Massengale, Reynolds on point for Lady Vols

The Lady Vols take a 10-game winning streak to a matchup with Auburn on Thursday with a sophomore point guard starting and a senior coming off the bench. Given the team’s success, that is not likely to change. InsideTennessee chats with Jordan Reynolds and Ariel Massengale.

Ariel Massengale sat behind the baseline and smiled when asked about coming off the bench. It is a question the senior point guard has answered a lot lately thanks to her team-leading 12.3 points per game – that jumps to 14.0 in SEC play – and 42.3 percent marksmanship from behind the line.

Given the team’s success, Massengale is fine with the arrangement by Coach Holly Warlick. Some seniors might pout. Massengale won’t be one of those chemistry killers. She has been lauded on national television broadcasts for being a team player.

“I think it’s maturity,” Massengale. “People are talking about the character. It doesn’t really matter who starts. It just matters who plays. I don’t have any problem with it. Of course, everyone wants to start but only five people can start. I think being at a program like Tennessee, you can put any five people on the court to start a game.

“I am embracing it. It’s working now, so I don’t think Holly is going to change it. I come in and do what I am capable of doing to help this team be successful.”

Jordan Reynolds also smiles when asked about starting – the sophomore wasn’t even aware that she was one of only two players to start every game this season, the other being Bashaara Graves.

Reynolds will push tempo and has improved her defense – two reasons for Warlick to feel confident about putting her on the floor for the opening tip.

“Holly talks about pushing tempo after a made basket, on a missed basket,” Reynolds said. “We are really trying to push the tempo and run out because transition is one of our best offenses. We get out, and our posts run the floor, our wings run wide.

“If you don’t have to set up the offense, Holly said you don’t have to because transition can be a great offense, too.”

Reynolds came off the bench for 34 games during her freshman season. She had to adjust her mind-set as a sophomore.

“You have to really take control of the game from the get-go,” Reynolds said. “I remember coming in and trying to help the situation after sitting back and seeing what is going on, but now you’re in control of the tempo, you’ve got to lead, you’ve got to point everyone to the right positions as a point guard starting.

“I think it’s a lot different because you can’t see what’s going on and then come in. It is a different perspective.”

Massengale now haves that perspective, and the senior keeps a close watch on the court.

“It gives me a chance to see the game from the bench and see how the flow is going and what is open and what’s not open and how we can get certain people open,” Massengale said.

The senior also heads pretty quickly to the scorer’s table, sometimes within the game’s first two minutes. Massengale can replace a post, such as when an early foul is whistled against Isabelle Harrison, or a perimeter player with a quick defensive lapse.

“Maybe Izzy gets a quick foul or we need someone on the offensive end or we miss a defensive assignment,” Massengale said. “If we miss a defensive assignment, you are out of there.”

An early whiff on defense indicates a lack of focus, and the bench is a good place to recalibrate.

“Exactly. We went over it time and time again,” Massengale said. “Whoever they tell me to go in for, I am going in.”

The 5-7 guard did draw the line at setting up on the low block when she enters for Harrison.

“I am not going to post up,” Massengale said. “You will see me outside the paint. I will if we play somebody little. But it doesn’t happen.”

If Massengale enters for Harrison or Graves, the Lady Vols have a three-guard lineup on the floor and while size is lost, speed is gained.

“I like it,” Warlick said. “We can all handle the ball, so it’s not one person having to bring up the ball. We can rebound. We can outlet. We can get the ball down the floor, obviously a lot quicker with three guards that can handle the ball. I’ve enjoyed it.”

Andraya Carter, a redshirt sophomore, leads the guards – and the team – at 28.3 minutes per game. Her defensive prowess is critical to the Lady Vols’ success, as she can disrupt the opponent’s offense with on-ball defense, setting traps or cutting off passing lanes. Carter leads Tennessee with 40 steals, followed by Reynolds with 27.

Reynolds has improved her defense in her second year – especially closing off passing lanes when a trap is set; a situation where her 5-11 height and athleticism comes in handy – and she also better understands the entire system.

“I think I know it a lot more just because now that I start, defense is a priority,” Reynolds said. “You are going to guard one of the best players or you are going to guard the point guard, and they have to control the offense, so it’s your job to disrupt their offense.

“Now, I am really trying to stay down, stay low and keep people in front of me.

The Lady Vols’ high-octane offense is turned loose after a defensive rebound or steal. The willingness to scoot down court in a hurry has backfired on a few occasions when Reynolds or another guard got too deep before making a decision with the ball, ending in a bad shot, charge or turnover. That has improved of late.

“Our coaches have been talking about it and putting emphasis on going to the basket with confidence, finishing and making plays,” Reynolds said. “In the beginning, we were hesitant and turning the ball over. We are working on it. We really have to focus on finishing and making these plays.”

The guards also had struggled from the field, but that also seems to have turned a corner, and it started with a breakout game from Carter when SEC play started.

“I think it’s awesome – having a guard that can knock down shots and get to the rim, it really does stretch the defense,” Reynolds said. “They will get off of Izzy and off Bashaara because now we’re hitting shots. It really does stretch the defense, and it does help our posts out.”

Massengale has provided the firepower from the arc and leads the team with 33 three-pointers. Kortney Dunbar is next with 10 makes, followed by Reynolds with eight and Carter and Alexa Middleton with seven each.

“When they see me hitting shots, they get confidence that they can hit shots and then we’re all hitting shots and then we’re opening up things for the posts, and Izzy and Bashaara are going to work,” Massengale said.

The misfires by the guards before league play began seemed to have a snowball effect of frustration for the perimeter players. Opposing defenses sagged into the paint and surrounded Harrison and Graves – sometimes all five defenders had at least a foot inside – and the guards gave them no reason to come out of it.

“It is very frustrating just because these are easy shots,” Reynolds said. “These are the shots you shoot every day in practice. These are the ones that you go and get up on your own in the gym. Knowing you can make these shots and then when they’re not going in, it’s a big burden, but it’s coming along.

“We’ve gotten in the gym even more. We’ve been doing repetition in practice. We’ve been staying after practice and before practice with our coaches. It is going to come along.”

That is easier to do over the Christmas break, but school is back in session now. Reynolds intends to keep finding the gym.

“I think I’ve got to stay focused on being in the gym more now,” Reynolds said. “When classes weren’t in, we had all this free time to ourselves to be in the gym. I’ve got to work on my time management and continue to go to the gym every time I can.”

Reynolds, who has a stellar 46 assists to just 19 turnovers, averages 25.8 minutes per game. Massengale is slightly ahead at 26.9 minutes.

“I think she’s comfortable with it,” Warlick said of her senior point guard. “She’s getting just as much playing time, if not more. I think she’s been really positive. She’s able to sit and see how the game flows, then come in and try to make a difference.

“I think she’s handled it really, really well. We’ve needed her to do that. If she’s going to keep playing the way she’s playing, we’re going to keep bringing her off the bench.”

Massengale also is usually on the court to finish games.

“My dad always told me growing up it doesn’t matter who starts the games but who finishes it,” Massengale said.

In crunch time, all three seniors can be found in Massengale, Harrison and Cierra Burdick. The trio has a synergy with their teammates that Warlick has lauded in post-game remarks.

“We love it, and we talk about it a lot, just the things we’ve got to do to make sure we’re staying on top of it,” Massengale said. “We have been so involved with this team and the coaching staff this year. If we have an off day, (Coach Kyra) Elzy may text us the night before saying, ‘You are off today. Make sure we have a good day at practice tomorrow. We are not going to just give you these off days.’

“This team is mature, and we understand.”

Just to make sure the message is delivered, Massengale will send a reminder text to her teammates: “We had a day off. Make sure you get your rest tonight and take care of business. We’ve got to come in tomorrow ready to go.”

“Our teammates are trying to follow the path that our seniors are going to take,” she said.

The guards will need to keep scoring for the seniors to have the success they want this season. With four SEC games in the books, Carter, Massengale and Reynolds are averaging 33.8 of the team’s 65.6 points per game.

Just two games into the SEC season, only four of the league’s 14 teams were undefeated. That was whittled to two teams after four SEC games – Tennessee and South Carolina.

“We’re only four games in and there’s a lot more basketball left to be played,” Massengale said. “That is what makes this conference so much fun because every night that you play, teams are gunning for each other whether you’re on the road or at home. You know it’s always going to be a good game.”

The Lady Vols have two road games on tap with Auburn up first Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern (TV: Fox Sports Net).

“We know this league is never going to be easy,” Reynolds said. “We are going to have to focus. On any given night, anyone can get an upset.”

The Lady Vols step out of conference to face Notre Dame on Monday at 7 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPN2). Only the current seniors were around for the 72-44 decimation by the Fighting Irish in 2012 at South Bend.

“It was bad,” Massengale said. “I know we got blown out. I don’t remember exactly what happened in the game, but clearly we must not have even been out there. That was three years ago. This is a completely different team, different coaching staff, new mind-set.

“Cierra and Izzy and I were the only ones that were here for that. We might mention it to the young ones, but it’s not something we’re dwelling on. The past few years, they got us at home. We have people on the team that have experienced that. We are going to go in there knowing it’s a 40-minute game. We’re a different team. Notre Dame is a different team as well.”

Massengale will be waiting on the bench. But it won’t take long for her to walk to the scorer’s table. It never does.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories