The Lady Vols took a step backwards Thursday with a loss to Florida, a defeat that was particularly disappointing to the head coach after a three-game winning streak. Go inside with InsideTennessee for analysis and video coverage.
Coach Holly Warlick kept her remarks relatively short following the 74-66 defeat to Florida (13-2, 1-1), but one word stood out and it was rather damning – agenda. After a three-game winning streak during which the coaching staff lauded the players for following the game plan, Tennessee (10-4, 1-1) departed from that approach.
The result was a desultory loss to the Gators to open SEC play at home.
A cursory look at the box score reveals the culprit – 4-22 from the arc. Andraya Carter made three of those on five attempts. Diamond DeShields was 0-5. Te’a Cooper was 1-5 with the make coming at the buzzer to end the first quarter when the team shot a scorching 52.4 percent. Jaime Nared was 0-2. Kortney Dunbar was 0-2, while Alexa Middleton was 0-3, though their attempts mostly were at the end when the Lady Vols were in catch-up mode.
“We were on our own agenda tonight,” Warlick said. “I’m telling them to drive, and they were shooting threes.”
Warlick didn’t expand much on that statement – she was clearly measuring her words and leaving most of her remarks for the locker room – but she emphasized the point again later in the press conference: “We were on our own agenda tonight, and we got the result that we deserved because we weren’t following anybody’s game plan. We did our own thing.”
Assistant coach Dean Lockwood had noted Wednesday that the Lady Vols were better but not where they needed to be. Consider Thursday a regressive move and hopefully an aberration. Auburn, which opened league play by beating Kentucky, comes to town Sunday.
It was the third loss at home this season – Texas and Virginia Tech were the other two – and a crowd of 9,774 was on its feet after a torrid start and disappointed with the final two quarters.
“You can’t lose at home,” Warlick said. “You just can’t lose at home. With the way we play, I wish all of our games were away because we aren’t very good at home. There is not an easy team. You have to come in here with a better mindset.”
The Lady Vols opened the game shooting well and playing solid defense to take a 25-16 lead in the first quarter. Cooper had back-to-back steals to stake a 12-7 lead and after Bashaara Graves found Carter for an and-one play, the Lady Vols led 16-7. Cooper played a flawless first quarter in what may have been her best overall showing as a Lady Vol.
Florida still trailed by six points, 35-29, at the break, but the Lady Vols shot 11.8 percent in the second quarter and had lost their momentum and focus.
"I think when we got that lead, we just kind of settled,” Graves said. We settled, and they just came back. We just kept going back and forth, and we just couldn't get the lead back.”
Graves, who had a career-high 19 rebounds, rued her 2-13 stat from the field.
“Just couldn’t hit shots. That’s on me,” Graves said. “I just couldn't put the ball in the hole, and it definitely hurt us. I was getting opportunities, but just wasn't finishing.”
Graves had plenty of company.
Tennessee shot 29.3 percent (24-82) for the game. The lone bright spots were Carter at 4-9 and Mercedes Russell at 3-6. DeShields had a game she will want to forget – 6-21 overall for 16 points with seven turnovers, including a pass to the bench when Tennessee was trying to come back late in the fourth quarter.
DeShields was 4-4 from the line, and Tennessee shot 82.4 percent (14-17) from the stripe as a team.
But the Gators, led by Carlie Needles with 15 points and Eleanna Christinaki with 18 points, seized the lead for good, 59-58, on a layup by Ronni Williams with 7:49 left. Tennessee twice cut the lead to five points, but the late turnovers and missed three-pointers were too much to overcome.
“Who we are, who this team is, is a collection of tough, gritty, competitive players who battle, and who play with a great deal of competitive fire and passion,” assistant coach Shimmy Gray-Miller said. “That’s what you saw tonight. That’s who we are. That’s Coach Butler’s team.”
Gray-Miller was the acting head coach for Florida because Amanda Butler had a family emergency.
“It is a tribute to her team that they played as hard as they did with her gone,” Warlick said. “My thoughts and prayers are with her family. I hope everything turns out well. I was in communication with her before the game, and she said her family is more important than the game, and I echo that. There is no question.”
Florida won despite 24 turnovers, partly because the Lady Vols piled up 21. The Gators also packed into a zone, though the Lady Vols were able to get to the soft spots, including a nifty reverse by DeShields and a perfect lob pass by Carter to Russell.
The Gators also were piling up fouls and while the officials didn’t call all of them, they whistled 20. Tyshara Fleming fouled out, and Williams and Haley Lorenzen finished the game with four fouls.
Tennessee got excellent looks at the rim and misfired repeatedly.
“You can’t blame Holly,” Carter said. “She was telling the guards to penetrate over and over again. I don’t know if it was the zone, or not wanting to. I don’t know what it was, but we died by the three pointer tonight. We played inside out at Missouri. We played inside out at Oregon State, and we won.”
Tennessee won the battle of the glass, 54-46, with 31 offensive boards. But 18.2 percent shooting from the arc and just six shots by the 6-6 Russell were a recipe for a loss.
The Lady Vols don’t have much time to stew over the defeat, though. While it's concerning that players deviated from the game plan, it doesn't necessarily mean they were defiant. Florida left shooters open on the arc and sometimes the tempation to fire away can be too strong to resist. Also, the shots the Lady Vols got inside were makeable. A modicum of marksmanship in the second quarter would have yielded a double-digit halftime lead.
“I think that’s kind of the beauty of basketball,” Carter said. “You get a good win, and it doesn’t matter. You get a tough loss, and it doesn’t matter. What you just did doesn’t matter. It's what you're doing. That's kind of what we're saying right now, the way we're talking right now, what we say during film tomorrow, what we do during practice tomorrow.
“You have to move forward. You don't have any choice but to move forward in this game. As we've said with our other losses, it's a really frustrating loss. We shouldn't have lost this game at all, but Florida played great, and we have to move forward to Auburn starting tomorrow.”
Coach Holly Warlick