Lady Vols stumble in Elite Eight
Tennessee (30-6) fell to Maryland (34-2), coming up short of the Final Four in a season beset by injury but not lacking in heart and effort. The Lady Vols got the defense they needed against the Terrapins but couldn’t summon the offense and managed to get to the line just once in 40 minutes. Ariel Massengale led Tennessee with 16 points and ended her career in a Lady Vol uniform, as did Cierra Burdick, who finished with nine points and six rebounds. The two seniors led the Lady Vols to a tie in the SEC and Elite Eight berth after the loss of senior Isabelle Harrison to an ACL injury. “You cannot fault the effort,” assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. “The effort was there.” Tennessee got the pace and defense that it wanted and brought Maryland’s transition offense to a crawl. But the Lady Vols shot just 32.4 percent and went 2-15 down the stretch. Maryland, led by Lexie Brown with 15 points, shot 39.6 percent overall. “We let her get loose for a couple of threes that made a big difference,” Lockwood said. “There were some small things that made a big difference.” A big difference also came at the free throw line. Tennessee was 0-1 at the stripe and didn’t get to the line in the second half. Maryland was 11-13 from the line. The Lady Vols shot 22 three-pointers and made just four of them, so that cuts into free throw attempts, but Bashaara Graves was hammered inside for the fourth NCAA tourney game in a row without the benefit of foul calls. The teams were knotted on the glass at 40 rebounds each, and turnovers were minimal with 13 for Maryland and 11 for Tennessee. But it was the closing six minutes that doomed the Lady Vols as Maryland, which was bothered by Tennessee’s defense all game, finally connected from the arc and got some separation in a game that had been tied multiple times. The Lady Vols, meanwhile, misfired on jumpers to close the second half. “We didn’t get the best shots,” Lockwood said. “We didn’t break Maryland’s defense down. I think we settled for jumpers.” Lockwood saluted team for never using injuries as an excuse, and he especially praised Massengale, Burdick and Harrison. “We said some very, very difficult good-byes in the locker room,” Lockwood said. “Those three are very special people. It’s hard to lose people of that quality.” The Lady Vols now head into the offseason with three seniors to replace, including Harrison, an All-SEC center. Tennessee will welcome Jasmine Jones back – she has been out since December until the concussion protocol – and the return of Mercedes Russell, who took a redshirt season after surgery on both feet. Transfer Diamond DeShields also becomes eligible, and the Lady Vols welcome freshmen guards Te’a Cooper and MeMe Jackson. Lockwood noted that the leadership of the team would start with the seniors, Graves and Nia Moore, along with junior Andraya Carter and other players who wanted to step forward. “Whoever takes on that leadership, they have three big shoes to fill,” Lockwood said. “I have unbelievable respect for all three. My guts hurt for them right now.”
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