Tennessee, 6-2, had a successful outing in Middle Tennessee – it was a home game for Isabelle Harrison and a relatively short trip for the families of Bashaara Graves and Alexa Middleton – and stymied Lipscomb, 2-6, by a final score of 85-51.
The Lady set the tone in the first half with its defense – led by the tenacious Andraya Carter – and after the shots started falling, the Lady Vols never looked back. Tennessee took a 39-15 lead into the locker room. Cierra Burdick led the way on offense with 12 points before the break, and Carter had four of the team’s first-half eight steals.
Burdick completed the double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds – the senior’s goal is double-digit boards in every game – and shot 4-6 from the field and 8-9 from the line.
“I thought Cierra let shots come to her,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “She let the game come to her and when she does that, Cierra is outstanding.”
Burdick’s production came in just 20 minutes of action, and she added three assists, a block and a steal to her stat line.
“It was pretty solid,” Burdick said. “I went to the midrange game. I feel confident in that shot.”
Carter didn’t score, but Warlick noted the redshirt sophomore had one of the best games of her Lady Vol career. Carter singlehandedly took Lipscomb out of its offense in the first half. The four steals made the box score, but the deflections were just as disruptive.
Warlick called Carter “a special defensive player,” and said she saluted Carter after the game for her effort. Carter followed the defensive game plan to a T, steering the ball-handler where Tennessee wanted her to go.
“That was Andraya Carter’s best game,” Warlick said. “She dictated. She was all over the floor.”
Graves, Harrison and Middleton all performed well in front of family and friends, though Harrison needed a little time to get on track. She also was getting mauled inside without the benefit of foul calls until the second half.
“We told her to slow down,” Warlick said. “She is trying to get back into the flow.”
Harrison finished with 16 points and six boards, so her extensive guest list for tickets, got to see her at work. Harrison missed most of November with a knee sprain and is still getting into game shape.
Middleton had 12 points, four boards and three assists; Graves added eight points and four boards.
Warlick went 11 deep in the roster – Jannah Tucker was in uniform but didn’t play; Warlick had said last week the freshman had missed some class again – and Carter played the most minutes at just 24.
The platoon system was deployed again with five for five substitutions. Warlick said she was inclined to keep the approach, and she indicated a change in the starting lineup would come. That likely means Harrison will be inserted inside with Bashaara Graves.
Burdick said the five players waiting to go in the game say the word platoon – dragging it out – while sitting along the scorer’s table. Burdick entered the Lipscomb game with fellow seniors Harrison and Ariel Massengale and two freshmen in Middleton and Jaime Nared.
“I feel so comfortable out there,” Burdick said. “We can play the platoon system, if need be. We’re deep and athletic. I have all the confidence in this team.”
The Lady Vols were patient on offense, especially in the opening minutes and didn’t let the early misses affect defensive effort. Lipscomb put the sag in sagging zone with a 2-3 look that had all five Lady Bisons in the paint.
“I thought we moved the ball, and we took good shots,” Warlick said.
The point guards showed patience and didn’t force the ball inside. The slow start – two missed treys and a turnover – didn’t hurt Tennessee because the Lady Bisons weren’t getting much of a shot on their end. They were 5-24 overall in the first 20 minutes and misfired on 10 three-pointers, a staple of their offense. Tennessee had just 13 turnovers for the game – the goal was 12 or less – while Lipscomb had 15 miscues by halftime.
The Lady Bisons had 24 total turnovers, which the Lady Vols converted into 36 points. It was one of several dominating stats in the box score for Tennessee, including 58 points from the bench to 19 for Lipscomb.
Tennessee had 20 assists on 29 made baskets, nine blocks and 12 steals.
“We played really hard, and we had a lot of energy,” Warlick said. “Everybody did some great things. I loved our effort.”
Warlick was especially pleased with the free throw shooting, as the Lady Vols shot 80 percent (20-25) from the stripe. The basketball managers must have been busy this week with rebounding and counting as every player had to make 500 from the line.
The Lady Vols did what they needed to do against an overmatched team – though the 43-35 margin on the boards should have been greater and the Lady Bisons shot a healthy 45.2 percent in the second half – and they get a week between games with exams underway.
Next Sunday’s matchup is in Piscataway, N.J., against an athletic Rutgers team that wants to run, a radical departure from the Scarlet Knights style under C. Vivian Stringer, who has now turned her team loose.
“The fun begins,” Warlick said. “If we give effort, we’re going to be OK.”