"It's Tennessee basketball, and that's what we told them," Lipscomb coach Greg Brown said. "The word I used was ‘relentless.' "
Brown would know. He was a graduate assistant and then assistant coach for Pat Summitt from 2002-04. Summitt was courtside for the game and the three officials, Denise Brooks, Charlie Hust and Kim Thebo, all greeted the Tennessee head coach emeritus before stepping on the court.
Lipscomb was a late addition to this year's schedule – Tennessee has now beaten its instate foes with wins over Middle Tennessee, Chattanooga and Tennessee State with SEC rival Vandy still to come – and the Lady Bisons will get the chance next season to pack Allen Arena in Nashville with a visit from the Lady Vols.
"Scheduling is a nightmare and it's always fluid," said Brown, a 1993 graduate of Lipscomb. "They had a schedule change. It's a great opportunity for us and I knew it's going to be a great opportunity for our program, A, to learn and, B, for them to return to Nashville next year. It's good for all of us."
It was especially good for Tennessee on Sunday and coach Holly Warlick arrived at the post-game press conference smiling.
"Do I usually come in here and smile?" Warlick asked rhetorically. "I thought we had a complete game. We shot the ball well, but we took shots that were great shots for us.
"Our defense was solid. I thought we had great performances by several individuals. Everybody got some great playing time. I am very pleased with the outcome."
In the first 11 press conferences of the season, Warlick had often found plenty to like about her team's play, but also several aspects of it that were aggravating from turnovers to slow starts to shot selection.
She had a stat sheet full of reasons to smile – just 12 turnovers; 31 assists on 44 baskets with eight from freshman Jordan Reynolds and seven from junior Cierra Burdick; 61 rebounds to 31 for Lipscomb; 42 points for the Lady Bisons on 22.4 percent shooting; 57.9 percent shooting for Tennessee; 66 points in the paint to 16 for Lipscomb; 10 blocks with Mercedes Russell swatting five; and 48 points from the bench.
Russell and Burdick accounted for 25 of those bench points, and both were at the post-game press conference, along with Harrison for an all-post edition after a dominant game in the paint.
"I think that was the biggest key in this game," Burdick said. "We knew they couldn't match up with our size so we just tried to work it inside and we just went with the game plan and we won big.
"I think our posts did a great job of just catching and scoring the basketball, our guards did a good job of feeding them. It was a group effort."
The posts need to have their hands ready if the ball is in Burdick's hands. She tallied seven helpers to just one turnover while scoring 13 points. Most of her feeds were perfect placements inside.
"Oh, definitely!" Russell said. "She is a great passer. So, she is always looking for us."
Ariel Massengale tallied six assists in just 20 minutes – the most minutes logged were 27 by Reynolds as Warlick spread playing time among all 10 Lady Vols – and now has 74 on the season. Burdick, at times, looked like she might be trying out at the point.
"I am just going to play whatever they need me to play," Burdick said. "I love feeding the ball, honestly, I do. I love it better than scoring. So I am always looking for my post, and they do a great job of catching and finishing."
That was certainly the case Sunday. Isabelle Harrison was 11-13 from the field for 26 points, the most since she tallied 18 against Texas earlier in December. Bashaara Graves was 4-6 for 11 points. Nia Moore was 5-9, also for 11 points, and Russell was 5-8 for 12 points. Graves and Russell also snatched seven rebounds with Moore grabbing five. Jasmine Jones connected on three shots to match her three assists.
Guard Meighan Simmons was also efficient at 4-5 from the field – and in a very good sign for Tennessee, 3-4 from long range – while Burdick was the sixth Lady Vol in double figures with 13 points and also made it a double with 10 boards. Tennessee shot 40.0 percent from long range with Massengale, Reynolds and Andraya Carter also connecting from the arc.
Harrison was particularly efficient as her scoring came in 18 minutes. She joined Burdick as a double-double contributor with 15 boards and outscored Lipscomb in the second half as the Lady Bisons had 13 points, while Harrison had 16.
"No, they didn't tell me, they just said to keep working hard and don't let up and we will come out with the score we want," Harrison said.
"We wanted to bounce back from Stanford and show the coaches that we can play team ball, we can play defense. I think we went out there and as a team, we played really well. We took this team serious, and we are going to do that to every team we play from now on."
The Lady Vols had a double-digit lead at 14-4 within the game's first three minutes. It had doubled to a 20-point lead, 26-6, within eight minutes. They shot 63.9 percent in the first half and led 62-29 at the break.
The ball movement was crisp – as evidenced by those 31 assists on 44 baskets – and the players took shots within the offense, whether in transition or in the half-court.
Lipscomb did get loose for six threes – and a few were launched well behind the arc – but the Lady Bisons' defensive game plan was to try to make the posts guard them on the perimeter.
"That's exactly what we talked about," Brown said. "The kind of David-and-Goliath thing. Not in a big and little way, but we were trying to play a different game than them.
"The deal was to get the bigs to contain Danay (Fothergill) and Ashley (Southern) on the perimeter. Put our smalls inside a little bit."
Fothergill tallied 13 points before fouling out with 13:01 left to play. Southern added eight points, while Sara Bliss chipped in with nine.
On one play in the first half, Harrison extended nearly to the arc to pick up Bliss, a 5-8 guard, stayed with her on the drive to the rim and then swatted away the shot. On a play in the second half, Fothergill drove on Massengale, but she turned her into Russell, who sent the shot away.
"It was good after the first step, but once I got in there, they were big," Fothergill said.
Fothergill was all smiles in the post-game press conference and said she enjoyed the experience of playing in Knoxville.
"It's Tennessee basketball," Fothergill said. "Of course, it's exciting to play all those big schools to get experience."
The Lady Vols had the most energetic warm-up at home of the season. There was a lot of chatter and little wasted motion as players had a purpose to every shot and drill.
"They had five days off, of rest from basketball," Warlick said. "Maybe they were a little bit more energized. It was a great crowd, great crowd.
"If you saw anything let me know. We tend to play on how well we warm up and how into it we are. So that is a great observation."
There was an extra player at warm-ups in Jannah Tucker and while the plan is a likely redshirt, the newcomer went through drills with a big smile on her face. Tucker will enroll for spring semester after not arriving last summer because of personal matters.
"It is super nice having her here," said Russell, who, along with Reynolds and Tucker, was Warlick's first signing class.
"I was really excited to know that she was coming," Russell said. "Especially when she first committed, I was happy because I played with her a few years ago with the U16 team. I know she is a great player, but an even better person."
Warlick did end up with one concern after the game – free throw shooting. The Lady Vols shot 59.3 percent (16-27) from the line.
"The only thing that I said at halftime was about our free throws," she said. "We are going to shoot a ton (Monday) and the next day."
The Lady Vols wanted to conclude 2013 with a statement about how they could play.
"We realize we are going into SEC play, and it is time to start playing Lady Vol basketball," Burdick said. "We wanted to bounce back from Stanford. We felt like that was a game we could have won. We just had too many errors.
"I think the fact we could rest our bodies a little bit, we came back energized, a lot of positive energy, and we came out to play."
Game highlights via utsportstv
Coach Holly Warlick
Mercedes Russell, Cierra Burdick, Isabelle Harrison
Lipscomb coach Greg Brown, Danay Fothergill