Tennessee’s win streak at home came to an end Sunday in the “Battle of the UTs” as Texas held off a Lady Vol comeback and left town with a 64-53 win. Go inside for game analysis and video coverage.
Chemistry. Identity. Cohesion. Those attributes are a work in progress in November. In this case, Texas coach Karen Aston was talking about he 5-0 team. Those same words could come from coach Holly Warlick and her 5-1 team.
The Lady Vols are a work in progress with a roster that seems to keep dwindling. Jasmine Jones left the game after a vicious collision with Te’a Cooper. Jones, who has a history of concussions, was hit in the face and stayed down on the court for several minutes.
Kortney Dunbar watched warmups with a boot on her right foot after landing on an opponent’s foot in Friday’s game. She has a high ankle sprain, and that’s an injury that typically takes two to four weeks for full recovery.
Jaime Nared still has a brace on her left hand after a fracture in practice last month, though her return could be relatively soon since she has shed the cast.
Warlick has wanted to use her depth. Attrition is going to force a strategy adjustment.
“Injuries are going to happen,” Warlick said. “Obviously, they happen to us. They have happened to me since I’ve been here. We have a solid core of young ladies that can get the job done. For whatever reason, we aren’t getting it done.
“We will figure it out, go back to the drawing board and get this team off to a better start.”
Tennessee had been flirting with a loss in its past four games because of turnovers, foul trouble and missed shots. The Lady Vols couldn’t overcome the same issues against Texas, and guard Andraya Carter gave an honest assessment in the post-game press conference.
“We were setting ourselves up for this,” Carter said. “Our games leading up to this, we should have won by way more. We were winning by close margins the whole time when we were just more talented than those teams. We came up against a team that was equally as talented as us.
“They played together, and they beat us. I think this just shows that while you can beat some teams not playing the way you’re supposed to, you can’t beat the top teams. This is a lesson that we need to learn, and hopefully we’ll learn from it.”
Carter, a redshirt junior, added six points and had five of Tennessee’s 10 assists to just one turnover. While she doesn’t fill a box score with points, Carter will get the ball to the scorers and keep possessions alive on the glass with her ability to jump with posts. She also added two steals.
Carter did take seven shots – that’s a lot for her, and she needs to take more – and connected on two. She clearly was moving better Sunday after an early season quad injury and should be able to get back in the gym now for extra shots.
The Lady Vols did claim an early 11-7 lead after a three-pointer by Diamond DeShields. Tennessee led 16-13 after the first quarter, had lost the ball just twice and led on the glass, 16-12, with Jones grabbing five rebounds. Neither team shot particularly well in the first 10 minutes with Tennessee at 31.8 percent and Texas at 31.3 percent.
That was partly due to the officials allowing a lot of contact inside – that would factor into Jones’ injury in the four quarter as it appeared a foul should have been called before she ended up trying to save the ball on the floor with Cooper. After the play ended with Texas getting possession out of bounds, three Lady Vols were down on the court – Jones, Cooper and Bashaara Graves, and the crowd of 10,204 rained boos on the striped crew.
Cooper and Graves slowly got to their feet. Jones needed assistance getting to the locker room and will undergo considerable evaluation under the concussion protocol.
The second quarter yielded just eight points for Tennessee with seven turnovers, and the Longhorns led 29-24 at the break.
Tennessee’s post players settled for jump shots instead of challenging the size of Texas, which scored 16 points in the paint to eight for Tennessee before the break.
“They're capable of making those shots,” Warlick noted, but added the posts needed to get to the rim. “I want them to go to the basket and get it around the basket, and drive to the basket. I think they were settling for jump shots and they weren’t falling.”
Graves tallied four points and eight boards in a game in which every rebound was a battle. Jones grabbed 11 and was a force on the glass. Mercedes Russell notched six points and seven rebounds.
Aston appreciated the work Boyette did inside to disrupt the Lady Vols.
“I made the comment to the coaches (at halftime) that she wasn't scoring, (but) she was absolutely impacting the game because she was able to sag and sort of what we call zone the floor in,” Aston said. “I thought she had a huge impact on shots that were made in the paint.”
Russell also had five turnovers in what can be termed as a learning experience game against the size of Texas.
“We’ve got to get better seals and better movement on and off the block, inside and out,” Russell said. “We’ve just got to move around more to get open looks.”
Teams are choking the paint against Tennessee. Russell was swarmed every time she got the ball. Tennessee seemed ready to deploy Dunbar in the last game on the perimeter to open up the inside, and she landed on a player’s foot after launching a three and is now sidelined.
DeShields connected on 4-7 from the arc and tallied a game-high 24 points. The sooner she moves into the starting lineup for Tennessee, the better. She also added 11 rebounds and showed considerable fight in her 30 minutes, particularly after halftime.
Of course, DeShields will need some scoring help.
“Diamond is going to get her points and she did that,” Texas center Imani Boyette said. We tried to make sure if Diamond is going to score, no one else could.” (Boyette was known as Imani McGee-Stafford last season; she married Texas football player Paul Boyette Jr., over the summer.)
The post players will need to shoulder their load, and another guard or two must step up. Jordan Reynolds needs to find her swagger, and Cooper needs to stop fouling so far from the basket. The two guards went 4-22 from the field for a combined nine points and missed point-blank looks.
“I thought we got great looks,” Warlick said. “I thought for the most part of this game we got great looks. We didn’t knock down shots.”
Despite the shooting woes, Tennessee still was in position to win the game. Texas took an 11-point lead, 52-41, with 7:32 remaining on the play after Jones got hurt, but the Lady Vols trimmed it to just four, 56-52, with 1:18 left to play after two free throws by Carter.
That play was preceded and followed by a steal and missed layup by Reynolds and a steal by Carter and missed layup by Cooper.
“We were down four, we get a steal and we miss a layup,” Warlick said. “I don't know how many layups we missed. We could have had a putback, it goes out-of-bounds. We had our chances, but we just didn’t capitalize on them today. You can’t get yourself in a hole against a very good basketball team.”
Tennessee nipped Texas on the boards, 45-41, and kept the turnovers to a manageable 16; however, the timing of the miscues hurt, with two coming in the final two minutes when ball security is paramount.
Tennessee actually played a decent 40 minutes of defense with Boyette limited to 11 points. They also kept Brooke McCarty (12 points) and Celina Rodrigo (six points) from lighting up the arc. But freshman Lashann Higgs, who had yet to connect on a three-pointer this season in seven attempts went 3-5 from the arc and notched 18 points.
“Lashann is able to come in and play somewhat free because of the older players, because of Empress (Davenport) and Celina,” Aston said. “We have players that can come off the bench and feel like they are actually getting mentored by older players who have sort of been there and done that and that’s just the evolution of where our team is right now as opposed to two or three years ago.”
Parity has arrived to the women’s game. The exception is UConn, and it will hit the Huskies, too, whenever longtime coach Geno Auriemma decides he is ready to retire.
“I think there are great players all over the country. You saw, I think it was Ohio State, had an upset this weekend and Stanford has already been upset,” Aston said. “We have a couple of teams in our league that have some surprising losses, so I just think there are a lot of good teams and if you don’t bring you’re a game every night then you’re going to going to get beat.
“That's something we’ve talked about a lot, just for us to try to develop a mentality where we play at a certain level. We’re not there yet by any means, but we’re trying to get there.”
So is Tennessee. The Lady Vols have two upcoming home games with East Tennessee State in town Wednesday, followed by Virginia Tech on Sunday. After that, the Lady Vols are on the road for Wichita State, Stanford and Oregon State.
It may have been better for Tennessee to lose this game.
“I think we can use this as a positive,” Carter said. “There's always the cliché of, ‘It’s not what happens, but what you learn from it and how you respond from it.’ ”
Warlick post-game opening remarks indicated she already knew what needed to be learned.
“We got beat by a better team today,” Warlick said. “One of our goals was to keep them off of the free throw line, and they shot 27 free throws. We wanted to limit threes and they scored six threes.
“We’re just not knocking down shots. In the fourth quarter we were two for thirteen in the paint. In the fourth quarter, Texas got six points from layups and nine from the free throw line.
“We’ve just got to get better. We’ve got to get a little more disciplined and stop fouling, more disciplined and quit turning over the basketball, and get in the gym making shots.”
It’s all fixable. The steady emergence of DeShields will fix a lot of woes.
“I felt pretty comfortable because I was able to hit shots,” DeShields said. “The way that they were packing it in opened it up for me on the three-point line. Thankfully I was able to hit shots, but it wasn’t enough to win.
“We’re going to get in the gym and get ready for the next game.”
Former Lady Vol Candace Parker provided ongoing Twitter commentary for the game, and she closed with these words: “This loss is a great loss for UT if there is such a thing. This will cause thoughts and actions to move from intangible to tangible fixing.”
Coach Holly Warlick
Texas Coach Karen Aston, Lashann Higgs, Imani Boyette