Lady Vols secure road win over Vanderbilt
Tennessee (12-2, 2-0) avenged a loss last season in Memorial Gym against Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-2) and will leave Nashville with renewed confidence in its ability to score from the perimeter after a 57-49 win led by the guards. Andraya Carter followed a career-high 16 points against Missouri on Friday with a new career high of 19 points against Vanderbilt on Monday. Carter was joined in double figures by Ariel Massengale with 12 points; Jordan Reynolds, 11; and Cierra Burdick, 10. The foursome accounted for 52 of Tennessee’s 57 points with Isabelle Harrison and Bashaara Graves claiming the other five. “I believe teams believe that to stop the Lady Vols you have to stop Izzy Harrison,” said Carter, who noted that Tennessee can now adjust offensively when the inside is taken away, as it has been to start the SEC. “Teams are going to have to choose how to guard us,” Carter said. Memorial Gym with its odd configuration and relegation of Tennessee fans to seats well away from the court, is a tough venue, but the Lady Vols’ defense took a struggling Commodore team out of its offensive flow early. The Lady Vols led 25-17 at halftime, an anemic output for Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt’s total tally of 49 points is just the fourth times in the 73 times the two teams have played – the series began in 1976 – that the Commodores have been held under 50 points. Tennessee’s defense has carried the team this season, led by the pesky Carter, but the sophomore guard is now averaging 17.5 points per game in SEC play. Carter’s offensive output is a primary reason why the Lady Vols opened the SEC with two wins, one at home and another on the road. “She had a complete game and played hard,” Head Coach Holly Warlick said. A win against Vanderbilt in Nashville is to be savored as the programs are bitter rivals, and there is plenty for Warlick to like in the box score. The Commodores are more post-oriented this season – as opposed to the launches from the arc of the now-departed Jasmine Lister and Christina Foggie – but the Lady Vols prevailed on the boards, 39-27. Cierra Burdick led Tennessee with seven rebounds – Carter added four, including a critical defensive board late in the game when Vanderbilt was nipping at the Lady Vols’ sneakers – and battled inside throughout the game. Burdick had 10 points and five boards by the break and while her scoring ended at halftime, the senior mixed it up inside and provided some much-needed attitude in a physical game. “She was getting beat up and fighting and competing,” Carter said. Burdick briefly left the game in the second half to have her mouth checked and blood cleaned from her jersey. Warlick also will like the marksmanship from the line at 82 percent (18-22) with Reynolds, Carter and Massengale delivering from the stripe, especially late in the game. “In crunch time, we hit big free throws,” Warlick said. Warlick will not like the turnovers with 20 total and several sloppy ones late in the second half. “We have too many turnovers toward the end, and we’ve got to clean that up,” Warlick said. Such was the stoutness of Tennessee’s defense and the struggles of Vandy’s offense that the Lady Vols never felt endangered during the game. Tennessee held the lead for 37:27, while Vandy led for just 16 seconds. The game was tied for 2:09 in the first half. But Vandy made a late push with some late three-pointers, and the Lady Vols had to secure the win from the stripe. “It felt like we were up by a lot, and we got complacent,” Carter said. Warlick said she would second-guess herself afterwards because she slowed the pace to get deeper in the shot clock. The Lady Vols are a high-octane team and want to run, and they seemed to be lulled into sluggishness when the tempo slowed. Carter was one of the exceptions as she continued to harass the ball handler, deflect passes, get steals – the Lady Vols had eight total – and generally make it difficult for Vandy to get into any sort of offensive rhythm. Burdick brought some energy, and Graves battled on both ends. Graves also set a block-out-the-sun screen that gave Carter a clear path to the basket. But Carter noted during her post-game remarks with Mickey Dearstone – she was the player of the game for the second one in a row – that the team overall has to ratchet up the intensity. “It felt a little slow,” Carter said. “We needed to pick the pace up.” Warlick noted, “We played in spurts. … We started playing not to lose.” The head coach also noted that the team practices up-tempo, and she would evaluate her decision to run more clock and also add practice scenarios to get the team comfortable with a slowdown should the need ever arise again. Warlick has shown a tremendous willingness to look inward if the team struggles, and that is a good sign for the third-year head coach. Carol Ross, who handled commentary for the SEC Network game, coached Ole Miss in the SEC and heaped praise on Warlick for how she has demanded that this Tennessee team give effort and play defense. The arrival of offense from the perimeter has been a welcome addition. “I think it makes us a more dynamic team,” Carter said. The Lady Vols will need that balance – Harrison will get back on track – with Texas A&M coming to town Thursday. That will be followed by three consecutive road games at Arkansas and Auburn in the SEC and an out-of-conference matchup with Notre Dame in South Bend. The offense of Carter is critical, as defenses must find her now. Carter scored from arc, got to the paint and executed a crossover and step-back. She has spent hours in the gym on her own this season trying to find a rhythm and comfort zone. She credited Warlick and Dean Lockwood with helping her fine-tune her mechanics and continuing to have confidence in her, even as she misfired, for the most part, for the first 12 games of the season. Perhaps the best advice came from her stepfather, Tyke Lhamon, who told Carter before the SEC started to just shoot the ball and not worry about it because nobody was expecting it to go in anyway. The remark made Carter laugh so maybe it finally loosened her up to let go. “I am really, really proud of her and what she is doing for this basketball team,” Warlick said.
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