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.