Tennessee will get back on the road for a matchup with Notre Dame on “Big Monday.” Associate head coach Kyra Elzy chatted with the media Sunday. Go inside for the latest on the Lady Vols.
No. 13/15 Tennessee (11-5) will be at a tough venue to get back on track against No. 3 Notre Dame (16-1). Tipoff is set for 7:01 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPN2) at Purcell Pavilion.
It’s been eight years since Tennessee won in South Bend – Candace Parker and Angie Bjorklund lit up the Fighting Irish on Jan. 5, 2008 – and Notre Dame has won the last five matchups between the two programs. If the Lady Vols were to prevail Monday, it would be the first road win over a top three team in 12 years – the last time was against Duke on Jan. 24, 2004.
That is, of course, a big if, especially after Thursday’s 64-59 loss at Arkansas, but the game in South Bend will be a stiff test, regardless of how Tennessee played beforehand.
The Lady Vols submerged themselves against Arkansas with 24 turnovers in a game that seemed imminently winnable. The team landed in the wee hours of Friday morning after flying home from Fayetteville and were on the practice court a few hours later at 7 a.m.
Associate head coach Kyra Elzy said the staff wanted to gather the players while the loss was still very fresh on everyone’s mind.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
The team is striving for better focus and sustained intensity. The Lady Vols had the lead at halftime against Arkansas but opened the third quarter with five consecutive turnovers of the self-destruct kind, not forced.
“We didn’t follow the game plan all the way through against Arkansas, and we got upset for that reason,” Elzy said.
The players had mentioned having poor practices in the two days leading up to the game – the Lady Vols still have a tendency to believe they can put on an orange uniform and beat a perceived lesser team, a trait that has popped up for the past 10 years or so – and it showed in Fayetteville.
So practice for Notre Dame got started very early Friday.
“It was an opportunity to get better, not punishment,” Elzy said. “We underachieved. We thought it was important while it was fresh on their mind to go back and work on the things we did not do well. We ignited their offense by giving them easy scoring opportunities, and it’s hard to win on the road when you play that way.”
Elzy handled the scout for Notre Dame, and the Lady Vols will face “a high-powered offense,” she said. The Fighting Irish have excellent shooters in Madison Cable, Marina Mabrey and Michaela Mabrey.
“They execute very well,” Elzy said. “We have to stay disciplined defensively.”
Elzy noted the team is “back on track” and has been focused in practice since getting back to Knoxville. The players held their own film screening session before watching film with the coaches Sunday.
“That is always a good sign that they are invested and ready to go,” Elzy said.
The assistant coach also was asked about fan reaction to the team’s struggles.
“Obviously the fans were disappointed that we lost, and we are disappointed as well,” Elzy said. “We have a responsibility to uphold a legacy and play the Lady Vol way. Stay patient. We will get back on track.
“We have a lot of talent. It’s just a matter of clicking at the right time and getting everyone playing at a high level at the same time. We will get back on track.”
The Lady Vol losses have been the result of poor play, a fixable issue by coaches and players. If the Lady Vols were playing well and still losing, that would be more of a concern. But this team has a high ceiling if it can put all of its parts together on both ends of the court.
“The good thing is the season is long,” Elzy said. “We have a lot of talent. Our challenge for them is to play as hard as you can consistently for 40 minutes. I think you will see a vast improvement.”
The team sometimes can go as Diamond DeShields goes. When she struggles, it can have a domino effect. The coaches don’t want that to be the case.
“It’s not all about Diamond,” Elzy said, who noted the go-to qualities of Mercedes Russell and Bashaara Graves. “That’s the beauty of having a lot of talent.”
The conversation with DeShields centered on cutting back on turnovers – she has turned loose of the ball repeatedly lately with 20 throwaways in the past three games – taking shots on balance and not looking for the “home run” play on every possession.
“We challenged her to get her teammates involved, play hard defensively, and good things will come,” Elzy said.
Monday’s game offers a national television audience for the Lady Vols – and the chance to do something Tennessee hasn’t done in 12 years, as noted above.
“They came to play on the big stage, so they have the opportunity to do so Monday,” Elzy said. “We will be focused, ready to go.
"We told our kids, ‘Lay your heart and soul out there.’ ”