John Adams: Winning close games are not Lady Vols' forte

John Adams
Tennessee's Meighan Simmons reacts after a foul was called against her in the final seconds of the game against Arkansas at Thompson-Boling Arena on Friday, February 24, 2012. 

(SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Saul Young, copyright © 2012

Tennessee's Meighan Simmons reacts after a foul was called against her in the final seconds of the game against Arkansas at Thompson-Boling Arena on Friday, February 24, 2012. (SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)

You can't fully appreciate what went wrong for Tennessee in Thursday night's loss to Arkansas without remembering what has gone right.

The Lady Vols had won their last three SEC games by an average of 21 points.

In their last game at Thompson-Boling Arena, they beat then seventh-ranked Kentucky by 37 points.

In their last meeting against Arkansas, they won by 31 points.

That was way too much success for this team to handle.

The only thing these Lady Vols handle worse than prosperity is a close game. So you can imagine the uneasiness emanating from the Thompson-Boling Arena crowd when Arkansas made clutch plays down the stretch to force an overtime period.

Another close game turned into a 72-71 loss and left UT players beating themselves up. It's all so predictable for a team that probably has played its way out of a third consecutive SEC championship.

The Lady Vols still could tie Kentucky for the regular-season championship if they beat Florida at home and Kentucky loses to Mississippi State on Sunday.

You could argue this team doesn't deserve even a fraction's share of the title after all the opportunities it has botched in the second half of the season.

Since beating Arkansas 69-38 in early January, UT has gone 8-5 overall and lost four SEC games, including two on its home court.

No wonder Arkansas was confident it could win — despite the way it embarrassed itself in UT's presence on Jan. 8.

"Every time we huddled up, somebody would say, 'We're winning this game,' " said Arkansas senior guard Lyndsay Harris, who scored a game-high 20 points.

I'm just guessing, but I doubt the same assurance was being expressed in UT huddles. The Lady Vols are now 2-5 in games decided by single digits. They're also 0-2 in overtime play.

"They wanted the game more than we did," UT associate head coach Holly Warlick said afterward.

She espoused similar sentiments after a 64-60 loss to South Carolina three weeks ago on the same floor.

In fact, the Lady Vols are better grieving such outcomes than preventing them.

Senior Shekinna Stricklen was in tears after the defeat, which she blamed on her four missed free throws in overtime. Teammates Glory Johnson and Ariel Massengale quickly pointed out that the team's dreadful first-half play played a greater role in the outcome.

"We weren't focused," Massengale said.

That's hardly breaking news. The team can't maintain its focus much longer than it takes to snap a picture.

And Stricklen is the leading lady when it comes to losing focus. The preseason All-American went 10 minutes of the first half without a point or rebound before her coaches summoned her to the bench. She responded with 17 second-half points.

Her second-half response not only came up short, it served as an indictment of her first-half performance.

But this isn't just about Stricklen. It's about a team whose lack of focus is exceeded only by its inconsistency.

Warlick was asked if she had ever been around a team whose individual performances varied so drastically from one game to the next — or, in some cases, from one half to the next.

"Frankly, no, I have not," she said. "I see their ability and what they can do. When they don't stay close to their potential, it's frustrating."

It's also predictable.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj//twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 30

JimmyJoe writes:

Worst lady vol team ever.... No reason to waste time or money on this team. Lack of character.... Lack of commitment... Lack of focus....lack of heart.... Absolutely no fun to watch...none.

LJS1984 writes:

I'm glad that Men's Sports are the only thing that Matters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LJS1984 writes:

Lady Vol's are becoming more and more irrelevant! I guess with their losses that they are beginning to realize that...They can't beat a bad Arkansas squad. At least the men win!!!!!!

Millisa writes:

We should had won this game No Excuses here No Defense No Rebounding Missed Scoring opportunities, ( free throws and etc)Too many turnovers Got to get it together ASAP

LJS1984 writes:

I'm sure that Mike Hamilton has yet to chime in? Maybe his stupid a** can comment on the program again? We need a Hammy comment again! Heck, he was the king of comments and compliance while at UTK!!! Thanks Mike, Congrats on being the worst thing to ever happen to the University of Tennessee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Get lost!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

gerryblack writes:

It takes a decent coach to keep a team focused and Holly doesn't fit the bill. So sad to see Pat go out like this.

Tennfan4075 writes:

I just know deep down that somehow Lane Kiffin is the cause of all this.

Fall_Creek_Vols writes:

in response to kiffinsux:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Your highly personal attacks on our players are neither appropriate nor appreciated.

Are you sure you're really a UT fan?

shipperman#280095 writes:

in response to LJS1984:

I'm sure that Mike Hamilton has yet to chime in? Maybe his stupid a** can comment on the program again? We need a Hammy comment again! Heck, he was the king of comments and compliance while at UTK!!! Thanks Mike, Congrats on being the worst thing to ever happen to the University of Tennessee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Get lost!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Get over Mike already. He had absolutely NOTHING to do with the women's program.

VolFanInTheBoro (Inactive) writes:

in response to LJS1984:

I'm sure that Mike Hamilton has yet to chime in? Maybe his stupid a** can comment on the program again? We need a Hammy comment again! Heck, he was the king of comments and compliance while at UTK!!! Thanks Mike, Congrats on being the worst thing to ever happen to the University of Tennessee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Get lost!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What the heck does Mike Hamilton have to do with the Lady Vols

Longtime_Vol writes:

Unfortunately this group of seniors continues its string of "firsts". It is clear that they will go down in history as the worst performing class of players in LV history. I remamber when they arrived on campus and hopes were high for their future. The disappointment began with the loss to Ball State in the first round of the NCAA and has continued every year.

I think many of us hoped they would build on their respectable season of last year and help Coach Summitt go out with a bang. Unfortunately, this group seems far more likely to go out with a whimper.

I don't know what the coaching scenario looks like for next year. Will Coach Summitt elect to return? While I respect her tremendously, I have to say that the results from handing responsibility over to the assistants has not been acceptable. If Coach Summitt elects to leave after the season, TN needs to go after her successor from outside the current program. My choices in order of preference would be Kim Mulkey, Nicki Caldwell and Kelly Jolly.

ps11824 writes:

How much $$$$$$ would it take to get Mathew Mitchell back as head coach? Or Caldwell?

The whole arena was like a morgue. The cheer squad is the worst I've ever seen. Isn't it their job to cheer regardless of the quality of the team?

It is a sad state of affairs, this program. Who's to blame?

bigdisbig writes:

It is so easy to sit back and point fingers at everyone. Its very frustrating to watch your team lose a game they should have won. I am certain that not one player last night wanted to lose. I am also certain that each player did their best to win. HOWEVER.....these girls were not "up" for this game. Believe it or not it is not easy to get up for a team you beat earlier in the year by 30 points or more.
Arkansas had everything to win and nothing to lose. They brought their best game to TB Arena and Tennessee wasn't ready for it.
Its up to the coaches to get they players fired up to play each game. Yes, the players should play the same every game but they simply don't. Imagine how difficult it is for the players to watch Pat struggle each day. Imagine how hard it is to see their coach....not coach for the most part. I remember the Pat who raised cain on the sideline. I remember the Pat who got in their face when they made a stupid mistake. She is just not there like she was and its very hard to watch. You people calling out players for lack of skill and ability are pathetic. Leave the players alone and get on the coaches if you want......the players are still growing.

GONAVY writes:

in response to Fall_Creek_Vols:

Your highly personal attacks on our players are neither appropriate nor appreciated.

Are you sure you're really a UT fan?

Good and timely post FCV...

GONAVY writes:

in response to Longtime_Vol:

Unfortunately this group of seniors continues its string of "firsts". It is clear that they will go down in history as the worst performing class of players in LV history. I remamber when they arrived on campus and hopes were high for their future. The disappointment began with the loss to Ball State in the first round of the NCAA and has continued every year.

I think many of us hoped they would build on their respectable season of last year and help Coach Summitt go out with a bang. Unfortunately, this group seems far more likely to go out with a whimper.

I don't know what the coaching scenario looks like for next year. Will Coach Summitt elect to return? While I respect her tremendously, I have to say that the results from handing responsibility over to the assistants has not been acceptable. If Coach Summitt elects to leave after the season, TN needs to go after her successor from outside the current program. My choices in order of preference would be Kim Mulkey, Nicki Caldwell and Kelly Jolly.

If grace and dignity have a vote, Coach Summitt should say this is her final year. To watch her on the bench this year has been painful, and so unfair to a once fearless champion and warrior. Your three votes for HC are good ones, but I predict Mulkey isn't leaving Baylor. She has built her dynasty and continues to recruit splendidly (#1 2009 class, e.g.)and has the best player in the US right now. It is always tough to follow in a legend's footsteps.

gillblog writes:

in response to bigdisbig:

It is so easy to sit back and point fingers at everyone. Its very frustrating to watch your team lose a game they should have won. I am certain that not one player last night wanted to lose. I am also certain that each player did their best to win. HOWEVER.....these girls were not "up" for this game. Believe it or not it is not easy to get up for a team you beat earlier in the year by 30 points or more.
Arkansas had everything to win and nothing to lose. They brought their best game to TB Arena and Tennessee wasn't ready for it.
Its up to the coaches to get they players fired up to play each game. Yes, the players should play the same every game but they simply don't. Imagine how difficult it is for the players to watch Pat struggle each day. Imagine how hard it is to see their coach....not coach for the most part. I remember the Pat who raised cain on the sideline. I remember the Pat who got in their face when they made a stupid mistake. She is just not there like she was and its very hard to watch. You people calling out players for lack of skill and ability are pathetic. Leave the players alone and get on the coaches if you want......the players are still growing.

You're right, this is extremely painful to watch and I'm sure agonizing for the players. And right now, writing about this team on these Comment pages seems like walking a tight-rope over a realm of perceived insensitivity or even hostility.
I suggest we all leave comments about the HC out of these pages.

IdahoVol writes:

Nothing wrong with disappointment and frustration over the team's play. But you are either a fan or you're not so support the team or don't - that's up to each person. I choose to continue supporting the Lady Vols (and the Vols) in all sports regardless of records, etc.

Share your disappointment if you want, but if you choose not to support the Lady Vols any more (if you ever did - JimmyJoe, kiffinsux and others) then move on.

larrycook99#274374 writes:

Seriously people. There is no doubt that this team is having a tough time this year. But the core group of players has been inconsistent for most of the past 4 years and underachieved so it shouldn't be a huge surprise. As for the coaches, each one of these has been part of multiple Championship teams while here. So did they just forget how to coach? I doubt it. It appears to be a confluence of things that one thing will not solve. We have good young talent coming up and coming in. These are good coaches that have had a rough patch but they each should have enough credibility saved up that it is extremely premature to talk about replacing them. Good grief! This is still one of the best teams in the country. They are just not living up to our lofty expectations. It was bound to happen at some point. Let's let them try to make the corrections before we start the executions.

cdtnladyvols931#663910 writes:

in response to kiffinsux:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You are the one one that is a FAT A-- Slob and probably slow! The only thing that beat us last night was missed free throws late! AR didn't beat us! TN did!!

rbromley7#241642 writes:

TAD might consider Carolyn Peck as a possible replacement when Coach Summitt elects to retire.

troken writes:

This team needs a really good PG that will force the issue and not one that walks up the floor with no purpose and clueless! I can't believe the lack of focus with some players and Holly continues to play them??? Top 5 recruiting classes every year versus top 30 for Arky & USCjr... I cannot and DO NOT fault Pat! She is the reason UT is UT!!! For the crazies that think Pat needs to step down can go jump off a bridge!!! You same idiots ran off Fulmer and would have ran off the General too!

FearlessFreep writes:

Time to regroup, retool and move on. This senior class will be gone next year. So will Pat. It'll be a new era and a serious overhaul is needed.

kazoo writes:

The coaches have failed in one big respect--they do not seem to know what group of players gives UT the best chance to win. Too many lineup changes; too many instances of a player in for a game, then out for a game; in for 10 minutes, then on the bench for 30. Look at Simmons and Baugh--they are playing, no they are sitting. The coaches need to find a consistent rotation so that players know their roles. The coaching is a disaster, IMO.

dwolfcreek#397971 writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

Worst lady vol team ever.... No reason to waste time or money on this team. Lack of character.... Lack of commitment... Lack of focus....lack of heart.... Absolutely no fun to watch...none.

This coaching staff has destroyed a good team .

Millisa writes:

in response to kazoo:

The coaches have failed in one big respect--they do not seem to know what group of players gives UT the best chance to win. Too many lineup changes; too many instances of a player in for a game, then out for a game; in for 10 minutes, then on the bench for 30. Look at Simmons and Baugh--they are playing, no they are sitting. The coaches need to find a consistent rotation so that players know their roles. The coaching is a disaster, IMO.

Your right and Why didnt Baugh play more last night? We need a new starting line up my suggestion start the bench and let the starters sit.

volholic#282380 writes:

Might want to try "Winning Close Games IS Not Lady Vols Forte, Mr. Professional Sports Editor. Good grief!

johnlg00 writes:

Silly to pick such a nit in the midst of such gloom and doom, but the headline is ungrammatical. The subject is "winning" which is a singular gerund noun; the verb should be "is". Just because the nearest noun to the verb is "games"--the object of an adjectival phrase--doesn't mean the verb should be plural. Thus the title should read "Winning close games IS not Lady Vols' forte." Maybe the error is on the headline writer rather than Adams, but it just shows that actual knowledge of written English is not necessary to make a living in the the newspaper biz anymore.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to volholic#282380:

Might want to try "Winning Close Games IS Not Lady Vols Forte, Mr. Professional Sports Editor. Good grief!

I see great minds--or petty nitpickers--think alike(;-P)! I guess your post hit while I was still writing mine. Nice of KNS to provide a bit of diversion from all the downheartedness hovering over the Lady Vol program just now.

BruisedOrange writes:

Someday, sports psychology PhD candidates will write dissertations on the Lady Vols 2012 Class.

I'm not venting or even being critical. This is a phenomena. I've never seen anything like it, but neither have our extremely experienced coaching staff--and you can be sure they have talked to their colleagues and sought insight from other sources in each off-season with this group.

No, these are not lazy kids. It's not that they lack character--at least, not in the usual sense. This is some kind of perfect storm; a chance combination of traits, influences, subliminal dynamics and who-knows-what-else coming together to define a team that periodically becomes less than the sum of its parts.

It's time for us fans to take responsibility for our shared Orange heritage. REAL Vols take their personal frustrations out on a junk car with a hack saw--not on the players!

As for these girls, just shake your head and keep loving 'em. Because regardless of the score, they ARE our girls. And if we stop loving them when they don't perform...

mothers will stop sending them to be "our" girls.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BruisedOrange:

Someday, sports psychology PhD candidates will write dissertations on the Lady Vols 2012 Class.

I'm not venting or even being critical. This is a phenomena. I've never seen anything like it, but neither have our extremely experienced coaching staff--and you can be sure they have talked to their colleagues and sought insight from other sources in each off-season with this group.

No, these are not lazy kids. It's not that they lack character--at least, not in the usual sense. This is some kind of perfect storm; a chance combination of traits, influences, subliminal dynamics and who-knows-what-else coming together to define a team that periodically becomes less than the sum of its parts.

It's time for us fans to take responsibility for our shared Orange heritage. REAL Vols take their personal frustrations out on a junk car with a hack saw--not on the players!

As for these girls, just shake your head and keep loving 'em. Because regardless of the score, they ARE our girls. And if we stop loving them when they don't perform...

mothers will stop sending them to be "our" girls.

Amen, brother, amen! Too many fans seem to have a video-game orientation toward sports. It all comes down to numbers to them, from scoring averages to assist-to-turnover ratios to the numbers on the jerseys. Real teams are made up of human coaches and players, all of whom are driven by a multitude of sometimes conflicting motives and have vastly different experiences in life. Nothing is ever as simple as just winning and losing on the court. We should be grateful that all of these people have allowed us to share parts of their lives and wish them all well as they move on from here.

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