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Lady Vols stumble at Penn State

Tennessee misfires from field to fall 70-56 against Lady Lions

Tennessee fell on the road Sunday to Penn State, 70-56, amid of flurry of missed shots and porous defense. Jaime Nared was a bright spot for the Lady Vols, as the junior forward went the distance and posted a double-double.

Tennessee (3-1) struggled early on both ends – though the Lady Vols managed to close within two points in the fourth quarter – and the Penn State (2-1) answered every run to secure a signature win for the Lady Lions.

“We got outworked, out-hustled, out-everything,” Tennessee Coach Holly Warlick said. “It looked like a very uninspired team that thought it would come in here and beat Penn State. We did not compete today.”

Penn State’s Teniya Page put up 29 points on 10-21 shooting to lead the Lady Lions. Perimeter players have feasted so far this season, as the Lady Vols have struggled to stop the ball. The best on-ball defender, Te’a Cooper, is sidelined for the season after tearing her ACL last summer. However, her absence doesn’t justify the lack of defense on display against Penn State.

Warlick mentioned just two players’ effort in her post-game radio remarks – Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell.

“Jaime and Mercedes, they battled, they fought,” Warlick said.

Nared played 40 minutes and posted 18 points and 11 boards. Russell logged 37 minutes – and absorbed a pounding inside – and added 19 points and 11 rebounds.

“Mercedes got banged up quite a bit, and it wasn’t called,” Warlick said. “That’s part of the game.”

No other Lady Vol reached double digits, though Diamond DeShields came close at eight points.

Outside of Nared’s marksmanship (8-17 overall), the Lady Vols misfired from all spots on the court, especially in the second quarter. Trailing by one to start the second quarter, Tennessee went down by 15 points and trailed 33-20 at halftime, closing the deficit to 13 points thanks to a last-second jumper by Jordan Reynolds.

Tennessee shot 1-11 (9.1 percent) from the arc in the first 20 minutes while Penn State went 5-10 from long range before halftime. The Lady Vols also committed seven turnovers before the break, and the Lady Lions took advantage of the miscues.

The launching of threes played right into Penn State’s hands, as the Lady Vols are an inside-out team, not the opposite. Tennessee attempted 19 three-pointers and made just two of them. Penn State, which is a long ball team, attempted 18 and made nine of them for the game.

The offensive plan was to attack Penn State’s zone and get to the paint.

“I was begging them to penetrate,” Warlick said.

Instead, Tennessee retreated into the bad habit of becoming a team of jump shooters. The Lady Vols will be in shootouts this season – this team is not defensively stout and has a short roster – so offensive struggles will be magnified. Had the Lady Vols notched their season average of 83 points – or even come closer to it – they would have exited University Park, Pennsylvania, with a win.

Tennessee shot 23-73 (31.5 percent) overall, 2-19 (10. 5 percent) from the arc and 8-10 (80 percent) from the line. The Lady Vols had 13 assists and 12 turnovers and prevailed on the glass, 45-40.

Warlick indicated after the game that the team didn’t follow its scouting report defense – a lesson that a veteran team should have fully absorbed after last season. However, several players are adjusting to vastly expanded roles this season. Still, Warlick has lauded this team’s focus and willingness to work. Neither was on display Sunday. Was it a harbinger of games to come or an aberration?

“We’ve got to understand what we need to do as a group,” Warlick said. “We didn’t bring it today. I will take responsibility for that. But this is not going to happen again.”

While the Lady Vols have been road warriors to start the season – they have played just once at home – the last game was Tuesday, so fatigue should have been minimized by Sunday. However, players at every spot short-armed their shots and then struggled to identify shooters for Penn State on the other end.

DeShields, who turned her ankle but returned in the second quarter, was effective on defense but struggled on offense. Kortney Dunbar, who has battled a foot issue to start the season, led Tennessee in the first half with five points, including Tennessee’s lone make from long range.

Nared went to work in the third quarter, especially on the boards, and the Lady Vols managed to cut the lead nearly in half to 35-27, but Penn State built it back to 40-27. Meme Jackson, who started the third quarter, connected on a three and Mercedes Russell got to the paint via dribble from the perimeter to cut the lead to 42-38.

The Lady Vols cut the lead to two, 44-42, on a DeShields’ jumper to start the fourth quarter, but the Lady Lions answered and then some, building a 57-42 lead. Russell and DeShields continued to struggle – they were a combined 6-24 with almost six minutes to play – and the Lady Vols followed up poor shooting with porous defense.

A burst late in the fourth quarter allowed Tennessee to trim the lead to nine points, 54-63, with two minutes to play, but the Lady Vols ran out of time – and timely offense.

The game began with great news for Lady Vol fans. With the announcement that Rennia Davis chose Tennessee – she tweeted a row of oranges about 15 minutes before tipoff – the Lady Vols now have the consensus No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

Meanwhile, the road trips continue as the Lady Vols will play at Virginia Tech next Sunday. Tennessee finally sees its home court on Nov. 30 against Tennessee State. That is followed by a home game against Baylor and a road trip to Texas.

“Our schedule does not get any easier,” Warlick said.

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