Tennessee has more than two consecutive women's basketball losses to contemplate during its Christmas break.
The Lady Vols also have lost the momentum gained by seven consecutive victories, including four over ranked opponents. The surge sent them soaring up the national rankings to No. 10 after last Sunday's 94-75 victory at No. 18 Texas.
Poor shooting starts against both No. 3 Baylor and No. 1 Stanford has weakened Tennessee's offense — heretofore the team's strength. Defense and rebounding have been caught up in the ripple effect. Head coach Holly Warlick judged the team's effort in Saturday's 73-60 loss to the Cardinal as unacceptable and said, "it's my job to make sure we straighten that out and change that."
Sophomore forward Cierra Burdick agreed with her coach's criticism.
"That's what hurts," she said. "When you put on a Tennessee (uniform) you're supposed to play with heart and passion."
Saturday's game was the third in seven days for No. 10 Tennessee (7-3). Two were on the road. Burdick conceded that her legs were "shot" in the second half Saturday and mentioned an air ball she shot. But she quickly added that the players should be responsible for their physical maintenance.
"We have all the treatment and rehab at our hands and it's our job to take care of ourselves and
get our body back," she said. "That's not an excuse to (not) get in a stance and play D."
Warlick essentially told her youthful team to relax after a season-opening loss at Chattanooga last month and the players bounced back two days later with a 71-54 victory at then-No. 22 Georgia Tech. The Lady Vols' response, along with their play since then, apparently has changed Warlick's expectations, even against an elite team like Stanford. On Saturday, she was less forgiving in assessing some of the same team attributes.
"It could be (a lack of) maturity; it could be youth; we can't change our youth," Warlick said. "We can probably get a little more serious. We have had great practices. This will change. As coaches, we will make some changes, too. It is time to grow up."
In the last two losses, Tennessee's overall per-game scoring average plunged by more than six points (87-80.9) and its field goal shooting percentage fell from 46.5 to 43.2. Conversely, the opposition's overall scoring average went up more than two more points per game (62.6 to 64.8) and its shooting percentage improved from 35.5 to 37.5.
In rebounding, the lady Vols have dropped from an 8.2 to a 5.5 advantage per game.
Warlick sounded as if she wants the players to be as mad as she about any dropoff in defense and rebounding.
"You have to get ticked off because your man scored, not just because you missed a shot," she said. "You need to be extremely upset and mad that you missed a box out. You just let the team down."