The Lady Vols’ season came to an end in Louisville as Tennessee couldn’t overcome a fourth-quarter drought and fell 75-64 to the Cardinals.
Tennessee (20-12) lost to Louisville (29-7) on its home court at the KFC Yum! Center and were denied a trip to the Sweet 16 in Oklahoma City next weekend. It was the first loss in the second round in 35 tries, and Tennessee will rue the outcome of this game, especially after taking a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.
“I am disappointed for our kids, great group, great bunch of young ladies to work with and be around,” Coach Holly Warlick said.
Instead, the Lady Vols will head into the offseason and await the incoming crop of freshmen – the top-ranked class in the country – and the decisions of Diamond DeShields and Mercedes Russell. Both are eligible for the WNBA draft. For that matter, junior Jaime Nared will graduate in May and also would be draft-eligible, though there hasn’t been any chatter about Nared leaving early.
“It’s frustrating any game you lose; it’s the end of our season,” Nared said. “We’re going to get in the season and get ready
“We’ll take this feeling that we have right now and use it for motivation next season,” Russell said.
Prior to the game, the likelihood was high that Russell would return and DeShields would go pro. Does the loss in the second round move the needle for DeShields to come back for a fifth year? Perhaps, but if DeShields is projected as the top pick, going pro is her probable route.
Nared led Tennessee with 28 points and 11 rebounds, while Russell added 13 points and 11 boards. Both players went the distance – and both players will benefit from reinforcements arriving next season, especially with juco post player Cheridene Green making her Division I debut.
The off-season speculation about Warlick’s status, fueled by the incessant drumbeat of social media, will continue, but Warlick will return, especially with the 2017 signees on board and two commits already in 2018.
Tennessee trailed by one point, 22-21, after the first 10 minutes, as Louisville connected on three 3-pointers, while the Lady Vols went deep twice. Nared got on track immediately and tallied nine points in the first quarter, while Jordan Reynolds dished three assists to open the game.
The Lady Vols trailed at the break, 35-31 – Tennessee missed seven of 14 free throws – while DeShields spent most of the second quarter on the bench with two fouls. Tennessee nipped Louisville on the boards, 19-18, in the first 20 minutes. Nared finished the first half with 15 points and made all four free throw attempts.
Tennessee went down by six points in the third quarter but managed a 47-46 lead behind the offensive prowess of Nared, who had 23 points through three quarters, and board work of Russell, who had 11 rebounds.
But Louisville seized control in the fourth quarter, while the Lady Vols went 0-15 from the field.
All of Tennessee’s points in the fourth quarter came from the free throw line.
“It’s tough,” Russell said. “When you’re not hitting shots, you are supposed to fall back on your defense, and we weren’t getting stops on the defensive end. Not making shots on the offensive end, it wasn’t adding up.”
While the Lady Vols squandered opportunities on offense, Tennessee also dealt with an officiating crew that was as inconsistent as the team this season. The combination sunk the Lady Vols in Louisville.
“I think we got open looks,” said Nared, who noted Tennessee didn’t get on the offensive glass. “It was a lot of what we could have controlled.”
DeShields struggled throughout the game and finished with 15 points, nine of which came from the free throw line after shooting 3-12 from the field.
“She is a tough competitor, and she didn’t have her best game,” Warlick said. “She has gotten us out of tight jams. It wasn’t a typical night for Diamond.”
“They were playing a packed-in defense, and it was tough getting me the ball early,” Russell said.
Tennessee shot 33.3 percent (20-60) overall, 27.8 percent (5-18) from the arc and 70.4 percent (19-27) from the line. The Lady Vols had 11 assists, 13 turnovers, four steals and four blocks. Tennessee prevailed on the glass, 43-41.
Louisville shot 43.9 percent (29-66) overall, 43.8 percent (7-16) from the arc and 62.5 percent (10-16) from the line. The Cardinals had 16 assists, 11 turnovers, one block and six steals.
Durr finished with 23 points on 8-22 shooting, while Mariya Moore notched 19 points and connected on 5-5 from the arc. Myisha Hines-Allen added 14 points.
“When she (Durr) wasn’t hitting, then Moore started hitting,” Nared said. “Overall, we didn’t do a good job of stopping them.”
Warlick noted that “Tennessee missed a lot around the basket.” Those misses especially came in the fourth quarter when Tennessee left shots short. While the players are used to logging a lot of minutes, fatigue may have set in for Tennessee, especially Nared, Russell and Jordan Reynolds, the trio from Oregon who went the distance.
“It was a physical game,” Warlick said. “We didn’t make plays down the stretch. That fourth quarter, we couldn’t get it done. You have to make plays, and we have kids who have made plays all year.”
The incoming freshmen will have to earn their playing time – but it’s there for the taking in practice.
“These kids know what they are getting into,” Warlick said. “It’s Tennessee. We teach these freshmen what it means to play hard and being disciplined. Because they are going to play, and they are going to play a lot. I welcome it. Our practices are going to be extremely competitive.
“We’re going to make sure this Lady Vol program is intact.”