Taking shots more of an issue for Spani, Burdick

SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee's Cierra Burdick shoots over teammate Taber Spani during practice at Pratt Pavilion on Oct. 9.

Photo by Saul Young, 2012 Knoxville News Sentinel

SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee's Cierra Burdick shoots over teammate Taber Spani during practice at Pratt Pavilion on Oct. 9.

Tennessee's Taber Spani and Cierra Burdick have invested considerable hours and effort toward making jump shots.

They appreciate the value of repetition and are students of the mechanics involved — everything from the footwork to the release point.

And yet these Lady Vols aren't always inclined to take jump shots. In their case, realizing when to pull the trigger doesn't follow automatically from knowing how to do it. Their sense of timing, or lack thereof, says more about their personalities than their work ethic.

At least they grasp the notion that a healthier relationship between the taking and the making could enhance their shooting, along with UT's women's basketball prospects.

"The problem is, and Cierra too, we cannot pass up good shots," Spani said. "because a three(-pointer) is like a layup for me. And a jump shot is like a layup for her."

To date, No. 14 Tennessee (6-1) has not been hurting for any sort of layup from them. The Lady Vols are ranked third nationally in scoring, averaging 86 points per game. Junior guard Meighan Simmons leads the SEC at 17.9 points per game while forward Bashaara Graves is the top-scoring freshman at 15.1.

Simmons scored a career-high 33 points in last Sunday's 102-57 victory over North Carolina. The performance earned her conference player-of-the-week honors. She also guaranteed herself a more prominent mention in the scouting reports of UT's upcoming opponents. A three-game gauntlet begins with a visit to No. 12 Texas next Sunday, followed by a game at No. 3 Baylor (Dec. 18) and a home game against top-ranked Stanford (Dec. 22).

First-year coach Holly Warlick addressed both current circumstances and future considerations when speaking of the 6-foot-1 Spani. The senior guard is more closely aligned with the role of

sharpshooter. Besides Simmons and Graves, she's the only other Lady Vol with a career scoring high at or above 20 points. She scored 22 against Virginia last November.

But Spani hasn't yet topped 10 points in a game this season. Her high for shot attempts has been eight against North Carolina. Her career average is about six per game.

"I think she thinks she comes into the game and she has to immediately make a shot," Warlick said. "I don't tell her, 'Taber you need to immediately go in and score.' "

In the next breath, Warlick added: "Now do we expect her to make shots? Absolutely. Because that's what she does."

Warlick said that she's confident in Spani's scoring ability and thinks that she probably has been pressing. Spani's confidence is a more important consideration. She's made just four 3-pointers so far this season and is shooting 22.2 percent (4 for 18) from behind the arc .

Spani conceded that initially she felt "overwhelmed" this season by assuming a leadership role with a youthful team. After a month, she lightened her load, realizing that it's better, "to be who you are. That's enough."

The burden likely weighed on her shooting, as did some issues with her back. She described her status as "OK." She took a break on Wednesday and received treatment.

The coaches had been advising Spani to get her legs into her shot. But she'd go in the gym on her own and hit 18 of 20 attempts from long range. Carefree teammate Kamiko Williams has turned her advice into a refrain.

"I tell her all the time, 'Taber, good defense. Hey, shoot the ball.' '' Williams said. " 'Taber way to box out. Hey, shoot the ball.' I always have to say, 'Shoot the ball.' "

Apparently Spani has listened to her. Forget the legs. She's trying to get her mind out of her shot.

"Stop thinking about it, just shoot," Spani said. "I know I'm a great shooter and so just shoot."

It's possible to read Burdick's mind set by looking at her basketball shoes. Written prominently on her right shoe are the words "Next Play." Warlick spoke to the catchphrase in complimenting Burdick's improved resilience.

"What I love about Cierra right now is she's not getting caught up in a mistake and just getting really down on herself,'' Warlick said. "She's really learned to refocus."

Burdick's challenges are made larger by smaller players. The 6-foot-2 sophomore starts at small forward, which often matches her against quicker forwards or guards. She had to deal with Middle Tennessee State's Icelyn Elie, who had shooting range to the 3-point line in scoring 21 points against Tennessee on Nov. 28. Last Sunday, Burdick's defensive assignment was North Carolina point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt.

"It's funny because I'm 6-2, 170 and sometimes I'm guarding 5-8, 140 players," Burdick said. "I just have to really remember to stay low and move my feet and kind of anticipate what they're doing."

Written less prominently on Burdick's left shoe is the phrase "Let it flow." The phrase suggests an alternative to Burdick overthinking her shot selection. The process is larger than the smaller lettering indicates.

The player who worked extensively on her shooting in the offseason cand shot 6 for 8 from the floor in scoring a career-high 16 points against Georgia Tech on Nov. 11 is the same one who hoisted three attempts against MTSU.

"That's just unacceptable," she said. "On the scouting report it would say I'm a shooter. So why am I only shooting three shots?"

Burdick's scouting report on herself is more detailed, describing a shooter's conflict.

"Since I started playing basketball, I (don't) have that assassin mentality," Burdick said. "Meighan is one of the best players I've seen who has that mentality. She hunts down shots and gets her shots.

"Me, I'm kind of like the pass-first player. So it's really tough for me to take the shots that come to me because I'm always like 'Oh well, can we get a better shot? Can I get Izzy B. (Harrison) a shot in the paint, it's two feet away from the basket, instead of me taking a shot that's 18 feet away from the basket?' It's always like I have that hesitation on what is a good shot."

Burdick took more shots last Sunday. After starting 1-for-6 against North Carolina, she hit four of her final six attempts, including a 3-pointer to punctuate the rout.

She finished in a good flow.

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Comments » 10

UTByrd writes:

One important saying I have heard in regards to achieving high quality sports performance is to "Let the game come to you."
I commend you on your dedication but will venture to state that the inspirational words you have written on your shoes could actually be a distraction. "Letting it flow" is a state of mind achieved by eliminating any and all distractions. Reading the words on your shoes make take a milisecond but it goes deeper than that. Trust yourself and you will be able to "Let it flow" and automatically be into "The next play". Trust yourself as well as your teammates. Good things will come.
Go LADY VOLS and VOLS!!!!!

richvol writes:

Spani has not played to her potential in the previous three years...it's time.

tonyvick#213307 writes:

in response to UTByrd:

One important saying I have heard in regards to achieving high quality sports performance is to "Let the game come to you."
I commend you on your dedication but will venture to state that the inspirational words you have written on your shoes could actually be a distraction. "Letting it flow" is a state of mind achieved by eliminating any and all distractions. Reading the words on your shoes make take a milisecond but it goes deeper than that. Trust yourself and you will be able to "Let it flow" and automatically be into "The next play". Trust yourself as well as your teammates. Good things will come.
Go LADY VOLS and VOLS!!!!!

Yea what Bryd said...

johnlg00 writes:

in response to ANYONE_BUT_LIBS:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

The only game they lost this year so far was the Chattanooga game. Almost none of them excelled on offense, but the main problem was that they didn't stop anybody. Meighan is shooting nearly 50% on this season so far. She is not the problem on this team, insofar as it HAS any problems except for being young and not very tall.

GburgOrange writes:

GBO.

dewey0022 writes:

in response to ANYONE_BUT_LIBS:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You should get your facts straight before you bash the best shooter on this team. "Ball hog" Simmons, like you like to call her is the leagues leading scorer 17.9 ppg., 8th in shooting precentage at approximately 46%, and 1st in free throw shooting at about 91%. She is also really disturbing people on the defensive end with a ton of deflections and a whole bunch of steals. Megan Simmons has obviously put in the work in the gym and is enthusiastic; wanting to win everytime she puts on a Tennessee uniform. I also would like to remind you that her shooting percentage is from a guard spot and not that of a post which is where the highest scoring percentages generally come from. I am telling you that if the recent graduates from the program had half of the heart that Ms. Simmons did or played with a portion of the effort that she does,they would have made a final four. Hopefully, her desire to work hard, get in the gym and practice as well as desire to win rubs off on the new players coming into the program and the Lady Vols never waste as much talent as they did over the last 4 years with a bunch of all americans who only committed to playing hard when they felt like it without regard to the high standards and traditions that the lady vols have always had. Simmons' heart, determination, and desire to win should be looked at much more closely than the number of points she puts on the board or the number of shots she takes. I say keep up the great work Megan and keep on shooting.

Volinflan writes:

dewey - I'm with you 100% on Simmons play. I was at the Chattanooga game and, if the other players had tried as hard in the last 5 minutes as Simmons did, the Lady Vols could have won that game. First I say, IMHO, Graves was the best player on the team that night, but Simmons just did not want to lose. I'm sure none of them wanted to lose, but it looked as if some of them had accepted it and "sort of" quit. Simmons was still giving her whole heart's effort.

All that being said, we should be proud that a team as young as they are and following the graduation of so many that had played most of the criticle roles for so long, are doing as well as they are. I'm haveing fun. If they come back from Texas one out of two, we'll be tearing the house down when Stanford shows up in Knoxville.

ps11824 writes:

ANYONE_BUT_LIBS writes:
Kinda hard for anyone to shoot when ball hog Simmons shoots all the time....and usually misses and costs them a game ]]]

This seems like a personal problem. You ARE NOT digesting the facts. Without Simmons, we would have fallen from the rankings. Points are points. Offensive boards are the responsibility of team. If Meigan is in her range, and if her teammates are in position to get the board, she'd be benched if she DID NOT take the shot. And rightfully so. I'm definitely on the Simmons bandwagon. I'll take a 30+ shooter to war with me any day over any player lacking confidence to put the ball in the basket.

I will agree it takes rounded players; defense is key to winning games, but points on the board is ALWAYS key. I think we have a pretty well-rounded team that is gaining confidence with every game.

I like Holly's attitude, her mantra - work hard! GLV. Coach is living her dream. She's darned sure earned it.

tonyvick#213307 writes:

Tennessee seems to be the only team taking such a long lay off before play. I think this may hurt their cohesiveness? Why such a long lay off?

SoddyVol writes:

If Meighan can continue shooting like she has this year, the Vols will go a long way.. 54.5 % shooting the NC game Plus 4 assists and over 45 % shooting for the year is hard to beat coming from a guard, especially when some of them are 3s.

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