The Lady Vols have been an enigmatic team this season – with a tendency to go as Diamond DeShields goes – and fell to Arkansas on the road Thursday. Go inside for game analysis.
Tennessee (11-5, 2-2) squandered an 11-point halftime lead and left Fayetteville with a loss to Arkansas (7-10, 2-2 SEC).
The Lady Vols led 32-21 at the break behind 11 points from Diamond DeShields. Tennessee opened the game with three turnovers before scoring – Jaime Nared stuck a baseline jumper – and had six miscues in the first 10 minutes.
But Tennessee trimmed the turnovers to three in the second quarter and stiffened its defense, getting a turnover out of a trap and a shot clock violation on back-to-back Razorback possessions to fuel an 8-0 run and 11-point lead at halftime.
The Lady Vols opened the third quarter with five consecutive turnovers, and Arkansas wiped out the deficit to trail by just two points, 32-30, forcing a timeout by Tennessee after the 9-0 run. Nared got a fade-away to fall with a favorable bounce to give the Lady Vols a 34-30 lead.
But Arkansas led 43-40 at the end of the third quarter as the Lady Vols turned over the ball 10 times with bad passes – including one sent to the bench with no orange jersey in sight – and two offensive charges.
Tennessee didn’t fare much better in the fourth quarter as Arkansas built a 10-point lead, and the Lady Vols missed point-blank shots at the rim. Tennessee did pull to within three points late in the game, but Arkansas’ Jessica Jackson secured the win at the free throw line and finished with 25 points.
Coach Holly Warlick noted on the post-game radio show that the last two days of practice were “casual,” and it showed against Arkansas.
“You’ve got to come with an attitude of: ‘We’ve got to go to work.’ We get up and we exhale,” Warlick said.
Dean Lockwood had noted before the game that both teams wanted to score in the paint – and keep out the opponent. Tennessee won that battle in the first half, 16-12, and prevailed on the glass, 24-15, in the first 20 minutes.
Those numbers barely remained in the Lady Vols’ favor at the end of the game – 26-24 in points in the game and 49-35 on the boards – but Arkansas won the scoreboard.
Lockwood also noted that Tennessee could not squander possessions, and the Lady Vols did so two dozen times. It will be an uncomfortable film session for the Lady Vols as they watch 24 turnovers, nearly all of which were unforced. While the box score credits Arkansas with 12 steals, the Lady Vols at times tossed the ball right to a Razorback.
“We threw the ball away like it was nothing,” Warlick said.
Arkansas scored 27 of its 64 points off of Tennessee’s turnovers, while the Lady Vols got just nine points from the Razorbacks’ 17 miscues. Had Arkansas been able to handle the Lady Vols’ full court pressure, the margin of victory would have been in double digits.
DeShields led Tennessee with 14 points but was 6-16 from the field. She had a busy travel day as she is representing Tennessee at an NCAA student-athlete event in San Antonio, Texas, and traveled to Fayetteville on game day.
She will return to Texas on Friday to finish the gathering of convention delegates for the “Autonomy Conferences” – which gets input from student-athletes on NCAA issues and decision-making – before rejoining her team in Knoxville. DeShields participated last year while redshirting and wanted to do so again in 2016. In hindsight, the travel time may have affected her energy level at Arkansas, but she is a student-athlete first and had permission to attend.
DeShields had the ball stripped in the lane and had a rebound taken out of her hands – not typical plays for the redshirt sophomore – and accumulated seven turnovers.
But the Lady Vols should have put away Arkansas in the third quarter, regardless of DeShields’ output. The Razorbacks seized on the turnovers to start the third quarter, swiped momentum and handed the Lady Vols their second conference loss in four games.
Warlick planted most of the starters on the bench for a stretch of the third quarter and inserted Nia Moore, who had four points and four rebounds, and Alexa Middleton, who had five of Tennessee’s 11 assists, mostly by finding Mercedes Russell inside.
Russell posted a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. She and Bashaara Graves, who had a pair of sevens in points and rebounds, were swarmed in the paint.
Jordan Reynolds added seven points, eight rebounds and three assists, but Tennessee’s other two point guards struggled. Andraya Carter hit her first three, but misfired on two other long-range shots after not getting her feet set. Te’a Cooper was 1-9 from the field. Cooper and Carter had four turnovers combined – a workable number at that position – but zero assists.
Tennessee misfired from the perimeter – in some cases players hesitated; in other cases, one-on-one play backfired – and shot 35 percent (24-69) overall after connecting at nearly 60 percent in the last game.
Tennessee has been consistently inconsistent this season, and it seems to have stumped players and coaches as to why the Lady Vols sometimes play together so well at times and dissolve at others.
Russell noted that the consistency must start in practice – and the lack of such has carried over into games.
“We haven’t been consistent at all this year,” Russell said.
The Lady Vols don’t have much time to stew over an SEC loss. They head next to Notre Dame.
“We’ve got to go back to work,” Warlick said. “We’ve just got to get better.”
Andraya Carter, Diamond DeShields