Warlick really happy with win over Rutgers
Tennessee's defense performed double duty Sunday afternoon.
The Lady Vols' primary objective was thwarting Rutgers and they struck quickly, holding the Scarlet Knights scoreless for nearly six minutes at the outset. UT's stingy play initiated a 66-47 women's basketball victory that featured no ties and no lead changes.
Before a crowd of 12,347 at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Lady Vols also had to cover for their spotty play. They committed 18 turnovers and were outscored in the second half (34-33) after leading by as many as 28 points.
Coach Holly Warlick was content with the tradeoff. Actually, she seemed buoyant that, no matter the varying circumstances, her players were more defensive-minded.
"I think you see the result of two days of pretty tough, hard practices and staying on them," she said. "As a coach, when you teach something and they respond, that's exciting. I think our players responded to the coaching staff."
They still were responding afterward. Isabelle Harrison led No. 13 Tennessee (9-3), tying her career high with 18 points. Yet the sophomore center was more excited by her personal-best six steals. She had tied her previous career high of four by halftime in helping UT open a 33-13 lead.
"Whatever I can do to help on defense," she said, "and I think it helps us so much on offense. I'm really proud I contributed on that."
Guard Meighan Simmons scored 15 points for Tennessee. With her mother, grandmother and great grandmother in attendance, freshman forward Bashaara Graves scored 11 and grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds. The double-double was Graves' sixth, tying her for the SEC lead.
Reserve guard Kahleah Copper led Rutgers (8-4) with 13 points. Despite a game second-half effort, the Scarlet Knights never recovered from the first 20 minutes, when they made only six field goals and shot 22.2 percent from the floor.
"I wish we had been able to start quicker, better," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "I apologize to everybody for your time that was wasted coming to see this, and hopefully we'll grow from this."
The Scarlet Knights' problems were compounded by the loss of center Monique Oliver, the team's leading scorer. She left with 7:04 remaining in the first half after suffering a sprained left ankle and never returned.
"Let's look at it like this: it gave us an opportunity for some other people to play," Stringer said. "This would not have been the time I would've wanted that to happen."
Warlick looked at her team in terms of its defensive effort. No matter what they gave in turnovers, the Lady Vols helped force 24 by Rutgers, gathering 16 steals. The points off turnovers were 24-8 in UT's favor.
Simmons, who had shot a combined 15-for-43 from the floor in her past three games, helped set the tone early with her ball pressure. On one possession, she stalked Rutgers guard Syessence Davis in a one-on-one dance that drew a rousing response from the crowd.
"The way Meighan started on defense kind of took her mind off her offensive game," Warlick said.
In the second half, with the outcome in hand, Taber Spani's attention to defensive detail resulted in one of the game's highlights. Her blind pass to Kamiko Williams after sprawling to the court set in motion a transition play that ended with a Simmons basket. The play started with Spani hustling back and deflecting the ball.
"I thought 'I have to get that; that's my drop in (defensive) rotation,' " Spani said. "... I just wanted to get a touch off that ball because otherwise it would have been a layup and we're stressing defense pretty hard right now."
Mission accomplished. She did her duty.