The opponents for the new record have been Oral Roberts, Winthrop and Tennessee State, but the Lady Tigers coach, Larry Joe Inman, thinks Tennessee’s style of play will translate no matter the level of competition.
“If they press for 40 minutes, they can cause a lot of problems for a lot of teams,” Inman said. “Regardless of what level they are on, they can really cause some problems. They do such a good job on their coverage. They have length. If you have length and quickness, then you have double trouble. That’s what they have.
“They have good quickness, but they also have length, and they’re just a great team. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with, I think.”
The Lady Vols have played lesser opponents in previous seasons without wreaking this much havoc. So, what is the difference now?
“I think it’s just the philosophy,” Ariel Massengale said. “We’re so athletic and quick and fast, and you know we can play an up-tempo game because let’s say you get tired, you have plenty of people on the bench who can come in, and keep that same tempo going, and I think that really helps us.”
Holly Warlick is still seeking a total buy-in, as evidenced by the start of the game.
Tennessee State took a 13-5 lead on the strength of its offensive rebounding, in the first four minutes.
“I started to turn cartwheels, but I thought that’d be a little obvious that I was happy so I didn’t. Kidding,” Inman said. “I thought the big thing was it gave us a lot of confidence as we played, as we started. We started with confidence. There’s always that fear factor that you have to deal with, I think, in athletics and playing basketball. I felt like our kids just really met the challenge, stepped up to the plate.
“We got a great start coming out of the block. We just couldn’t finish the race, and that was the problem. But we had a great start.”
Warlick has found a total convert to her defensive philosophy in Andraya Carter, who was disruptive throughout her 28 minutes, even taking out her own bench in the second half in pursuit of a loose ball with the Lady Vols well ahead.
“I would never hold Andraya back ... thankful that she didn’t get hurt but that’s how she plays and that’s how we’re going to play so I was kind of glad she went for the ball,” Warlick said.
Carter was credited with two steals, but she affected any ball-handler trying to get up the court or start a half-court offense.
“I said I wouldn’t want to have the ball when she was on me,” Warlick said. “Between her and Jasmine Jones, I would be throwing the ball up before I got to half court. They are relentless. They have that athletic ability and that ability to affect people. Whether they steal it or not, it affects you.
“That is the part that Andraya can bring to us. It is not going to show up in the stats, but we know what she does. She probably helped created a lot of these turnovers just because of her presence on the ball. That is what I love about Andraya and what I love about Jasmine as well. They are relentless.”
Jones remains sidelined under the concussion protocol, as does post player Isabelle Harrison. Warlick hopes to have both players back this week.
Tennessee will leave the confines of Thompson-Boling Arena and its supportive crowds of nearly 10,000 per game and play at Chattanooga and Texas this week. The mention of Chattanooga brought a smile of recognition from Warlick. It was the site of her debut as a head coach in the 2012-13 season, and Tennessee lost to its sister school.
“We may use it as motivation,” Warlick said. “Chattanooga outplayed us, and we didn’t play very well. Chattanooga is a very good team, I have already watched them; they are really good. We are going to have to be on our A game.
“I hope that it won’t take me losing my first game as a head coach to motivate us to play hard. But, you know what, as a coach, if I have to pull that out I will.”
The team hasn’t discussed it yet. Of course, only the current juniors and seniors were on the roster then. “We haven’t been talking about it,” Cierra Burdick said. “I think the people, myself, Ariel, and Izzy who really lived it, it’s something that will always be in the back of our minds because it was such an unpleasant experience.
“It was embarrassing, and we didn’t want to have that be Holly’s first game, but you know what? It’s a new year, we’re a new team, and we’ve got to focus on us and do what we’ve prepared to do, and I think you know, we’ll take care of business.”
Tennessee will want a better start than it got Monday when quick shots, lack of board play and some rather uninspired team defense got the Lady Vols in a hole.
“I wanted to do it because I wanted us to get off to a better start but that kind of blew up in my face didn’t it,” Warlick said. “I just thought we needed some veteran players in there because I think we’re going to need it at Chattanooga and I didn’t want to do it at UTC. And I think we’re going to need it down the road.
“Our freshmen have done great. It wasn’t anything they had done to get out of the lineup. I just thought we needed a little bit of experience going into the next couple of games and so I changed it up.”
It was the correct move. The level of competition is going to stiffen to close the month of November and head into December, and the experienced players need time on the court together in live action.
While the start was rather abysmal, the Lady Vols erupted after the first media timeout, tied the game at 20 at the 10:55 mark of the first half and led at the break, 44-27.
“We talked about it in the huddle,” said Massengale, who sparked the onslaught with a timely three-pointer. “We challenged ourselves as a team to make them play faster and get steals in our press, and I think we did a better job of that as the game went on.”
Tennessee State had 16 turnovers and just three assists on nine baskets at halftime, while the Lady Vols had just four miscues and 10 assists on 16 baskets.
The Lady Tigers could, however, point to the rebounding stat in the box score – they held a 24-17 lead at halftime and prevailed 42-37 overall.
The absence of Harrison partially explains a dip in the boards, as does the foul trouble of Bashaara Graves and the four-guard lineups. However, Tennessee State, at times, just had the Lady Vols boxed out. Briana Morrow led Tennessee State with 12 boards.
“Briana Morrow is a monster on the board,” Lady Tiger guard Rachel Allen said. “We have some kids that can rebound in there. They just play hard, like (coach) said, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Nia Moore reached double figures on the glass for Tennessee with 11 – and also added 25 points in another superlative outing – but no other Lady Vol came close to double figures, though Nared grabbed six, while Carter added five boards, which is sufficient for guard play.
Graves reached 14 points with the majority of her work coming in the second half. She picked up a third foul early in the second half that actually belonged to Burdick.
The officiating crew had two other miscues during the game. First, not realizing it was an and-one play out of a timeout, Burdick was awarded two free throws and after Burdick missed the first shot, the officials, realizing something was amiss, gave the ball to Tennessee out of bounds. Second, the crew called a three-second call on Tennessee when the Lady Vols were set up in the press and got a steal. It was believed that the three-second call was signaled to the scorer’s table in error, but no one was quite sure of the actual call, not even the official observer.
Nared joined Moore and Graves in double figures with 11 points, while Burdick added 10. Carter, Massengale and Kortney Dunbar each notched eight points, while Jordan Reynolds tallied seven points, and Middleton added six.
Carter and Nared got style points – Carter with a nifty catch-and-shoot stick-back of a missed three-pointer and Nared, with tremendous body control in transition, got a layup on a Carter feed, both in the first half. Nared showed considerable grit during her minutes on the court, especially on defense with three steals and a block, and a 7-10 stat from the free throw line, where she went after getting hammered repeatedly inside.
All nine players who logged minutes scored and each got at least one steal. No player reached 30 minutes, with Moore coming the closest at 29.
Warlick, who noted Tuesday’s practice would include considerable work on rebounding drills, intends to keep the scorer’s table busy with player check-ins. She will expect the five on the floor to swarm the ball.
“That is exactly what we want,” Warlick said. “We talk a lot about pursuing the basketball and if we don’t get the first trap we just don't give up on it.
“We just keep pursuing the basketball and hawking the ball. I think we are in great shape, and I think we are playing a lot of people and I think our pressure just can wear you down.
GAME HIGHLIGHTS FROM UTSPORTSTV
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO
Holly Warlick post-game TSU
Ariel Massengale, Cierra Burdick
Tennessee State Coach Larry Joe Inman, Rachel Allen