“It motivated me, and I didn’t even play,” Coach Holly Warlick said.
Warlick made her debut in Chattanooga two years at McKenzie Arena and departed with a loss. The next game also was on the road - in this case it will be Texas on Sunday - so the team must regroup fast.
“We’ll get them ready,” Warlick said.
Chattanooga Coach Jim Foster opened his press conference by saying, “It’s an Opus night."
The uncultured among the media didn’t realize he was referring to Opus One, a fine cabernet sauvignon.
But Foster, who often was surly at Vanderbilt in his post-game press conferences, was gracious in victory and made it a point to clarify when he was told his players said Foster told them that Tennessee was “average” and could be beaten.
What Foster told his players was to make the Lady Vols play defense for 20 to 25 seconds in a possession and not succumb to the pressure and play too fast. That would make their suffocating defense become average. The Mocs - they no longer go by the Lady Mocs, though the pre-game cheers called them that - moved the ball well, took the shot clock into single digits and got to the paint.
“They are a very talented basketball team,” Foster said of Tennessee.
UTC had just 17 turnovers, and the Lady Vols had just seven steals.
As Foster left the dais, he smiled and told one beat writer to make sure to clarify what he told the players and another to not make that - Tennessee is average - the headline.
It was a remarkably different Foster with the Tennessee media.
He got plenty of credit from Warlick, who noted UTC’s players executed Foster’s game plan very well.
“You can’t just show up and be average against a team like UTC,” Warlick said.
UTC had been steamrolled at Notre Dame, and Foster ordered his team to play aggressive against Tennessee, delivering the message in practice. Freshman guard Keiana Gilbert responded with 27 points on 11-19 shooting, the majority of which came in the paint.
It was a career high, and a peeved Warlick noted “that is what we do” - allow a milestone by an opposing player.
Tennessee found itself in a hole early, as Chattanooga started the game shooting 69.2 percent, while the Lady Vols were missing layups, breaking down on defense and getting beat on the boards. That can doom a team on the road, and especially against an athletic team like UTC, and the Lady Vols trailed 37-21 at the break.
Jones, who was playing for the first time in two weeks after sustaining a concussion against Penn on Nov. 14, tallied a career-high 19 points and added eight boards.
But she faulted her defense after the game - “It wasn’t Lady Vol defense,” Jones said - and noted she was supposed to drive on the final possession.
Tennessee was down two, 65-63, with nine seconds to go, and the play diagrammed in the timeout was for Jones to get to the rim. Instead, she lofted a 15-footer from the elbow that didn’t draw iron.
“I took a bad shot,” Jones said.
UTC sealed the game at the line, and a devastated Carter slumped to the floor at midcourt.
Jones has been out of practice, so if this is a harbinger of what is to come, the Lady Vols are in good shape, as she can play inside and out. Carter did all she could, especially on defense, and while she was credited with five rebounds, she kept alive a lot more. She logged 35 minutes with three assists, two steals and no turnovers.
The comeback was fueled by the perimeter defense of Carter and Jones, the team’s two best on-ball defenders. Massengale also hit some timely shots and finished with 11 points.
But Massengale, like the rest of the team, was frustrated by the start, though she did salute the effort of Chattanooga.
“It was two great teams playing hard for their universities,” Massengale said. “They got the best of us.”
The Lady Vols had point-blank shots at the rim, and the shot chart shows far too many misses in the paint. The misfires drew visible signs of frustration from the players, and that had a desultory effect on the defense on the other end.
Tennessee needs Isabelle Harrison back from a knee injury - she has missed the last four games - as she is the team’s best returning player and an anchor inside. Bashaara Graves has slipped from beast mode on the boards, and the Lady Vols depend on her on the glass. Carter has to attack more on offense, because her defense is critical. The freshmen were overmatched on defense and need time to get up to speed on that end, thus their absence for most of the second half when the Lady Vols were wiping out a 16-point deficit.
While Warlick wants to play with a deep bench, she needs her best athletes on the floor against a quick team, and she found four of them in Graves, Carter, Jones and Massengale.
“We’re going to find out they’re made of,” Warlick said. “We just need five.”
Texas, which beat Stanford, which beat Connecticut, looms on Sunday in Austin. It’s regroup time in Tennessee
“You’d better do it in a hurry,” Warlick said.
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
Coach Holly Warlick
Ariel Massengale, Jasmine Jones
UTC’s Keiana Gilbert, Alicia Payne, DestinyBramblett
UTC Coach Jim Foster