Holly Warlick already checking defense

Holly Warlick is sowing the seeds of another defensive revival for Tennessee women's basketball.

The Lady Vols first-year coach spoke to the Knoxville Rotary Club on Tuesday and told the luncheon crowd to expect up-tempo, full-court tactics this season. She's reinforcing her intentions with the players through their preseason workouts. The Lady Vols began basketball group instruction this week at Pratt Pavilion.

"Early on, our focus is going to be what we do on the defensive end and our rebounding,'' she said. "Those are two points of emphasis. Run press, score

— that's my goal. Getting us to where we're playing at a fast tempo and a fast pace."

Her hope is that the strategy takes root much better than last season, when a similar approach all but withered and died within the first month.

Warlick doesn't appear stubborn in again pressing this agenda. Improved defense already was on the docket. Furthermore, the approach suits a revised roster that has more wingspan and athleticism than actual experience.

Perhaps the collective naivete of five first-year players will actually assist the process.

"They don't know what to expect,'' Warlick said. "They're just hungry to get out there and play.

"I don't see a lot of fear in their eyes. They don't know what it's like to play a Stanford or a Baylor. They don't know that."

While the newcomers receive their marching orders from Warlick and her staff, they also take their cues from the returning veterans. None of them were especially adept at implementing last season's defensive plan of action. The examples they set will be important. For starters, they sound agreeable to trying again to embrace a pressing style of play.

"Every day is a change; every season is a new season," sophomore guard Ariel Massengale said. "We're a different team than we had last year. Isabelle Harrison and Bashaara Graves are our only true posts. We're very guard oriented. For us to win and be competitive in the SEC, that's something we're going to have to do."

After two seasons at UT, junior guard Meighan Simmons said that she and the other returning players are coming to the conclusion that there has to be a better way.

"I feel like the people who are returning, a lot of people's mind-sets have changed a lot," she said. "I feel like for this team, we have to have a better idea."

Simmons characterized pressure defense as "a great idea."

Senior Taber Spani spent the summer recovering from a knee injury that slowed her for most of last season. Spani said that she's healthy and eager to lead the younger players in whatever direction Warlick points the team.

"Yes, there's going to be some learning curves, but I think they're also very open and receptive and nobody has any preconceptions about what it might look like because Holly has the full reins,'' Spani said. "So we're really ready to just jump into it."

Dan Fleser covers Tennessee women's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser.

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Comments » 3

Noogaorange writes:

Just win baby! Good luck to Holly and the Lady Vols. GBO VFL17

love_the_lady_vols writes:

Defensive, and time for # 9, Go lady vols.

johnlg00 writes:

Pressure defense is a state of mind as much as a physical approach to the game, both for your own team and the one you want to plant in the minds of the opponent. It doesn't have to be a helter-skelter, pushing, slapping, grabbing thing. It is about positioning and timing. It's nice if you have the foot speed and numbers to harass the other team one-on-one, but it can also be run to simply keep the ball-handler in front of you so she either has to take the ball up slow or risk throwing long passes, hopefully into the corners where traps can be sprung. Make them use up the shot clock in merely advancing the ball to the front court, so they have less time to get the shot they want. Eventually, the mental pressure will force errors and turnovers without a lot of foul-producing reaching and grabbing. Then once you get the turnover, take it in to score. Might be a good way to go this year if all the girls buy in.

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