The Lady Vols packed their vintage defense for the trip to Oregon and delivered a much-needed early Christmas present to Tennessee fans with a 53-50 win over Oregon State. Go inside for the latest on the team.
Tennessee (8-3), reeling after a desultory performance against Stanford, got on course against Oregon State (8-1) and handed the Beavers their first loss of the season on Saturday night in Corvallis.
With six seconds to play, Oregon State with the ball and the Lady Vols clinging to a three-point lead, Diamond DeShields gathered her teammates and said: “Let’s go home.”
Oregon State can rain three-pointers, but Sydney Wiese was smothered by DeShields, and Jamie Weisner, guarded by Bashaara Graves, misfired from long range over the rim. The ball bounced harmlessly down the baseline and the clock expired.
It was a defensive stand before that final shot that allowed Tennessee to secure the win. Andraya Carter curled off a Mercedes Russell screen to stick a jumper and give the Lady Vols a 51-48 lead with 3:56 left in the game. Wiese, who would finish with 17 points, answered with a step-back jumper over Russell with the shot clock about to expire to pull the Beavers to 51-50 with 3:13 left.
A block by DeShields and rebound by Jordan Reynolds could have given the Lady Vols the tiniest bit more separation, but Reynolds missed the layup with 2:15 left. Oregon State called timeout with 2:05 left. What followed was a defensive series by Tennessee led by DeShields, Carter, Reynolds, Russell and Graves that held Oregon State scoreless with five chances to take the lead.
Gabriella Hanson missed a jumper, but the Beavers got the offensive board. Weisner missed a three-pointer, followed by another Beaver board. Weisner missed a layup, but Hanson got the rebound. A non-shooting foul on Russell re-set the 30-second clock, and Deven Hunter missed a jumper. Weisner got the rebound and then a high pass to Wiese sent her out of bounds, and Tennessee got the ball.
The Lady Vols contested every shot and put pressure on the ball. They failed to secure the rebounds – there were odd caroms and long boards as Oregon State wasn’t getting clean looks – but dug in each time to get a stop.
“Dean (Lockwood) was telling them not to box out. I am going to blame him,” Coach Holly Warlick joked. “We weathered the storm.”
DeShields got to the rim for Tennessee, missed the shot but grabbed the rebound and was fouled. An 87 percent free throw shooter, DeShields was 0-6 in the game from the stripe before stepping to the line with 34 seconds left. She swished both to give the Lady Vols a 53-50 lead.
“I was like, ‘I have got to put these two in,’ ” said DeShields, who hugged Russell and Reynolds as she left the post-game press conference dais for the radio show.
Weisner missed a jumper with 15 seconds left but got her own rebound. A pass to the perimeter went through a teammate’s leg and into Tennessee’s side of the court. The Lady Vols were awarded the ball, but after a lengthy review, the officials ruled DeShields had knocked the ball out of bounds with eight seconds left to play. That gave Oregon State one last shot, but Wiese could not connect.
The Lady Vols had dominated the first two quarters with Russell tallying 10 points by the break, and DeShields adding eight to stake Tennessee to a 35-18 lead.
The Lady Vols shot 55 percent (17-31) from the field by sticking shots and getting to the paint. If screen assists were tallied, Russell would have had three as she set the picks that opened the way for Carter, Graves and DeShields.
The Lady Vols eschewed the long ball, minus one attempt by Kortney Dunbar, and connected on midrange jumpers. That allowed Tennessee to set its press, and the Lady Vols, led by Carter, discombobulated the Beavers’ offense.
“Andraya Carter was stifling on the defensive end,” Coach Holly Warlick said.
Oregon State went 2-14 from the arc (14 percent) in the first 20 minutes and had rare open looks. Carter took the ball away on the arc, and DeShields blocked another long-range offering.
Carter opened the third quarter with a steal to give the Lady Vols a 37-18 and while Oregon State started connecting, the Lady Vols had an answer and had a 41-28 lead midway through the third quarter.
However, Carter had to exit with her third foul, and the Lady Vols lost their poise on offense and best perimeter defender. By the end of the third quarter, Tennessee’s lead was just five points, 45-40. With the Lady Vols not connecting – they got too deep at times against Oregon State instead of pulling up – they could not set their press.
That set up a nerve-wracking fourth quarter for Lady Vol fans and unleashed a packed house of 8,223 fans at Gill Coliseum. But Tennessee never lost its lead and got the defensive stops down the stretch that had been so elusive in losses to Texas, Virginia Tech and Stanford.
“I can’t say enough about our kids,” Warlick said. “I loved our energy. We had relentless effort.”
It took a shakeup in the starting lineup and a 3.5-hour film session, but the Lady Vols got the message about sustained effort, Tennessee defense and sticking to the game plan.
“We’re talented, but talent doesn’t always win,” Warlick said. “You have to play together, and that talent has to play within your system. Tonight, we played as a team, and that is how it has to be for us.”
On Thursday, the coaches went over the entire 69-55 loss to Stanford with pauses, rewind and breakdowns.
“That opened our eyes to the basketball that we were playing,” DeShields said.
Warlick started the three regulars, Carter, Russell and Graves, stuck with Jaime Nared after her season debut against Stanford and added Kortney Dunbar. It was a statement about playing together and sticking to the game plan. DeShields, Jordan Reynolds and Te’a Cooper were inserted early, and all three played in sync, a marked contrast to the game in Palo Alto.
“What we showed in the fourth quarter of the Stanford game is something we should have been doing all season long,” Reynolds said. “Determination to prove people wrong.”
Cooper passed up shots to get better shots for teammates and whipped a highlight pass to Reynolds. While the box score showed two points and two assists, Cooper was effective with her minutes. Reynolds added eight points and made Oregon State pay twice in a row when the defense left her alone on the baseline.
“We have been stressing player and ball movement,” Russell said. “This was a huge win for us.”
DeShields led Tennessee with 14 points, while Russell added 12. Carter tallied eight points, none bigger than her jumper late in the fourth quarter. Part of the film session included taking some of the pressure off of DeShields – she has had to carry the offense at times – and identify better shots.
“We put her in position to make makeable shots,” Warlick said.
Tennessee headed to the West Coast with porous three-point defense and stymied two of the best three-point shooting teams in the country in Stanford and Oregon State. The Lady Vols’ overall defense broke down repeatedly against the Cardinal, but Tennessee maintained its intensity and focus against Oregon State.
“I thought our defense was outstanding,” Warlick said. “It was stifling at times.”
The fact that Tennessee could flip a switch on both ends from Wednesday to Saturday is why coaches go mad. But the time on the road meant the team was together – and allowed a film session that may have been the longest in Lady Vol history. It was characterized as one of truth telling, and while it’s just December, it was a big step for Tennessee to emerge from that session and execute on the court.
The Lady Vols are still putting pieces together as injured players try to get healed and back on the court. Carter (knee) and Graves (back) have been workhorses for Tennessee while playing through pain and will welcome the time off for Christmas.
Tennessee needed a win before the break for its confidence, staff and team spirit.
“We wanted to play for Holly,” DeShields said. “We have put a lot of pressure on her. We’re deeply sorry for that.”
The Lady Vol fan base needed the win, too.
DeShields probably said it best with this tweet right before midnight: “MERRY CHRISTMAS LADY VOL NATION!!!”
Diamond DeShields, Mercedes Russell, Jordan Reynolds