Lady Vols dissect Stanford for Top 10 win

The Lady Vols gave their head coach the Christmas present she most wanted – a 59-40 win over Stanford. Tennessee’s switching man defense discombobulated the Cardinal on offense, and Ariel Massengale lit up the arc like a holiday tree. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis and video coverage.

Tennessee, 9-2, got a signature win over top 10 Stanford, 6-4, before a Saturday crowd of 13,056 that included the Vols’ basketball team wearing Lady Vol T-shirts and welcoming the players during introductions and the football team entering en masse in the first half and sitting behind the basket.

“I loved it,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “We do a lot with each other and I just appreciate the support of them coming out. The football team changed their practice to come out and watch us play and I just appreciate their support.”

Their presence was a boost for the Lady Vols and noted by Bashaara Graves in the post-game press conference. The men’s basketball team tossed T-shirts to the crowd during a timeout, and the Gator Bowl-bound football team was honored at halftime with Coach Butch Jones.

“It was big to just have them here,” Graves said. “They were loud when they cheered for us. I think that is where part of the energy came from. It also came from the big crowd we had today.”

Every made basket by Tennessee was met with a roar from the crowd, which seemed to want the win over Stanford as much as the Lady Vols did. Tennessee had lost three straight to the Cardinal going into Saturday’s game – all before the Christmas break. The seniors, Ariel Massengale, Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison, had experienced a sour holiday for three seasons.

“I will tell you this, it motivated our kids,” Warlick said. “Massengale said, ‘You know what, I’m tired of going home and not being in a good mood.’ So they took that slogan and ran with it. It’s awesome.”

The junior Graves had a lot to do with the festivities. She set the tone from the opening tip and scored Tennessee’s first six points with two jumpers and a layup. She also dove on the floor for a loose ball near the top of the key and, with the help of Andraya Carter, got the ball to Massengale, who went right to the rim for a 12-7 lead.

“I just wanted to come out and have energy,” Graves said. “I wanted to get rebounds. That is where it all started. I kept going from there. I kept playing with a lot of energy.”

When Graves is in beast mode, the Lady Vols are a much better basketball team. Graves held her own in the post and pestered guards on the perimeter – as did Harrison – in the switching man scheme.

Stanford never got its offense on track and with the 54-46 loss to Chattanooga on Wednesday, it is the first time the Cardinal have been held to under 50 points in back-to-back games since the 1976-77 season. It was a record for the Lady Vols as it was the fewest points scored by a Top 10 opponent in Tennessee history.

The defense earned praise from Pat Summitt, via Twitter: “Great defensive effort today by @LadyVol_Hoops! A lot of fun to watch. Enjoy your five day Christmas break.”

“This program was built on what Pat knew, and that was defense and rebounding,” Warlick said. “I think she demanded kids play hard. I don’t have a stare and I’m not Pat Summitt, but you form your philosophies, and I was with her when she did that.”

The Lady Vols forced a 10-second violation, shot clock violation and 20 Stanford turnovers. When the Cardinal did get a good look at the basket, it was contested. At times, Stanford was forced to toss unbalanced shots deep in the shot clock and ended up 13-51 (25.5 percent) from the field.

Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer wasn’t pleased with the moving screen calls – she said it was the first time this season that had happened to her team – and she noted the physicality of the game.

“To compliment Tennessee, they came out with a lot of energy and worked really hard,” VanDerveer said. “They were extremely physical. I don’t think we adjusted. We have a lot of really young players and it was good for them to see – you know, we’ve played Connecticut, we’ve played Texas – it’s really good for them to see what the top teams look like.

“It was a much more physical game than our team was ready for and their size really bothered us on their switching. Obviously, we turned the ball over a lot and we missed a lot of, I think, very makeable shots. So it's disappointing.”

The Cardinal misfired on some point-blank looks, and the Lady Vols opened with an 8-0 run and never trailed. Tennessee led 27-15 at halftime and dominated the glass for the game at 45-31.

Stanford’s best offense came from the arc at 6-18 (33.3 percent) and the free throw line (8-9). The Cardinal had two assists on 13 made baskets and just 10 points in the paint, a far departure from the days of the Ogwumike sisters.

“We’re obviously struggling with our offense – just passing the ball, moving the ball,” VanDerveer said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. I think some of the turnovers were called as illegal screens and I’ll have to watch those to see if I agree with that.

“But offensively we really struggled on this trip, both at Chattanooga and here, just getting good shots.”

The Cardinal offense runs through its guards, Amber Orrange and Lili Thompson – one of the best tandems in the country by Warlick’s estimation – combined to shoot 6-24 with one assist.

The perimeter defense came from Carter, Jasmine Jones and Jordan Reynolds.

“We were concerned with Orrange and Thompson,” Warlick said. “They are very good. They was our key, limit touches and getting open looks. I watched a lot of tape on them, they are big-time players that make big-time plays.”

That trio’s defensive pressure was supplemented by Graves, Harrison and Cierra Burdick, who all switched well and made sure the guards rarely found an open lane to the basket.

Alexa Middleton and Jaime Nared executed the defense well in the second half on one possession, a tremendous improvement for the freshmen. In the first half, Nared took away the cross-court pass, and Stanford forced the ball inside, allowing Burdick to slip in for the steal.

“I definitely think this is the best game we have had all season in terms of both ends of the floor,” Burdick said. “Against Rutgers, we were playing extremely well on the defensive end, but our offense wasn’t exactly flowing the way would have liked.

“I would definitely think this is the best game we have had so far, but we still have a lot of things to improve on.”

The Lady Vols had 16 assists on 23 made baskets and shot 38.3 percent for the game and 88.9 percent (8-9) from the line. The 17 turnovers came mostly in the second half, and the shooting percentage needs to rise overall, but the Lady Vols controlled the game from start to finish.

The Lady Vols found sufficient offense from Massengale, who made full use of teammate screens and drained four three-pointers. The senior was 4-4 from the line and finished with a game-high 18 points.

Graves and Harrison notched 10 points each, and Burdick added eight. Graves completed the double-double with 10 rebounds.

VanDerveer’s statements about her team’s offensive woes sounded similar to the chord Warlick had struck several times this season. VanDerveer countered that the Lady Vols had solid inside play.

“We don’t have anyone that is an established low-block player, whereas Tennessee with Graves or with Harrison, they have people that they put in there,” VanDerveer said. “Graves was 5-for-8 and Harrison was 5-for-9. We’d love that. They have some really good, big bodies inside and they look for them really well. And today they also got perimeter shooting from Massengale.”

That is true to a point. Graves has struggled at times this season – her attitude to open the game was a difference-maker – and Harrison wears a large brace because she has just gotten back from a knee injury. Massengale has been coming off the bench. Tennessee also has been seeking some continuity and a healthy roster since the season started.

On Saturday, it finally came together – though Harrison tweaked an ankle injury and Jones left after getting dizzy in the second half. Harrison was expected to be fine, and Jones will be evaluated. She got hit, yet again, in the face in the second half.

VanDerveer noted the effect that Massengale had on the game.

“I think she’s just a terrific player, and she has been every time we’ve played against them,” VanDerveer said. “She played really well for them. She’s their best three-point shooter and she really hurt us coming off screens. We couldn’t go under on her or she’d knock down her shot.”

Both Carter and Massengale came off the bench – and both were inserted into the game quickly. Massengale had four points at the break and erupted in the second half. She connected from the wing to give the Lady Vols a 44-24 lead and then from the top of the key for a 47-24 lead with 9:08 left.

“She can drain shots, and when she gets going, there is no stopping her,” Burdick said. “With her hitting those outside shots, it opens up the paint for Izzy and Bash. It helps us. We have to have an inside and outside game.”

Warlick used a primary rotation of seven in the first half – the starters and Massengale and Carter – and it worked well. Warlick was able to go deep into her roster – rather than run up the score – in the second half, and 12 Lady Vols logged minutes, including Jannah Tucker, who made her Tennessee debut.

Tucker checked in with 1:54 left in the game to replace Reynolds, who skipped over to greet her teammate. The crowd had dwindled but those remaining roared their approval. Tucker, who injured her knee in the summer of 2012, was enveloped in hugs by her teammates after the game.

“We were all happy for her,” Graves said. “This is the first time she has played in two years. Everybody was just so excited for her.”

With an afternoon tip, the players were able to start their holiday travel after the game. Burdick and her teammates were ready to exit Knoxville and see their families.

“Man, it’s so exciting,” Burdick said. “Since I’ve been here, we haven’t been able to head into Christmas with a win. Merry Christmas. It’s time to go home. …

“We also have to take care of business while we’re home. We’ll do our conditioning and we’ll get some shots up. We’ll work so we’re not totally out of shape and fat when we come back.”

The holiday conditioning was ordered by Warlick. She learned that from Summitt, too.

INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE

Coach Holly Warlick

Ariel Massengale, Bashaara Graves, Cierra Burdick

Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer


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