Lady Vols seize win over Arkansas

The Lady Vols used torrid shooting throughout the game and stout defense in the second half to end the month of January with an SEC win over stubborn Arkansas. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis and video coverage.

Tennessee (17-4, 6-2) tamed Arkansas (15-6, 2-6) with a 70-60 win on a brutally cold Thursday evening before a crowd of 9,811 that didn't seem to thaw out until the second half.

The same could be said for the Lady Vols' defense, as the Razorbacks, a team far better than its conference record, shot 57.1 percent in the first half.

However, Tennessee shot 64.0 percent before the break and led 38-36 after freshman Jordan Reynolds drained a three on a kick-out pass from redshirt freshman Andraya Carter, who had drawn most of Razorback defense to the paint on a drive, leaving Reynolds all alone behind the arc.

Reynolds didn't have a defender nearby and lofted a rainbow three that found nothing but net, giving the Lady Vols their first lead since the score was 10-7 at the 14:22 mark of the first half.

Reynolds erupted with a fist pump to the chest, and the Lady Vols, clearly energized by the play, headed to the locker room.

Tennessee, which has been effective lately in its zone defense, went to man to man in the second to try to stymie Arkansas. It was a somewhat risky move because the Lady Vols' man defense has been porous, but Arkansas was finding the holes in the zone or launching long threes.

"Our coaches were stressing that and I think we are stressing that," Carter said. "Every time down the court somebody was yelling, ‘We have to get stops.'

"It is just something that we have to focus on, and we have to just make an effort. Defense is an effort thing. I think that is what we did in the second half."

Arkansas scored just 24 points in the second half and shot 31 percent to finish at 43.9 percent overall and 27.8 percent from the arc.

Tennessee opened the game in man, but Keira Peak, who tallied 12 points for Arkansas, got to the rim at will. The Lady Vols switched to zone, and Arkansas found the soft spots.

"We expected them to play a lot of zone," Arkansas coach Tom Collen said. "I would have been very comfortable if they would have played more."

Coach Holly Warlick challenged her team at halftime to commit to man, and the players did, aided by the presence of Jasmine Jones on the ball and a strategy shift on ball screens.

"I thought Jasmine Jones coming in and setting the tone was huge for us," Warlick said. "We had a totally different mindset from the first half to the second half and plus we changed up how we defended ball screens."

Tennessee also kept scorching the nets. The Lady Vols shot 60 percent in the second half and 62.2 percent (28-45) overall. They were 7-13 (53.8 percent) from long range.

"A lot of us were hitting the shots that we know we can hit," Meighan Simmons said. "Cierra was hitting the shots that we know she can hit, Andraya was driving to the basket and dishing and doing what she does best.

"Izzy and Bashaara did well in the post. I was proud of everyone today. If we do that, we spread the offense around and share that ball, that is when it is more fun for each and every one of us."

Cierra Burdick tied a career high with 16 points and was 7-9 overall and 2-2 from long range. She also led the team with four assists and two blocks.

"At the beginning of the season I feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself to do this and that," Burdick said. "I am just out here trying to enjoy my teammates, my coaches and love this game.

"For a minute there I kind of lost sight of what I was doing and I just got back to having fun. My teammates have always encouraged me since day one, so I am just glad to see them falling."

She meant the shots, not her teammates, but both were true. Carter hit the deck hard twice and had to briefly leave the court area to have the back of her heel examined. Jones went down hard and was holding her back, but her teammates were laughing, as was Jones.

"Well, Jasmine, is goofy and when she went down, she said she strained a muscle in her back and she told me to rub it, and I said ‘Rub what? What do you want me to rub?' " Burdick said, as Carter and Simmons, who were also at the post-game press conference started laughing again.

"And I didn't know what I was doing; I'm not an athletic trainer. That's what we were giggling about. Hopefully Jasmine is OK, though. … We just had a little teammate moment."

Burdick, Carter and Simmons walked gingerly to take their press conference seats with assorted ice bags attached to various body parts.

"It was really physical," Simmons said. "We knew Arkansas was going to be a really physical team. It is just one of those things where we have to be physically tough no matter how tough the opponent is, we just have to go out there and play."

The Lady Vols are already down one player with junior point guard Ariel Massengale still out after taking a blow to the head a week ago against Florida. She hasn't practiced since the incident and wasn't on the bench Thursday.

"Still day to day," Warlick said. "They just continue to evaluate her and hopefully we'll get her back soon. Obviously, we miss her. We want her back on this team. I think Jordan and Andraya have stepped up but it'd be really nice to have her back and have 11 strong."

The 11 strong refers to Jannah Tucker, who isn't playing as she recovers fully from ACL surgery. The freshman seems to always have a ball in her hand during pre-game, encourages her teammates in warmups and is vocal on the bench.

Carter logged 33 minutes and got relief from Reynolds, who had three assists in 18 minutes of play and hit that critical three right before halftime. Carter tallied 10 points, hit two treys and added three assists and two steals.

Massengale, prior to her head injury, had been logging a lot of game minutes, so a focus in practice had been to get the freshmen ready to spell Massengale during the rugged SEC play. That turned out to be fortuitous.

"We've run both of them at the point, both of them at the two," Warlick said. "They've played with Massengale, they've played without Massengale, so they've prepared for this so I have a lot of confidence in both of them.

"I think they're just doing what we've been practicing since day one."

It would behoove Burdick to keep having fun. The junior forward had one of the best games of her career on both sides of the ball.

"I think Cierra is playing within herself, meaning she's not having to shoot a spectacular shot," Warlick said. "She's taking the shots that are given to her and she's making them … and she's always been a great rebounder for us.

"I thought she played a great game – was one of the reasons we stayed in the game and then took the lead as well."

Burdick collected a team-high seven boards. She is always around the ball – she made a highlight reel block in the first half – and can be an emotional leader for the team.

Isabelle Harrison got in quick foul trouble in the first half, an over-the-back and moving screen call, and logged just four minutes before halftime. She got on track immediately to start the second half and finished with 12 points and five boards, three on the offensive end.

Simmons joined Burdick with 16 points and added three assists. Mercedes Russell was effective in her 20 minutes with seven points. Bashaara Graves, who had to briefly leave the game because of illness, had four points and four boards.

Tennessee was out-rebounded 31-24, and Arkansas got 18 offensive rebounds, so the coaches will point that out in film study. The Lady Vols had several possessions of outstanding defense, only to not end up with the rebound, giving Arkansas another shot.

"When you play as hard as you have to on the defensive end, you've got to come up with the defensive rebound or your job is not done," Warlick said.

Free throws also continue to be hit and miss, outside of Simmons, who was 2-2 from the stripe. As a team, Tennessee shot 58.3 percent (7-12). The 18 turnovers, several of which were of the baffling variety – losing a rebound out of bounds, a few passes with no chance to find the intended target and stepping on the sideline – also need to be cleaned up.

But the Lady Vols are in the race for the top, especially with a Vandy loss on Thursday to Missouri. Texas A&M and South Carolina lead the league at 7-1, while Tennessee and LSU are both 6-2 with a month to go.

"This league is very unpredictable," said Razorback Jhasmin Bowen, who had 11 points and eight boards. "There have been a lot of losses and a lot of wins by teams that you thought would have gone differently. We just have to keep playing and can't worry about our record."

The Lady Vols' improved record – the result of improved play – meant the return of their locker room, which they had lost after the Vanderbilt game in mid-January.

"It was a coach's choice and I thought we needed to put value in practice and value in wearing a Tennessee uniform," said Warlick, likening herself to a landlord to laughter. "I thought the result of how good we played together against Florida and A&M, I thought they deserved to get it back.

"It's not a guaranteed thing. They're renters right now … and they can get evicted anytime the owner or the landlord feels like they could be evicted."

It was a reminder to the team to stay focused. The first half of the Arkansas game showed why the reminder still needs to be issued. The second half showed that the Lady Vols will listen.

VIDEO COVERAGE

Game highlights from utsportstv

Coach Holly Warlick

Cierra Burdick, Andraya Carter, Meighan Simmons

Arkansas Coach Tom Collen, Keira Peak, Jhasmin Bowen


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