Guard play leads Lady Vols over Auburn

The Lady Vols stayed perfect in the SEC and won their 11th game in a row Thursday with 54-42 victory over Auburn. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis and highlights.

Tennessee (15-2, 5-0) shook off a slow offensive start and seized control of Auburn (9-9, 0-5), which never really threatened the Lady Vols but did wage a battle on the boards.

The Lady Vols’ defense, once again, compensated for any sluggishness or misfires on offense, led by the relentless ball pressure of Andraya Carter.

Carter also provided the offensive spark in the first half with three made treys, and tallied 11 points before the break. Jordan Reynolds banked in a paint shot at the buzzer to give the Lady Vols a 26-18 halftime lead, something that has become her specialty.

“I am not calling timeout,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “Just get out of the way.”

“It does give us a spark,” Reynolds said.

Guard play for Tennessee has elevated in SEC play – and it arrived right on time. Center Isabelle Harrison was held scoreless in the first half but added nine points in the second half. Bashaara Graves went 0-5 before the break but finished with eight points and five boards.

Guard Ariel Massengale was relatively quiet – she tallied five points with a nifty three-pointer after rebounding her own missed trey – but had the complete attention of the Tigers because of her ability to fire from long range.

Reynolds matched Carter with 11 points and also added five boards. Cierra Burdick was the third Lady Vol to reach double digits with 10 points.

It was enough against Auburn, but it won’t come close to the effort needed Monday against Notre Dame, and Warlick and the players knew it after Thursday’s game ended.

It was the second SEC road game in a row for Tennessee – the Lady Vols were at Arkansas on Sunday – but Warlick didn’t offer any excuses.

“On the road? Yes. Tired? Yes,” Warlick said. “But you’ve got to play through it.”

Reynolds acknowledged on the post-game radio show that the players could have been looking ahead and reminded each other after the game about the one-at-a-time mantra.

It wasn’t as if Tennessee played that poorly – the Lady Vols shot 42.3 percent overall, 45.5 percent from the arc and had 14 assists on 22 made baskets. They also held the Tigers to 42 points with a defensive mix of full court, traps and switching man.

But Auburn out-rebounded Tennessee, 39-33, and had 18 offensive boards.

“That just can’t happen, and we’ve got to take care of it,” Warlick said. “Put a body on somebody and go get the basketball. It’s just effort.”

Tennessee got the looks it wanted in the first half but the shots didn’t fall, and Harrison was visibly frustrated. Carter rescued the offense in the first half.

“She took good shots that she can make,” Warlick said. “We moved the ball around to her.”

Carter also applied relentless pressure on the ball and played a major part in Auburn’s anemic offensive output.

“I thought her ball pressure was just awesome,” Warlick said.

Reynolds was 5-6 from the field, while Burdick was 4-8. Both players hit timely shots and snuffed out any chance of Auburn getting its first SEC win. When the Tigers cut the lead to 42-35 with a 5-0 run with 10 minutes to play, Carter was getting a breather. She quickly was reinserted to stymie Auburn’s offensive flow, and the Lady Vols coasted to victory.

“Defense has got to be a must for us to win games,” Reynolds said.

Auburn pressed the Lady Vols – and pressing teams typically don’t like to be pressed – but Tennessee handled it and had just 13 turnovers, several of which were unforced. Reynolds credited the scout of assistant coach Jolette Law and said the male practice players ran exactly what Auburn did to help the Lady Vols get ready.

Carter’s defense was stellar – she had four of Tennessee’s 12 steals – as was the full court press, but Warlick characterized the team’s overall defense as average.

“I think we can do so much better,” said Warlick, who was eyeing the board totals.

Defensive board play certainly must improve, and 33 overall boards for Tennessee is underachieving to say the least. But Warlick also knows an SEC road win is to be accepted, though not always acceptable.

“I’m excited we won,” Warlick said. “But my expectations of them are, yes, win the basketball but how we do it. I am not going to lower my expectations and neither are they.”

Game highlights from utsportstv

Cierra Burdick, Andraya Carter

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