Lady Vol seniors lead win over Texas A&M
The Lady Vols stayed perfect in the SEC with an 81-58 dismantling of Texas A&M and secured Tennessee’s third win over a top 10 opponent this season. Go inside with InsideTennessee for analysis and game coverage. Tennessee (13-2, 3-0) took apart Texas A&M (14-3, 2-1) thanks to an electrifying opening from Isabelle Harrison and a team playing to honor Andraya Carter’s grandmother, Gloria Carter, who passed away Wednesday in Atlanta. Andraya Carter paid her respects Wednesday night to her beloved grandmother – she helped Carter’s mother, Jessica Lhamon raise Andraya – and returned to Knoxville in time for Thursday’s shoot-around. Cierra Burdick played the game in memory of Gloria Carter, affectionately called Mama Carter or Nana by those who knew her, as did the rest of the team. “Well, obviously that is one of the toughest phone calls you can get,” Burdick said. “Myself and Ariel were actually there when she got it. Draya is one of our sisters. This is our family and when one of our family members lose a member of their family, it feels like we lose it as well. We just tried to be there for Dray. It’s a tough situation, but I think she handled it tremendously. It just goes to show how tough she is. “We wanted to come out and play for her, so Nana, we are glad we got this win for you.” Burdick and fellow seniors Ariel Massengale and Harrison led the Lady Vol, including a critical spurt in the second half when a 59-50 game tilted to 71-50 in three minutes, much to the delight of a crowd of 10,507 who bundled up in single-digit temperatures to make it to the arena. “We stayed together,” Harrison said. “When we were on the bench, we stayed close to each other. Our huddles were so tight. We were keeping our energy up and gathered around each other, and that is what helped us get our lead.” Those tight huddles were even apparent in warmups. Harrison jump-started the Lady Vols’ offense by scoring the first eight points with midrange jumpers and getting to the rim. “I think it was big for Izzy,” Head Coach Holly Warlick said. “I think our team has really handled her not producing the last two games as she has been. I think we have handled it, I think Izzy has handled it pretty well. “It is really fun to see when you best player is putting up points and moving and doing the things that she is capable of doing. It is nice to see, and it gets us in a rhythm.” Harrison was hindered against Missouri with foul trouble and hammered against Vanderbilt without foul calls, but the senior center erupted in her third league game. “Maybe she needed a top 10 game to bring it out of her,” Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair said. “She played Missouri and she played Vanderbilt, and they did a good job on her. Sometimes, she had to defer to the other teammates. I don’t think Holly knows exactly who the go-to player is going to be every ball game. You have to spread it around. “This is a team that she doesn’t have a Candace Parker or Chamique Holdsclaw. Whoever is hot, get them the ball, let them play, don’t take them out. I’m not telling (Warlick) how to coach, but obviously it was (Harrison’s) night.” Harrison logged 32 minutes and tallied 21 points with eight rebounds. She was 10-20 from the field with an assist, block and a steal. Bashaara Graves was effective in her 19 minutes but was limited because she was feeling ill and had to go to the locker room for most of the first half. Still, Graves added eight points and three assists and was a perfect 4-4 from the stripe. “I tell you what, Bashaara Graves is pretty good, too,” Blair said. “This time, they needed Harrison. Sunday, you might need Graves. They’re both hard to stop.” Nia Moore played an effective 11 minutes – minus the four fouls – as she was 4-4 from the field and 1-2 from the line for nine points. She got the offensive board off her own missed free throw and stuck the shot for a 45-31 lead in the first half. Moore also got a defensive board off A&M’s last shot of the first half and got the ball quickly to Jordan Reynolds, who banked a shot with two seconds on the clock for a 47-31 halftime lead. “I wanted to make sure Nia knew that, just because Izzy is back that she doesn’t have to settle for anything, she needs to continue to compete,” Warlick said. “I think that tonight she did. It think she gave us good minutes, big minutes. She had big shots.” The Aggies entered the game ranked No. 9 in the country, while the Lady Vols are at No. 7. Blair was apologetic for his team’s inability to hold up its end of matchup, though he saluted the effort of Courtney Walker. Walked led all scorers with 25 points and went the distance at 40 minutes. “She played her butt off,” Blair said. “She had a chance for her dad to come over from Atlanta and be able to see her play for the first time this year.” Blair didn’t even take solace in the rebounding numbers. The Lady Vols have crushed the Aggies on the glass in past games, but Tennessee nipped A&M this time, 38-32. “You didn’t kill us on the boards, for once, for one reason – you made every damn shot,” said the always entertaining Blair. “That’s a misnomer, sometimes, when you’re looking at, ‘Well, you stayed with them on the boards.’ Not really. “They still rebound the ball better than any team in the league.” Burdick is a big reason for that as she is a glass cleaner and will mix it up inside with post players to establish position. She grabbed 11 boards and completed the double-double with 14 points. She also had six of the team’s 24 assists. “I think we moved the ball extremely well,” Burdick said. “Holly complimented us on having 24 assists on 33 field goals. I think that speaks for how successful we were on the offensive end. We were playing team basketball, and that is when we are at our best.” The Lady Vols shot 52.4 percent (33-63) overall, 33.3 percent (4-12) from the arc – with Massengale connecting on three treys – and 84.6 percent (11-13) from the line. Massengale, who joined the seniors in double digits at 14 points, added three assists for a career total of 458 and surpassed Kara Lawson (456) for fifth place all-time at Tennessee. Lawson was courtside and talked to the team after the game. “She was really happy about it,” Massengale said. “She actually just walked into the locker room, before we came to media, and told me congratulations on that. It is a great accomplishment. When you come here, coaches tell you to leave your legacy, so it will be a great accomplishment in the records books. I am excited about it.” The seniors’ fingerprints were all over the box score, especially when the Lady Vols separated themselves in the second half. A couple of missed layups and defensive lapses – Walker got left alone twice – allowed the Aggies to trim the lead to 59-50 with 9:59 left in the game. But Harrison stuck a baseline jumper, Massengale drained a three-pointer and Reynolds snared a steal and fired a bullet pass to Massengale for a 66-50 lead in less than two minutes, leading Blair to call timeout with 8:36 left. It didn’t help. Massengale connected on another three – assisted by Harrison – followed by a jumper by Burdick and layup by Harrison – assisted by Burdick – and a 73-50 lead with 6:24 left. “I feel like if we do what we know we are capable of doing, then things like that happen,” Massengale said. “I am really proud of our team. In the first half, we really got after them. “Our coaches had us prepared with different things to do. When we stick to our game plan, we are usually successful.” Seniors can usually be counted on to follow game plans, and all three logged considerable minutes with Harrison at 32, Massengale at 30 and Burdick at 27. Burdick would have played more but she picked up a third foul fairly early in the first half. Carter logged 30 minutes and tallied six points – one basket was a pretty catch-and-shoot off a rebound – four assists, no turnovers, two steals and a block. Carter’s first steal and layup gave the Lady Vols a 22-9 lead. Her second was a thing of athletic beauty on the sideline with a flip to Burdick as she spun around and fell to the court for a 30-19 lead. Carter exited with 6:45 to play and sat quietly beside Assistant Coach Jolette Law. Carter played with a heavy heart and deep commitment to the Lady Vols. “She was very close to her grandmother,” Warlick said. “It is just a tough situation for her. I think this team is important to her as well. I thought she held on a lot better than I had anticipated she would.” The Lady Vols’ offense flowed well against Texas A&M, which doesn’t pack the paint and rarely plays zone. But the Aggies were forced into one to try to slow down Tennessee and it briefly worked. However, Massengale loosened it with the threes and Harrison found the soft spots, and the Lady Vols were off to the races again. “I think that is where a lot of us are at our best,” Massengale said. “I know that it is my favorite part of the game. One thing Coach Warlick was talking about in pregame was challenging them in transition and getting the ball up and down the floor.” That is not something Reynolds ever needs to be reminded of – her steal and pass to Massengale took two seconds for a basket – and the sophomore remains a starter. She added seven points and six assists. Warlick will see a lot to like in the box score, especially shooting percentages, points in the paint at 32 and bench points at 25. The Lady Vols had just eight turnovers while converting the Aggies’ 13 miscues into 20 points. Tennessee’s full court pressure and trapping defense were stout and the 3-2 zone was mostly effective. Walker got loose a couple of times, and a few rebounds got away, but the team earned Friday off after two SEC games in four days. Arkansas is next Sunday on the road. When Warlick arrived at the press conference, the moderator announced that she had won 900 games with Tennessee as a member of the coaching staff with the Lady Vols – a tenure now in its 30th season. Warlick smiled and said that is what happens when you are Pat Summitt’s assistant. Warlick’s mind already was on Arkansas. “I will watch this game tonight. Tomorrow I will get up early and watch Arkansas,” Warlick said of her Thursday night/Friday morning plans. “It is one game at a time. You enjoy this and I know the kids will enjoy it. “We will enjoy it until I get home, then we start to worry about the other opponent. Kids can enjoy it a little bit longer than us.” INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE Coach Holly Warlick Ariel Massengale, Cierra Burdick, Isabelle Harrison Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair, Courtney Walker
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