicked and just excited trying to get better every day to reach our goal."

Massengale is the team's leading scorer at 14.0 points per game and has 28 assists in five games, along with 12 steals, both team highs. She is shooting 40.4 percent overall and 50.0 percent from long range.

"She's making a huge difference," Graves said. "She's our leader. She talks to every single one of us. She's been leading us in every single game."

Next up for the Lady Vols is a trip to the Bahamas for two games – Virginia and either SMU or Kansas State – on Thanksgiving Day and Friday.

The team will practice Monday and then depart Tuesday for the islands.

"We'll go back to practice and work on some stuff," Warlick said. "That's one thing about basketball. You've got to get it, refocus and move on."


Game highlights from utsportstv

Coach Holly Warlick

Bashaara Graves, Ariel Massengale

Oakland coach Jeff Tungate, Victoria Lipscomb, Elena Popkey

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