Lady Vols hit triple digits in exhibition

The Lady Vols waylaid Carson-Newman 101-59 behind a double-double from Mercedes Russell, the defense – and offense – of Andraya Carter and the debut of Kortney Dunbar at a new position. But Holly Warlick saw plenty that needed to be improved. Go inside for the latest on the Lady Vols.

Such is the state of Lady Vol basketball that the first question for coach Holly Warlick in Monday’s post-game press conference was not about who played but who didn’t.

Diamond DeShields is not cleared yet (leg). Nia Moore injured muscles in her rib cage while lifting weights (X-rays were negative, but she was in considerable pain); and Te'a Cooper, whose knee was struck in practice a few days ago, never got comfortable in warm-ups – she kept adjusting her knee brace and trying to get loose – was held out as a precaution. Jaime Nared was already sidelined with a broken hand and is out for two to three more weeks.

Towards the end of the game, MeMe Jackson took a blow to the face – she was struck in the nose – and headed to the bench. Jordan Reynolds tweaked an ankle.

“We should be used to playing hurt, injured and low numbers,” Warlick said.

Warlick noted that the Lady Vols who were available did some good things, but she wanted a faster tempo and much better defense.

A very bright spot for Tennessee was the play on both ends of Andraya Carter. The redshirt guard had five assists and four steals. She also added 19 points on 7-14 shooting and connected on two of three long balls.

Warlick noted that Carter took good shots. For Carter, it was a matter of simplifying the process.

“I think so, I think anything for me in life and on the court is so much easier when it’s not forced,” Carter said. “I’m not ever going to be someone that forces something. If it’s a shot that I don’t feel good about, I’m not going to take it.

“Some people may think that it’s a great shot, but if I don’t feel good about it, it’s probably not going to get released from my hands. I take shots that I take in practice and that I take in my individual workouts, and those are the ones I feel good about.”

It worked Monday and while Tennessee won’t look to Carter to score 19 points a game – though Warlick said she would take it – the Lady Vols do need her to be an offensive threat. It was only an exhibition game, but Carter at least made defenses think about guarding her – especially with the two made threes.

Warlick noted the four turnovers by Carter, but two were bad passes that she got a hand on and thus was charged with the miscues.

“I’m more impressed that she had four steals and five assists,” Warlick said. “She can get better with the turnovers, but those steals and assists are impressive to me.”

Carter logged 30 minutes – she started with Jackson on the perimeter so Carter played quite a bit at point guard, which made her offensive outburst even more encouraging.

Warlick also started Kortney Dunbar, Mercedes Russell and Alexa Middleton. She said after the game that it was the five she wanted to open with for this game.

Russell returned to the court after a redshirt season to recover from surgery on both feet. She tallied 23 points and 10 boards, along with two assists, two blocks and two steals. She scored two quick baskets in transition, forcing a quick timeout by Carson-Newman coach Mike Mincey.

“I think that first basket kind of just got the nervousness out of me and the first-game jitters,” Russell said.

Dunbar notched 15 points and eight boards. She took just two three-pointers and made one, an indication that she has fully committed to the stretch four position.

“It’s what I’ve been working on in practice,” Dunbar said. “So, I’m really getting low and working with Mercedes, Nia and Bashaara. You’re working with some of the best posts in the country.”

Graves came off the bench to tally eight points, 10 boards and four assists. Jasmine Jones, who missed nearly all of last season because of a concussion, added 12 points. Middleton also reached double figures with 13 points and five boards.

Jones and Jackson made some nifty moves to the basket with Jones showing her ability to elevate in the paint, and Jackson wowing the crowd with a drive, spin and finish at the rim. Attendance was announced at 9,218, but it appeared to be about 6,000 – a nice turnout for an exhibition game on a rainy and foggy night in Knoxville.

Tennessee played in spurts and seemed to slow down after a fast start, which was particularly vexing for Warlick. In a statement that will make some fans apoplectic, she noted the team had focused on defense in preseason. However, 101 points, 59.4 percent shooting, five double-figure scorers and 25 assists on 41 made baskets would say otherwise.

The Lady Vols also are missing a critical piece in DeShields, who has been limited in practice. While her status is day to day, it may be a week or two – or even three – before DeShields debuts. Tennessee also used an assortment of lineups with eight players and were working in the return of Russell and Jones, the debut of Dunbar in a new spot and newcomer Jackson.

“I think later down the road we’ll be more comfortable playing as a team together and knowing what each player does best,” Dunbar said. “So, I think we’ll be definitely a better team down the road.”

Carson-Newman used 13 players and stuck to its game plan of launching threes. The Lady Eagles made 11-31 (35.5 percent).

“You aren’t doing a great job if you let someone launch 31 threes,” Warlick said.

Kailyn Brooks and Tatum Burstrom combined for eight of the makes.

“We didn’t get a lot of looks inside because of the size discrepancy,” Mincey said. “(Brooks and Burstrom) are so experienced and I am proud of how they played. They played confident last year and they are playing confident this year. They have the green light to shoot threes because I know they can make them, and they are very good shooters and won’t take bad looks.”

Players and fans got used to the four-quarter format. Warlick called a timeout with 23 seconds left in the game and the score 98-59 to work on an in-bounds play from half court under the new rules. It worked as Russell got to the rim for an and-one play and the final 101-59 score.

While the overall box score looks good for the Lady Vols, the game film will show several areas to address, including identification of three-ball shooters and a commitment to push tempo.

Warlick was asked in the post-game press conference if Tennessee looked like the No. 4 team in the country.

“Probably not. Maybe we weren’t top 100,” Warlick said. “I don’t care. We’re ranked fourth, and I’m loving it. You keep winning. When you keep winning, you stay where you are. Can we get better? Absolutely. That is why we play this game.”


Coach Holly Warlick and Andraya Carter

Kortney Dunbar and Mercedes Russell

Carson-Newman coach Mike Mincey, Kailyn Brooks, Tatum Burstrom

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