Lady Vols stay perfect in SEC with LSU win
Tennessee (16-3, 6-0) led from beginning to end over LSU (10-9, 4-3) in what was atypical for a Lady Vols-Lady Tigers matchup. Both teams shot well – Tennessee scorched the nets at 55.6 percent – and what is usually a defensive grind when these teams meet turned into an up-tempo pace. The flow was disrupted, however, by repeated whistles from the officials that left players from both teams bewildered at times. A crowd of 11,612 on hand to support the Lady Vols and Pat Summitt had its mood repeatedly soured – despite the double-digit lead – by seemingly random whistles. Despite the whistle-fest, those in attendance enjoyed the outcome – and the entrance of Summitt, who received a standing ovation as she walked to her front row seat. Summitt received flowers from Holly Warlick and LSU coach Nikki Caldwell – both are her former players – and was greeted at halftime by several Lady Vols in attendance, including Lisa Webb, Cheryl Littlejohn and Daedra Charles-Furlow. “It meant the world to be able to see her,” said Caldwell, who is from nearby Oak Ridge. “Obviously, she is someone who has … I wouldn’t be sitting here today without her. It’s always great to be able to come back home, obviously, and see a lot of familiar faces. “But any time I come back to Knoxville, she is the one face that I definitely have to see. I’m glad I had that opportunity.” The former Lady Vol players sat courtside and coached the entire time – with Isabelle Harrison earning praise and direction. “I heard them all night,” Harrison said. “I feel like at one point I had to recognize that they were all there. So I was like, ‘Yeah I got you.’ It was great to see them, too. They came in the locker room and were just encouraging us and letting us know they were going to have our back.” It was that kind of night with the coaching staffs in casual attire and “We Back Pat” T-shirts. Players from both teams also wore special T-shirts of support. The SEC marks the entire week of games as part of “We Back Pat,” but the one in Knoxville with Summitt in attendance is particularly special. “For me, it is an honor just to play in front of her,” LSU guard Raigyne Moncrief said. “Her history, her background just to play in front of her, that’s just an honor.” “It is an honor,” LSU guard Rina Hill said. “She is just a legend, so I was glad to play here tonight.” Moncrief tallied 15 points for LSU, while Hill added 12. Tennessee native Danielle Ballard added 15 points but was neutralized early by the suffocating defense of Andraya Carter and had as many turnovers, at four, as points at halftime, which Tennessee led 32-24. Ballard torched Tennessee last season with 25 points in an 80-77 win in Knoxville. The Lady Vols set the defensive tone early on Ballard – led by Carter – and never let the junior guard get comfortable. “We wanted to make things hard on her,” Carter said. “We didn’t want her to get hot, because when she gets going, she gains more and more confidence. She scores so creatively. “She can get to the rim and finish through contact with both hands. We didn’t want to let her get going like she did last year.” Ballard’s fifth turnover was a steal by Carter in which she somehow twisted her body and reached around Ballard as she tried to drive, pinned the ball and took it out of her hands. “I am really not even sure how that happened,” Carter said. “My hand was out and then the ball was in my hands, and we just went with it.” Carter continued her offensive surge with 13 points, including 3-3 from behind the arc. Harrison was 9-11 from the field and 7-7 from the line for 25 points. “I just had to slow down and focus on my shot … and working with Dean (Lockwood) after practice, watching film, and just really slowing down,” said Harrison, explaining her offensive efficiency after struggling at Notre Dame. Warlick noted that Harrison didn’t shy away from contact, while she faded away from the basket against Notre Dame. “I think she got her mind right before the game,” Warlick said. “I think she understands that she was going to get that win tonight for the team, and she pushed. I just think she was focused. “When she did get maybe bumped, I don’t think it affected her. I think she went into that game knowing that it’s going to happen and she’s going to handle it.” Harrison also got an earful all game from that coaching gallery on the front row. “Well that hasn’t changed because they coached when they played as well, so that has not changed,” Warlick joked. “We talk about once a Lady Vol always a Lady Vol, and they’re such a great example, coming out and supporting Pat and this team. “I think there was somebody from every, if I’m not mistaken, from every national championship that was represented and they have a lot of pride and they’re prideful too. They want to see this team succeed and carry on the great tradition, so it was awesome to see them.” Tennessee was patient on offense and found the hot hand in Harrison, who Caldwell would have preferred didn’t touch the ball. “I’m all in the ref’s ear because I want to do whatever I can to not allow her to get that and get those touches,” Caldwell said. “When you get early position in there, it’s going to be hard to really get around. “Harrison does a nice job of really keeping her feet moving. She’s active. She can step out. She obviously has the length to go get some of those lob plays that were thrown to her. She was just very disciplined in her game plan tonight.” Harrison was on the receiving end of perfect lob feeds from Cierra Burdick, who had six assists, and Carter. “We work on it in practice,” Harrison said. “Even in the past couple of games those passes were there but I wasn’t holding up my end of the deal. So, I’m glad they kept on putting it in there and trusting me to finish.” Harrison’s performance followed a breakout one by Bashaara Graves against Notre Dame. Graves was quiet on offense against LSU – she scored two points and didn’t attempt a field goal but had four assists. Graves also was active on defense, and LSU scored just 18 points in the paint. It makes Tennessee a difficult team to scout offensively because the Lady Vols have various weapons that will deploy at various times. Tennessee’s offensive numbers were splendid – 54.5 percent from the arc and 90.5 percent from the line. The Lady Vols shot 51.9 percent in the first half and 61.1 percent in the second. Tennessee had 18 assists on 23 made baskets. “At the beginning of the year I thought our offense was behind because our defense was there, and we work so hard on our defense,” Warlick said. “Now we’ve kind of balanced it out.” Tennessee scored whether LSU played zone – its standard defense – or switched to man. “I felt as though our lack of intensity to defend them was evident,” Caldwell said. “I didn’t feel as though our team came with the same type of aggressive play as we have played. Tennessee has a very balanced attack when you look at not only their ability to stretch you to the perimeter, but also their ability to attack you inside. “Harrison was a true, go-to player inside, and that gave us some fits.” The Lady Vols moved the ball well – Warlick noted it in her post-game remarks – and one series in the first half exemplified that with an and-one play by Harrison for a 30-18 lead. The offensive set started with Harrison’s dribble handoff to Carter on the perimeter and ended, after two more passes, with the ball inside to Harrison. LSU hovered in the second half – most of the Lady Vol starters returned after the Lady Tigers trimmed the lead to 61-50 with 3:44 left, but the outcome was never in doubt and Tennessee won by a 17-point margin. Warlick continues to make use of her bench – the substitutes accounted for 18 points – and no player logged over 28 minutes. Freshmen Alexa Middleton and Jaime Nared combined for 11 points. “I don’t think this team really cares who gets the points,” Warlick said. “I think they just enjoy the outcome.” That was especially the case in a game that honored the courage of Summitt. “Coach Summitt has done so much for us, for the whole world of basketball honestly,” Carter said. “You can go to other countries and they know who Pat Summitt is. Specifically for us, just the fight she had, the faith she had to continue to recruit us when we were in high school, the faith she had in Coach Holly to continue on the legacy of the Lady Vols. “She’s just a fighter. She loves us. She trusts us. She just sets a great example of what it means to be a Lady Vol. She’s what we need to be on and off the court. We need to exemplify what she’s shown us as a woman.” GAME HIGHLIGHTS FROM UTSPORTSTV Coach Holly Warlick Isabelle Harrison, Cierra Burdick, Andraya Carter Coach Nikki Caldwell, Rina Hill, Raigyne Moncrief
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