Lady Vols seize win over Ole Miss

The Lady Vols welcomed their five millionth fan and put a win the SEC column, but the head coach, while she was pleased with the outcome, saw plenty to improve. Go inside for game analysis and video coverage.

Tennessee (13-2, 2-1) won its second straight conference game with a 94-70 takedown of Ole Miss (9-7, 0-2), but it was a rather uneven performance – though Ariel Massengale remains on a tear – and left Holly Warlick to issue what could be a warning to her team – that effort level won't get it done in the SEC.

"We get beat at home, and then we go down to Georgia and play very well," Warlick said. "Then we're satisfied because we've proved our point that we're a pretty good basketball team.

"Don't get me wrong – I'm happy we won – but I'm a realist and it's not going to get done the way we're playing right now. We're getting by. The conference is too tough. We go to Vanderbilt and if you think you're just going to get by down there, you're crazy."

Ole Miss coach Matt Insell sounded a somewhat different tone, as he assessed Tennessee's chances of arriving at the Final Four, but his remarks were qualified.

"I really feel like, and I may be wrong, I've been wrong before, but as long as Ariel's playing at a high level, Tennessee's got a chance to push on through and maybe even get to Nashville."

He is correct about Massengale, and her stat line Thursday evening provided the evidence: 23 points, seven boards, three assists, no turnovers and 5-8 from long range.

"Honestly, I haven't seen the stat line, but just going out there, playing hard, getting after it, doing what the coaches want you to do, and just having fun," Massengale said. "Whatever it takes for this team to win, I'm willing to do that."

Massengale logged a team-high 29 minutes with the rest scattered among eight other players. The bright side would be that Warlick was able to spread out minutes. However, in this case, she was seeking five players to execute on both ends, and that combination came sporadically Thursday.

Warlick's opening remarks were short – she emphasized the win was great – but it was clear that she was disappointed overall. Her last answer to a question about the team being out of rhythm so much unleashed her frustration. (See the video for her full response.)

Essentially, Warlick outlined a team that has too much slippage from practice to games. Players who keep male practice players in front of them at practice on defense and compete to be on the side that gets a water break instead of sprints, get passive in games, mix basic box-outs, don't get low in a stance and misfire on wide-open layups.

The result is a revolving door at the scorer's table that means the team doesn't get in a rhythm – something Warlick realizes, but she wants to hold players accountable.

Less than 45 seconds into the second half, Warlick pulled four players from the floor and inserted four substitutes, including Bashaara Graves, a usual starter who is nursing a sore back and leg injury. Such was her displeasure with how the second half started.

"This is a team right now that is very talented but we're underachieving," Warlick said. "I've gotten mad at them, I've raised my voice, I've threatened them, I've been nice.

"When our backs are against the wall, we generally play pretty hard."

That is correct – and also all the more maddening for the coaching staff. Tennessee showed what it was capable of doing against LSU with a comeback in less than three minutes that trimmed a 16-point lead to one point last week. When Ole Miss threatened in the first half, the Lady Vols increased the tempo and took a close game to a 45-29 lead by halftime.

Game slippage is a coaching term, and it a legitimate one. It refers to the dropoff that occurs from practice, when coaches are on the court and in control, to games, when the players have to take over.

Some of the slippage is understandable. Tennessee is relying on freshmen – Mercedes Russell started her second SEC game and Andraya Carter and Jordan Reynolds are logging key minutes in both halves. That trio now has played in three career SEC games.

Massengale often finds herself with an assortment of combinations on the floor – and the dropoff in rhythm is noticeable when she leaves the court – and has to adjust on the fly.

The good news is players, especially the freshmen, will be experienced when it's crunch time. Isabelle Harrison is developing into a go-to player for Tennessee and a very efficient one. She had 16 points and 10 boards in 24 minutes of play. Her seventh consecutive double-double broke the Tennessee program record held by All-American Daedra Charles, who had six double-doubles in a row from Feb. 21, 1991, to March 16, 1991.

Carter started the season as a somewhat reluctant shooter. She was 6-12 against Ole Miss for 14 points and also grabbed six boards, with five on offense.

"I'm definitely just trying to play with more confidence," Carter said. "I have been known to be a defensive stopper, but in the SEC, you have to be a threat on offense as well.

"I had a good talk with Ariel and our coaches and they have confidence in me, so if I have a good shot, if my teammates give me a good pass or something like that, I just try and shoot it and try and have confidence."

Carter has a knack – not to mention leaping ability – for getting on the glass and keeping possessions alive for Tennessee. That can be a difference-maker in postseason.

The 11 turnovers also was a positive for the Lady Vols, as was the 48.6 percent shooting overall and 47.4 percent (9-19) from long range and 90 total points. Tennessee had four players in double figures – Massengale, Harrison, Carter and Meighan Simmons with 12 points.

Jasmine Jones had five points, five boards, two assists and a smack-down block. She is adjusting to a hybrid position of small and power forward and showed improvement, especially with her passing. She should have had four assists – she made two pinpoint entry passes – but the recipients didn't finish.

Tennessee also dominated the glass, 56-40, and the paint points, 50-32. The Lady Vols had 10 blocks with some highlight ones by Russell and Harrison. There were several occasions when Harrison and Russell packed the paint together and were waiting when the Rebel guards arrived.

"We're both good at that end," Harrison said. "It happened that the two of us happened to be in there to guard the rim. It helps us, so we go for it."

But Tennessee slipped at the line after an outstanding showing at Georgia and was 15-24 for 62.5 percent. Ole Miss connected on nine three-pointers with three players off the bench going 8-12, prompting Insell to point out they would likely see more game action this Sunday.

Ole Miss also tallied 70 total points after scoring just 29 in the first half, though no Rebel reached double figures. Tennessee's defense usually gets stiffer after the break, but Ole Miss – thanks to torrid trey shooting off the bench – put up 41 in the second half, including a three at the buzzer.

Ole Miss is an athletic team, which explains why the Rebels lost to Baylor by just seven points in Waco three weeks ago.

"Baylor's a little bit better of a matchup for us," Insell said. "Tennessee is, good gracious, you all are so big. We're in there battling. We were a little bit short. Whereas Baylor … it's all about matchups."

The SEC is also a rugged league. LSU, which beat Tennessee on its home court last week, lost to Texas A&M on Thursday in Baton Rouge. South Carolina, Florida and A&M are the only three teams without a conference loss. It looks to be a wide-open race for the top of the league.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Massengale said. "When you start the season, you want games like this. You want every game to know it will be a battle. You have to go out there and play your hardest because you don't know who is going to win and who is capable of winning.

"It's going to be the best team who brings their best game that night. That's why we say the SEC is one of the best conferences in women's basketball because on any given night, any team can be beat."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Game highlights from utsportstv

Holly Warlick

Isabelle Harrison, Andraya Carter, Ariel Massengale

Ole Miss coach Matt Insell, Valencia McFarland, Tia Faleru


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