The Lady Vols’ road woes continued with a 67-63 loss to Virginia Tech amid a sea of 21 turnovers. The only good news is that Tennessee will play seven of the next eight games at home.
Tennessee (3-2) fell to Virginia Tech (6-0) in Blacksburg with double-digit marks in missed layups and miscues. The Hokies seemed to take advantage of each one as Virginia Tech scored 21 points off the Lady Vols’ 21 turnovers and outscored Tennessee in the paint, 46-34.
“They were getting to the paint at will,” Mercedes Russell said. “Our intensity on defense wasn’t there at all.”
Russell tallied 17 points and 14 boards for Tennessee but got to the line just three times, where she was 3-3. Overall, the Lady Vols got to the line just 11 times and made eight.
Was the lack of whistles despite contact a factor? Yes, but Coach Holly Warlick also was quick to say it wasn’t an excuse, and the officials missed fouls committed by the Lady Vols, too. Tennessee seemed to get deflated with the misses on offense, which affected their defense on the other end.
“You’ve got to refocus,” Warlick said. “You’re not going to get a call on the road. It’s part of the game. Don’t expect a call. We start feeling a little sorry for ourselves. And we can’t. That’s not how it works.”
Tennessee left shots short and misfired at the rim. As a team, the Lady Vols shot 26-70 (37.1 percent) overall and had just 11 assists.
But the telling stat was the turnovers. Tennessee was fortunate to even be in the game after trailing by 13 points, 57-44, with 8:50 left in the game. But the Lady Vols answered an 11-0 run by the Hokies with a 9-0 run and trailed by just four points, 57-53, with six minutes to go. The Lady Vols trailed 61-57 with two minutes to play, but another Tennessee turnover squandered the chance to trim it and put more pressure on the Hokies.
Russell got the lead to just one point, 62-61, on a layup with 43 seconds to play, but Virginia Tech sealed the win at the free throw line, where the Hokies went 13-23 overall.
The Lady Vols started the game well and went Oregon to Oregon to Oregon – Russell to Jordan Reynolds to Jaime Nared – on the opening tip and scored in the first 10 seconds for a 2-0 lead. It then took four minutes for Tennessee to get another basket on a jumper by Diamond DeShields. At the end of the first quarter, the Lady Vols trailed 18-10 and had turned loose of the ball six times and shot 31.3 percent (5-16) in the first 10 minutes.
It was precisely the start that Tennessee didn’t want, especially coming off the loss a week ago to Penn State. The Lady Vols managed a 31-28 lead at the break, aided by Virginia Tech’s multiple misfires after the Hokies shot 47.1 percent in the first quarter. That was down to 30.8 percent by the break, along with 1-13 (7.7 percent) from the arc for the Hokies.
Tennessee, meanwhile, managed to connect on three 3-pointers, including a banked one in the closing seconds of the second quarter by Jordan Reynolds to take the halftime lead. Russell led the Lady Vols with eight points and seven rebounds by the break.
Nared added seven points and six boards, while DeShields chipped in with six points, but Nared and DeShields also combined for eight of Tennessee’s 10 turnovers with five for DeShields and three for Nared. One particularly egregious error occurred in the open floor when a Hokie easily a sideline pass and was pursued by just one Lady Vol on the other end.
DeShields would finish the game with 15 points, nine boards, 10 turnovers and five assists. Nared had 11 points, 10 boards and five turnovers.
Tennessee’s one-on-one defense was spotty – several players were too upright and the Hokies took advantage with a quick dart to the paint – but the three-ball defense was solid. Virginia Tech takes an average of 21 threes a game and makes six. The Hokies were 2-20 (10 percent) against Tennessee.
The Lady Vols took a reasonable 12 three-pointers but made just three – one from Reynolds, another by Meme Jackson and one from Nared.
Reynolds also reached double digits with 11 points and had just one turnover and three assists. But she left late in the game with an upper leg injury, and there was no initial word on her status.
Tennessee did control the boards, 53-43, after having just a one-board lead, 26-25, in the first 20 minutes.
Chanette Hicks, who assistant coach Dean Lockwood said was the quickest player Tennessee had faced this season, led Virginia Tech with 24 points and eight steals. The Hokies committed just 10 turnovers.
Russell tallied three blocks and is now ranked 10th on Tennessee’s all-time career blocks list, passing Chamique Holdsclaw, who had 111. Tennessee had 10 blocks for the game with Reynolds and DeShields swatting two apiece.
It was a disappointing road trip for the Lady Vols, who finally return home Wednesday, Nov. 30, to take on Tennessee State. That will be followed by Baylor on Sunday, Dec. 4, and then a road trip to Texas a week later on Sunday, Dec. 11.
In the meantime, the Lady Vols will have plenty of film to watch to identify areas of improvement. That will start with valuing the basketball and finishing through contact.
“You’ve got to go up strong,” Russell said. “That’s on us. We practice it all the time.”
Warlick noted in the post-game radio interview that the shots were there. Tennessee repeatedly got to the rim.
“We’re getting the shots we need and missing them,” Warlick said. “And don’t count on getting the calls.