Lady Vols fall on road to Notre Dame
Tennessee (15-3) stepped out of conference play against Notre Dame (17-2) and fell victim to missed layups and defensive lapses that gave the Fighting Irish the separation they needed midway through the second half. The Lady Vols had struggled to score of late, but it was an offensive display, especially in the first half, with Tennessee trailing by just three points, 37-40. The Lady Vols shot 45.7 percent, while Notre Dame connected at 63.6 percent from the field before the break. But Tennessee cooled off in the second half – and missed point-blank at the rim – while Notre Dame stayed scorching hot, especially Jewel Loyd, who tallied 34 points. Bashaara Graves was back in beast mode for Tennessee with 22 points, eight boards and three assists. “I think this was her best game of the year,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “She competed. She was so focused, and so prepared. She needs to carry that over in SEC play.” The last time the Lady Vols were in South Bend, they suffered one of the worst defeats in program history, and the Irish have claimed the last two wins in Knoxville. Notre Dame led throughout this game, but Tennessee got within one in the second half and trailed by just six points with a minute to play. But the Lady Vols never could slow down the offense of Notre Dame – the Irish shot 58.2 for the game – and let the lead get to double digits with defensive lapses and offensive misfires over a three-minute stretch in the second half. Tennessee couldn’t recover on the road. “We battled,” Warlick said. “It’s a learning process for us. Little mistakes we made were magnified. That is paying attention to detail.” Warlick saw plenty to like in the box score with balanced scoring and just 10 turnovers. But the defensive lapses will jump out on film. The Lady Vols also were nipped on the boards, 36-34, and allowed 10 offensive boards, most of which came when Tennessee needed stops. “For us to win, we can’t give up 88 points,” Warlick said. “We didn’t get consecutive stops.” Graves did her part on both ends, even drawing a bone-crushing charge on Loyd in the first half. “I definitely came in the game thinking be aggressive,” Graves said. “I just wanted to come out and play hard to help us win. I tried. We have got to be better on defense and play through the whole possession.” Graves was joined in double digits by Cierra Burdick, who had 15 points. Burdick picked up a quick third foul to start the second half and was missed on the boards while parked on the bench. Isabelle Harrison added 12 points but was 4-15 from the field, a percentage that has to go up for the Lady Vols to be successful against elite teams. Andraya Carter scored all nine of her points in the second half and showed offensive versatility with a three ball, up-fake and midrange jumper and a drive to the rim. Tennessee’s game plan was to get its mobile posts in motion for shots in the paint or kick-outs to the perimeter. It worked, minus that stretch of misses in the second half, and Notre Dame capitalized at home. A non-conference game in January ultimately means nothing, win or lose. The experience was beneficial, as are the situational film clips – especially the over-plays that opened the back door for the Irish – but the outcome is meaningless at this time of the year. The Lady Vols wanted to defeat the Irish, especially on a national stage, but the focus returns to league play with LSU and Georgia headed to Knoxville. “It’s a tough game in the middle of the SEC season,” Warlick said. “We’re going to learn from it. Maybe we’ll see them down the road this year.”
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