Seniors lead Lady Vols to win over Arkansas
The SEC is a rugged league and a team will always need to steal a win on the road. Tennessee (14-2, 4-0) did just that against Arkansas (10-6, 0-4) on Sunday. “This has always been a tough place for us to play,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “We’ll take it.” The win was in jeopardy at halftime – not so much that the Lady Vols were down 21-18 but because of how they were playing. “We were letting our offense affect our defense,” Warlick said. “We were just flat, and I was not going to go down like that.” The Lady Vols managed to secure their 10th straight win and stayed perfect in the SEC – just four games in, only Tennessee and South Carolina are undefeated in an indication of how tough the league will be this season – because of the offensive output of Ariel Massengale from behind the arc. The senior hit four three-pointers in a row, including one launched from Little Rock, to propel her team to the win. “I knew if I got one to fall, I would get rolling,” Massengale said. The Lady Vols led 9-8 at the 10:05 mark of the first half after Jordan Reynolds got a pass to Alexa Middleton, who made a nice feed to Isabelle Harrison, who completed the and-one play. Prior to that, Massengale and Andraya Carter executed a nice in-bounds play, and Carter slipped between the posts for a layup to pull the Lady Vols to within two at 6-4. That was about it for offensive highlights in the first half. Tennessee had more turnovers at eight than made baskets at six at the break. “For some reason, there was a lid on the basket,” Massengale joked. “You couldn’t see it, but there was a lid.” The Lady Vols also were down on the boards, 20-24. Neither team was scorching the nets, as the Lady Vols and Razorbacks went a combined 0-10 from long range. Despite the desultory 20 minutes of basketball, the Lady Vols trailed by just three. However, Arkansas continued to set the tone in the second half and led 37-28 with 11:48 to play after Jessica Jackson connected on a jumper. Then, Massengale went to work for Tennessee – all of her 16 points came in the second half – and drained a three to pull the Lady Vols to 37-31. “When she hits one, I am going to keep going back to her,” Warlick said. Massengale followed the first long ball with two free throws and two more threes to tie the game at 40 with 7:45 left. That coincided with Jolette Law’s advice to switch to a zone defense – the Lady Vols were getting stops in the man and then giving up offensive boards – and the script officially flipped in Fayetteville. Following Massengale’s game-tying three, Reynolds hit a jumper, and Massengale got a defensive board and fired ahead to Bashaara Graves, who got to the rim for a 44-40 lead. Arkansas Coach Jimmy Dykes called timeout at 6:19, but the Lady Vols were fully engaged now. Harrison connected at the line, Cierra Burdick hit a three assisted by Massengale, and Massengale hit a three assisted by Graves for a 51-42 lead with less than four minutes to play. Burdick closed out the game from the line – she was 10-11 from the stripe – to secure the 60-51 win. The Razorbacks got the pace they wanted for 30 minutes, and a frustrated Tennessee team fell back into the bad habit of letting offensive woes dictate defensive energy. “We weren’t doing what has brought us here, which is getting down and playing defense and keeping them off the boards,” Warlick said. The Lady Vols also were getting beat to the 50-50 balls, something they corrected in the second half. “We can’t allow this to happen,” Massengale said. The self-correction was led by the three seniors. Massengale added four assists to her point tally. Burdick led Tennessee with 17 points and added six rebounds. Harrison completed the double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. The Lady Vols also ratcheted up the defense with nine total blocks, including two statement ones from Harrison. Burdick and Carter joined the swat party with three each. Massengale got a pep talk from Law at halftime that helped her shooting prowess. “She is not one of the ones I tell to stop shooting threes,” Warlick said. Warlick listened to Law’s advice to switch to a zone. It was somewhat risky because the Lady Vols already were getting beat on the boards, but it stopped the Razorbacks’ penetration. Tennessee still got nipped on the boards, 42-38, but the Lady Vols were better on the glass and grabbed critical defensive boards. “She suggested that, and we went to it,” Warlick said. “I thought it was huge. It was a great call.” Warlick joked on the radio that since the Lady Vols weren’t rebounding out of man – Arkansas had 17 offensive boards – then perhaps the zone would help. “Maybe the ball would fall in our hands in the zone,” Warlick said. The depth of the Lady Vols also was a factor in the second half, as a shorthanded Arkansas squad got fatigued. The Lady Vols also aren’t at full strength – Graves played sparingly with a stomach disorder, and Jasmine Jones remains out under the concussion protocol. The ones available to play showed no signs of tiredness, though. “We run too much for that,” Massengale said. Tennessee played three games in a week, including two on the road, so the Lady Vols are happy to be 4-0 in the SEC. “Any road win in the SEC is a good win,” Massengale said. However, the Lady Vols know stealing road wins is no way to survive the SEC long-term. “I told them I’ll take an ugly win, but we’ve got to go back to work,” Warlick said. The Lady Vols have two upcoming road games at Auburn on Jan. 15 and then step out of conference against Notre Dame on Jan. 19 for a “Big Monday” game on ESPN. They finally tip off at home again Jan. 22 against LSU in the “We Back Pat” game. Warlick likes her team’s talent. She loves her players’ attitude, especially the seniors. “Those three are our leaders on the court and off the court. They just step up,” Warlick said. “The chemistry is unbelievable. They don’t care who gets the credit, who scores the points. They just want to get the win.” Game highlights from utsportstv Holly Warlick post-game from utsportstv Lady Vol seniors post-game from utsportstv
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