Tennessee takes Junkanoo title

The Lady Vols will leave the Bahamas with a perfect record on the season after taking the Junkanoo Jam crown with wins over Virginia and SMU. Go inside with InsideTennessee for analysis.

Tennessee (7-0) pounded SMU (7-1) and claimed the Junkanoo Jam championship with the 87-47 win Friday evening over the Mustangs. It was the first holiday tournament crown for the Lady Vols since the Paradise Jam in 2005, and they captured it without any suspense after Thursday's close call against Virginia.

Meighan Simmons was the tournament MVP, and was joined on the all-tourney team by Ariel Massengale.

"I am so proud of all of our kids," coach Holly Warlick said on the post-game radio show with Mickey Dearstone.

Massengale led Tennessee with 16 points and also added five assists. She tallied 18 helpers over the two games in Freeport.

"I've got to give all my credit to my teammates because they're the ones who have to make the shots," Massengale said.

Plenty of Lady Vols were making them, too – Tennessee shot 55.9 percent in the second half and 46.6 percent overall.

After a series of slow starts this season, Warlick tweaked the starting lineup by inserting Andraya Carter. The reasoning was defense, as SMU's Keena Mays was capable of scorching the nets. Mays entered Friday's game averaging 19.3 points per game. Carter contained Mays – she was 3-14 for the game – and Tennessee opened up an early 15-5 lead.

Foul trouble and a few turnovers – the box score showed three miscues for Tennessee in the first half – trimmed the halftime lead to 39-27, but the Lady Vols were in control of the game from the opening tip.

Isabelle Harrison has won all seven tips this season, and the Lady Vols need her on the court. She showed why in the second half when she scored six of Tennessee's first eight points before a third foul planted Harrison on the bench. She missed most of the first half with two fouls. Harrison returned later, and her fourth and fifth whistles came quickly. She had 10 points in seven minutes.

Dearstone, who calls an evenhanded game, indicated on the radio broadcast that Harrison didn't deserve all the whistles. A film study would be in order to determine which were legit, and how Harrison can adjust to those, because she is a very efficient post player.

Tennessee dominated the boards, 54-31, with Bashaara Graves leading the way with 10 rebounds. She also added 10 points. Mercedes Russell tallied nine points and seven boards, and Jasmine Jones broke out in the second half and finished with 13 points and four rebounds. Cierra Burdick also snared seven rebounds, and Nia Moore grabbed six.

Warlick used her roster of 10 players and all logged double-digit minutes – except for Harrison, because of the fouls – and entered the scoring column.

Dearstone selected Massengale as his player of the game, but she endorsed Carter for the award.

"She played one of her best defensive games, and I am very proud of her," Massengale said.

Warlick praised her team after the win and was clearly impressed with her junior point guard

"Ariel Massengale, wow," Warlick said.

Massengale is healthy and well-conditioned this season – the two go together – and it shows on the court.

"This is probably the best shape I've been in in my career," Massengale said. "I think it's finally all clicking together."

The coaching staff will find a lot to like on film and in the box score – SMU shot 26.3 percent for the game, was 0-9 from long range and had just nine offensive boards, while the Lady Vols turned loose of the ball just 11 times. However, it was the nature of the turnovers that will need to be addressed once the team returns home.

A loss of possession is galling for coaches, but when it comes because of poor passes inside – negating an excellent chance to score – it is particularly annoying. The guards have the right idea – get the ball inside to the posts, but the execution needs to be improved.

Pat Summitt used to run a drill in which the guards and posts switched places in practice. The guards had to establish position in the paint to see firsthand how hard the posts worked inside to get open, and the posts got to see what the guards faced trying to get the ball to the paint.

It might be time to break out that drill again, because post play is an area of strength for Tennessee, especially when 6-6 Mercedes Russell enters the game – and getting the ball to the bigs is a priority. It just needs to arrive safely.

"If there's a weakness in our game, that's it," Warlick said.

The Lady Vols have a week off between games with Texas coming to town on Dec. 8, for a 1 p.m. tipoff and Fox Sports broadcast. They can work on pinpoint passing – and not fouling – in practice next week. In the meantime, they get a day of island fun Saturday before returning to Knoxville on Sunday.

The players got only an hour of beach time Wednesday before turning their attention to basketball. Now, they will snorkel and go into the Atlantic Ocean on a catamaran.

"They deserve it," Warlick said.

Holly Warlick video via utsportstv

Meighan Simmons video via utsportstv

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