Tennessee takes on Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and the Lady Vols will be trying to reach the program’s 35th Sweet 16. InsideTennessee asked assistant coach Jolette Law about the Lady Vols.
No. 5 seed Tennessee (20-11) faces No. 4 Louisville (28-7) at 6:45 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPN2) at the KFC Yum! Center, the home court for the Cardinals. Law handled the scout for Monday’s game.
InsideTennessee: First question. The challenge of the women’s tournament means facing a team on its home court. But this Tennessee team has shown it can withstand – and sometimes even thrive in – hostile environments. While you certainly respect the challenge in Louisville, is the staff confident in the team’s ability to handle the situation?
Jolette Law: Definitely. Our team has performed well in hostile environments. They are used to it and at Tennessee we have great crowds, so crowds don’t rattle us. We’ve gone to South Carolina and silenced their crowd, and we’ve gone to Mississippi State and silenced their crowd as well. We welcome the challenge, and we’ve just got to be so committed, so focused.
IT: Second question. What does Louisville do offensively and defensively? What challenges do the Cardinals present?
Law: We have got to make sure we handle their pressure. They are a very aggressive team. Jeff Walz does a great job with his team defensively. We have to be composed and handle their pressure. We have to limit turnovers because they switch a lot, one through four and sometimes one through five. They will switch on our bigs, and we have to be able to recognize it and get the ball where it needs to go.
IT: Third question. Schaquilla Nunn, you only have her this one season as a graduate transfer, but how valuable has she become to this team? She is always around the ball and that is not an accident. What is it about Schaquilla that has made her so productive with her minutes?
Law: I just think she is relentless. She is determined. Wherever that ball goes, she wants it. She’s hungry. What stuck out to me the most when she played against us with Winthrop is that this girl has a knack for the ball. She works hard. She pursues the ball. And she gets to the ball early (because of anticipation). She has been a valuable key, a great asset for our program, and I truly wish we had her for another couple of years.
IT: Fourth question, and it’s a two-part guard question. Meme Jackson can really help this team, but she sometimes gets out of sync, especially on the offensive end. How do you settle her down in a big NCAA matchup when you need her contributions, especially on defense?
Law: I always tell Meme, ‘Bring what you bring. Do what you do. You are our defensive stopper. We rely on your energy. When things don’t go well, just refocus and regroup.’ There are times when me might have to take her out to settle her down, but we’re going to need Meme in order to go far. When she has those moments, we sit her down and encourage her to keep it simple and do what you do. We need that energy. When she is doing those things, we are a much better team.
IT: And then Diamond DeShields is simply at a different level than most college players. She is so key to Tennessee’s success. She can control the game on both ends of the floor. How much does Tennessee depend on her right now?
Law: We depend on Diamond a lot. Diamond is playing a very heady game. The biggest thing that I challenge Diamond on daily is: ‘Make everyone around you better. We know that you can score at will.’ The thing that Diamond is doing now is that she is assisting. She is facilitating. She is getting everyone else involved. She is finding Mercedes Russell on the low block. She is looking for Jaime Nared. She is looking to make the pass when two or three defenders are coming at her. She is looking for Alexa Middleton. She found Schaquilla Nunn (on Saturday).
Diamond is at a whole other level and if Diamond is playing like that, she becomes the most dangerous player on the floor. Because she can also score. She can shoot. Great players make people around them better.
IT: The pass to Schaquilla against Dayton stands out. (16-second mark of below video.)
IT: Because you can fire a pass to Mercedes in transition, and she will handle it in stride, but Schaquilla is more deliberate with her steps. And Diamond just left the ball there for her, put it right in front of her. Is that a good example of knowing personnel and being in tune with what a teammate can do?
Law: She is invested. She is invested in her teammates. Diamond DeShields wants to win, and she knows she can’t do it by herself. She knows our personnel. She knows where she can place the ball to Schaquilla. She knows how to make good passes to Mercedes. She is involved and every game, every practice, she is getting better and better.
IT: Fifth question. The numbers for Tennessee are staggering – 41 consecutive seasons of 20 or more wins, playing in all 36 NCAA tourneys and now seeking a 35th Sweet 16. What does Tennessee have to do Monday to get to another Sweet 16?
Law: Defensively, we have to make sure we identify No. 25, Asia Durr, and we must contain their big three, Asia Durr; No. 4, Mariya Moore; and No. 2, Myisha Hines-Allen. We have to contain those and not let their X factors come in and have good games. We have to disrupt and keep them off balance. We must box out. We must give them just one opportunity at the basket. We have to put a body on them and box them out. We have to stop their transition. They are an excellent transition team. If we can control them and control the tempo of the game, we will have an opportunity to be victorious.
Offensively, we need to move the ball, take care of it, limit unforced turnovers, make sure we are making the extra pass, handle their pressure, don’t get rattled and keep attacking. Stay in attack mode.
If we do those things on both ends of the floor, we will go to a Sweet 16.