The Lady Vols got back on track on the road with a 58-51 win over Wichita State thanks to Bashaara Graves and Andraya Carter, who took over the fourth quarter for Tennessee. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis.
Tennessee (7-2) went on the road for the first time this season and came away with a tough win against Wichita State (1-6) on Friday at Charles Koch Arena.
The Lady Vols overcame 20 turnovers and eight three-pointers by the Shockers to seize the win in a game that Tennessee trailed by two points, 44-42, nearly midway through the fourth quarter, after Bashaara Graves missed two free throws that would have tied the game. But Graves immediately got a steal and basket to knot the game at 44.
“I think she just got mad because she missed the free throws,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “It was a huge steal. She went down like a guard, handled then ball and got a layup.”
Tennessee switched to a matchup zone, and the Shockers would not connect again from the arc. That defensive change was followed by back-to-back jumpers from Andraya Carter, who put the Lady Vols up 48-44, with less than five minutes to play.
“I thought Andraya Carter’s two jumpers that she hit were huge,” Warlick said.
The Shockers would get within one, 50-49, with 3:48 left and again, 52-51, with 1:45 left, but Graves would connect on four consecutive free throws to give the Lady Vols a 56-51 lead with 17 seconds to play.
“She just played tough,” Warlick said.
Graves, who took a pounding inside, logged 37 minutes and tallied 18 points and 13 boards.
“It was very rough,” Graves said. “They were being very physical with us. They went out and played hard so kudos to them.”
Carter logged 39 minutes and played her usual effective defense. But the redshirt junior also tallied 14 points on 5-7 shooting and a perfect 4-4 stroke from the line. Carter also moved to the point position in the fourth quarter.
“We needed somebody to calm us, and Andraya did that,” Warlick said.
Carter was one of the players that Tamika Catchings keyed on this week when she talked to the Lady Vols. She reinforced that Carter is an extension of the head coach, and, as an upperclassman, she had to take a leadership role.
Te’a Cooper is the heir apparent at point guard, but the freshman continues to struggle with shot selection – she was 2-9 – and foul trouble. Cooper accumulated four fouls in just 17 minutes of play. Fortunately, those are correctable issues, and Cooper has shown tremendous pizazz with her game. She also is a dependable free throw shooter and went 5-6 against Wichita State.
Tennessee finally eschewed the long ball – the Lady Vols were 1-8 – and instead got the ball inside via post feeds and guard penetration. Graves also cleaned up the glass – an eye-popping 11 of her 13 boards were offensive – and feasted on her teammates’ missed shots.
“What an unbelievable effort she had,” Warlick said.
Graves and Carter combined to shoot 12-16 (75 percent), while their teammates were 9-38 (23.6 percent).
“We have got to knock down shots, and when we needed to, we did,” Warlick said, referring to Graves and Carter.
The Lady Vols shot well from the line at 75 percent (15-20) and totaled 38.9 percent (21-54) overall with eight assists and 20 turnovers.
“Those are lost possessions,” Warlick said. “We need to go back and work on that. We’ve got to clean that up.”
While Warlick correctly noted that some miscues came from being aggressive, others were the result of poor decision-making from charges to a five-second call to casual passes. The posts had their share of fumbles, especially early in the game, when the guards were doing a good job of getting the ball inside, despite the Shockers rarely extending the defense past the free throw line.
Diamond DeShields’ offensive woes continued at 3-11 from the field for eight points, but she also had four assists. She was tripped and kicked in the lower leg – the same injured leg that forced her to the sideline for 18 months – but she was able to return to the game after the third quarter mishap.
DeShields will get on track, and Cooper will get better. Cooper had the takeaway of the game before halftime when she hustled for a steal and kept the game knotted at 23 at halftime.
“I thought we had great hustle plays,” Warlick said.
Tennessee shot 60 percent in the first quarter (6-10) and followed that with 16.7 percent (2-12) in the second quarter, a short-circuitry among essentially the same players that seems to defy explanation. In the first quarter, all six players who logged minutes also got on the scoreboard. In the second quarter, poor shot selection emerged, and the misfires piled up, as did the miscues.
The turnovers were an issue with seven in the first quarter and six in the second quarter. Wichita State surrendered the ball 12 times, and the result was a game tied at halftime.
“We don’t want to give up a lead,” Graves said. “It’s definitely a letdown, but we bounced back each time.”
The Lady Vols had eight players available Friday as Kortney Dunbar returned to action, but the sophomore, who suffered a sprained ankle against Texas, wasn’t back to form yet. Jasmine Jones, who graduated Friday, originally was scheduled to fly to Kansas to join the team, but since she remains under the concussion protocol, it was decided she should not fly.
Jaime Nared (hand); Alexa Middleton (foot); and Nia Moore (ribs) remained out of action. Moore participated in light warmups but wasn’t in uniform.
Tennessee continues to get on the boards and won that battle, 37-29. Mercedes Russell grabbed eight boards to go with four points, and DeShields tallied four.
Warlick and Wichita State coach Jody Adams talked before the game and commiserated about personnel issues and injuries.
“I don’t think that Wichita State’s record is any indication of what type of basketball team they have,” Warlick said. “It was a fun basketball game, and both teams battled.”
Warlick described Graves as the “glue” to Tennessee’s offense.
“They had to come at us and be physical with us, and I thought she handled them being physical,” Warlick said. “I thought Mercedes could have handled it a little bit more, but Bashaara was doing what she needed to do.”
That’s the difference in a senior and a redshirt sophomore who is coming back from an 18-month layoff from competitive basketball after surgery on both feet. Russell also is logging a lot of minutes in the absence of Moore and Jones.
“She’s got to get used to people playing under her,” said Warlick, noting Russell’s 6-6 size with shorter defenders. “People are going to bump her. I thought she got good looks, but she was shooting not squared up to the basket, and those are things that we can work on. She’s got to get in the flow. She is a better passer than what she showed.”
The Lady Vols needed the win after Sunday’s loss and a looming road trip that gets tougher with Stanford this Wednesday and Oregon State on Saturday before the Christmas break. With the fall semester and exams completed, the Lady Vols won’t be back in Knoxville for long before departing for the West Coast.
Tennessee hasn’t won at Stanford since 2005, and Oregon State has started 6-0 and has three players on the Naismith Watch List.
Tennessee got the start it needed Friday. Now, the Lady Vols need to finish.
“We have a competitive players,” Graves said. “We just need to put it together offensively and defensively.”