John Adams: Lady Vols balance bad offense with bad defense

John Adams
Notre Dame forward Natalie Achonwa, front, and Tennessee forward Glory Johnson scramble for a loose ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2012, in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame won 72-44. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

Photo by AP Photo/Joe Raymond

Notre Dame forward Natalie Achonwa, front, and Tennessee forward Glory Johnson scramble for a loose ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2012, in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame won 72-44. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Tennessee seemed bewildered by the outcome Monday night at Purcell Pavilion. It shouldn't have been.

No. 2 Notre Dame just did a better job of exploiting the Lady Vols' shortcomings than their previous opponents. All UT achieved in a humiliating 72-44 defeat was balance.

It was as bad on offense as it was on defense.

The offense was jittery and out of sync in a one-point loss to Kentucky 11 days earlier. The defense was overwhelmed in a 17-point setback against Stanford last month.

Those served as previews for a disastrous showing that associate head coach Holly Warlick never saw coming.

"I don't understand," she said. "It's the No. 2 team in the nation. The arena is sold out. And we don't fight."

How bad was it? Connecticut never beat the Lady Vols this bad. Neither did anyone else except Texas 28 years ago.

How bad was it? In the first half, UT missed 28 of 35 field-goal attempts, hit only four of 10 free throws and gave up seven layups. That qualified as its good half.

And it still trailed by 10 points.

Never mind the lead. Notre Dame hardly resembled a No. 2 team in the first

half. It repeatedly missed open shots and committed 10 turnovers.

Yet its superiority was established nonetheless. So was its confidence. Notre Dame reminds you of UT's best teams by the way it plays and talks.

The Fighting Irish looked so dominant against the Lady Vols, one media-type asked coach Muffet McGraw if she were concerned that her team might have peaked too soon.

"I don't think we've painted our masterpiece yet," she said.

That was a polite way of saying, "we don't have to play our best game to beat UT."

Its best player actually got off to a slow start. All-American point guard Skylar Diggins, who tormented the Lady Vols in Notre Dame's Elite Eight victory last March, missed four of her first five shots and committed three early turnovers. That fazed neither the player nor her coach.

"I trust her implicitly," McGraw said. "I know she is going to get going. She can turn it around instantly."

The turnaround was reflected in Diggins'final stat line: 27 points, five assists, five rebounds, four steals and 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range.

Even when Diggins was at her worst, she looked more confident than any Lady Vol on the floor.

"In the first half, we got the shots we normally make," she explained. "They weren't falling."

Translation: No problem.

Diggins started the second-half onslaught with an unguarded 3-pointer from the corner. Notre Dame followed with four consecutive layups for an 18-point lead before the half was three minutes old.

This isn't the first time UT's defense has been baffled. But Notre Dame's precise passing and crisp ball movement exposed its deficiency in more glaring fashion. The Irish scored with almost laughable ease, converting 14 second-half layups.

UT's defense was so inept in the first half, it might have succeeded in throwing the Irish off. Once, forward Devereaux Peters received a pass in the post and turned to execute a move on whatever defender might come her way. Instead, she found herself unguarded beneath the basket. Apparently mystified by the absence of defense, she missed the shot.

But you can't heap all the blame on the defense for this debacle. The Lady Vols made only 27.9 percent of their field-goal tries and fewer than 50 percent of their free throws. Some of their misses were so flagrant they might show up in a basketball blooper video.

Warlick apologized for the performance. Players Meighan Simmons and Glory Johnson, who seemingly exerted the most effort in an overall lifeless performance, were remorseful in the interview session.

"We're a better team than how we played," Johnson added.

The Lady Vols are better at Thompson-Boling Arena. They're better against teams that don't play relentless defense like Notre Dame and Kentucky. They're better against teams that can't move the ball as effectively as Stanford and Notre Dame.

But they're not good enough to reach their goal, to make the Final Four. In fact, if they can't play better away from their home floor, they might not make the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 26

Pullingguard writes:

One of the worse efforts and results of what the Tennessee Vols stand for, probably ever. Horrible defeat, poor playing, worse coaching, and neither seemed to give a cuss... Pat Summitt looked lost, not involved, really took no part in the coaching effort.. Whew! something is really going on with this team.

VOLunTEAR writes:

John Adams is mocking the Lady Vols. All I can say is that SOMEBODY needs to do SOMETHING to get their attention, and it ain't coming from the staff. Sad.

jack_2222#231746 writes:

There's Glory busting her butt getting position down low and the guards just dribble away. Not saying Glory is shooting well but she sure is busting it more than the others and deserves the ball when she works for postion like she did. Talk about lack of chemistry.

tturley#297658 writes:

The coaches have lost the team and vice versa. Players aren't buying what the coaches have to sell, and the coaches are selling something the players don't believe will work. It's an impasse going nowhere.

brokebackvol writes:

Sad. just sad.

silvertr6 writes:

Pathetic!

jdcdjc writes:

I am a long time LV fan, but last night I saw a ND team that had better athelics and were better coached. ND was doing backdoor cuts our girls didn't seem to know what was going on. They took all our girls back to school.

AHOUSE writes:

What are they going to do now, lay down and cry or get up and fight??? We will get to see!!

underthehill writes:

Coach Martin told his players early on..if you don't play defense you won't be on the floor..every player on the men's team is playing defense with intensity and focus and you can see the results..

vut5686#1405392 writes:

The facts speak for themselves; most posters, thus far, saw what happened. Vol players did not execute and were soundly beaten in all phases of the game. Other than, perhaps, Diggins, few of the ND players have more athletic/basketball skills than most LVs.

That said, they out executed us from the get-go, and begs the answer, why? Adams provides no clue. Making fun of, sarcasm (his stock in trade), trying to be a comic does nothing to inform us or suggest what needs to be done. We saw the game; we know what happened. Adams has no clue how to describe the why.

BruisedOrange writes:

So the question now becomes, what will this team choose to believe about itself?
_____

(from October 30, 2011, in response to UT's preseason No.3 ranking)

"I'm usually optimistic this time of year, but I'm getting a bad feeling about this season.

Everyone (including the polls) thinks the LVs will play out of their minds "for Pat" this season. These expectations for a hollywood script season are being thrust on a team that has roster weaknesses it didn't have last year

[...] it's hard to channel desire into a smooth, mid-range jump shot, or a precise touch-pass into the post just over the defender's hands. And how long has it been since we've seen LV teams winning big games on transition points?

How will this team handle another key injury, or consecutive, ugly losses? With all that's on their shoulders this season, can they shake it off and believe they're a team of destiny--or will they just press harder, doubling-down with the weight of their own [individual and team] expectations?

I hope I'm totally wrong, but my gnawing fear is this team will begin the season as an intimidating, heavy sword, with an edge that's sharp... but thin and brittle."

Longtime_Vol writes:

Only the magnitude of this loss should be a surprise. This group of seniors continues to show why they will be documented as the worst performing class of LV players in the history of the program. I really feel for them as this will be a difficult cross to bear. However, this is also really tough for us long term LV fans who are accustomed to a very different standard of execution and commitment. Let me just ask: does any reader feel comfortable that any of the current staff is a worthy successor to Pat Summitt? I know that I don't.

underthehill writes:

in response to vut5686#1405392:

The facts speak for themselves; most posters, thus far, saw what happened. Vol players did not execute and were soundly beaten in all phases of the game. Other than, perhaps, Diggins, few of the ND players have more athletic/basketball skills than most LVs.

That said, they out executed us from the get-go, and begs the answer, why? Adams provides no clue. Making fun of, sarcasm (his stock in trade), trying to be a comic does nothing to inform us or suggest what needs to be done. We saw the game; we know what happened. Adams has no clue how to describe the why.

Adams is a news reporter..not the coach..I think Warlick made her feelings clear...

MikeInTN writes:

For the sake of our beloved Pat Summitt, I can only hope that her immediate family, and university family can persuade her to step down now as The Lady Vols coach...leaving with dignity, and not being embarrassed should be a priority to everyone involved!

wigmeister writes:

The problem for us (the fans), is that we are not used to seeing these kinds of performances from the LV. At least, with everything else going around sports wise, you could always count on the LV. But we have dropped out of the elite. You can vilify the players or coaches for whatever they have done or have not done. The bottom line is that we are not in the top echelon right now. I don't see that changing this year, unfortunately. So let's hope they win as many as they can, and hopefully get it together enough to win the SEC and make some kind of run during March Madness. National Championship - I don't think so.

tennboy78 writes:

It should be rather simple. Play in sync. Get the ball to Glory or Vicki When they are in position! Too much dribbling, too much one-on-one play, and not enough give-and-go, drive-and-dish(or kick it back out)teamwork. We turn the ball over way too much because we dribble and don't pass effectively -- we tend to become predictable. We miss layups and short shots, and generally waste possessions, and then get distracted and don't play sound defense.

In short, we are a much better team than we tend to show. We are much better players than we display. Get a grip and play with poise! Use the gifts that you have! Put the pressure on the other team, and just Play the game! Move the ball, and move yourselves in sync with your team.

movinonup writes:

To be expected, but really easy to see that Coach Pat has good days and bad days. The good days when she is up on the sidelines and coaching, the LV are a much better team. Last night was obviously a bad day - sitting with legs crossed and arms folded. Any doubt about who has been running the train all of these years has been answered. As a long time LV fan, it is hard to watch but I disagree with above poster about her retiring now - I think she should finish this year and then retire---she has earned this victory lap.

Tacamo01 writes:

in response to MikeInTN:

For the sake of our beloved Pat Summitt, I can only hope that her immediate family, and university family can persuade her to step down now as The Lady Vols coach...leaving with dignity, and not being embarrassed should be a priority to everyone involved!

How can you blame the HC? The seniors are not playing with the intensity needed the whole game. We will have good and bad games but there is only so much the coaches can do to motivate the players!!

CrankE writes:

"We're a better team than how we played," Glory Johnson.

Sigh. If I had a nickel for every time that I read/heard a player saying that after an embarrassing loss...

Show me players that take blame for an embarrassing result as quickly as they take credit for a championship and I'll show you a team that generates a lot more of the latter than the former. The converse also holds true.

johnlg00 writes:

Stricklen and Spani were obviously still bothered by their injuries, but except for Glory nobody else stepped up. When Manning missed about four makeable 10-12-footers in a row in a about a five-minute span, I knew this would be a bad night. When Meighan was once again firing up off-balance shots with 20 seconds left on the shot clock, I knew they were finished, or rather never really got started. I don't remember that Texas game 28 years ago that Adams mentioned, but it is hard to imagine that it was worse than what we saw last night. I suppose it is possible that the LVs will somehow climb out of the deep hole they are in right now, but it would take divine intervention at this point.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to tennboy78:

It should be rather simple. Play in sync. Get the ball to Glory or Vicki When they are in position! Too much dribbling, too much one-on-one play, and not enough give-and-go, drive-and-dish(or kick it back out)teamwork. We turn the ball over way too much because we dribble and don't pass effectively -- we tend to become predictable. We miss layups and short shots, and generally waste possessions, and then get distracted and don't play sound defense.

In short, we are a much better team than we tend to show. We are much better players than we display. Get a grip and play with poise! Use the gifts that you have! Put the pressure on the other team, and just Play the game! Move the ball, and move yourselves in sync with your team.

At some point, you just have to conclude that players are no better than how they play. What does it even mean to say a player or a team is better than they show? As a former coach, I can say that a team can play well, and can even play up to its full capability, and still lose. But I don't see how this team can feel that it is any good right now. It may have more potential than it is showing, but "potential" just means that you haven't actually done it yet. We've been talking about this squad's potential ever since players like Stricklen and Johnson and Manning were recruited, but except for Glory, they have rarely shown it. And even Glory hasn't made herself into even an acceptable free-throw shooter in her whole career. With her long arms, it is hard to develop a shorter, more repeatable stroke, but she still tosses the ball from side to side, winds up, and just flings it up there with no touch at all. It is just NOT true that shooting can't be improved, but first you need a coach that knows how to coach it and a player who is willing to accept that coaching and to put in the time to make it a habit. I'm not sure which in lacking in this case. I'm not going to belabor that basic story for each and every player, but it is just too old and familiar by now, and whatever it is that the staff and team are doing, it just isn't working anymore.

wigmeister writes:

in response to johnlg00:

At some point, you just have to conclude that players are no better than how they play. What does it even mean to say a player or a team is better than they show? As a former coach, I can say that a team can play well, and can even play up to its full capability, and still lose. But I don't see how this team can feel that it is any good right now. It may have more potential than it is showing, but "potential" just means that you haven't actually done it yet. We've been talking about this squad's potential ever since players like Stricklen and Johnson and Manning were recruited, but except for Glory, they have rarely shown it. And even Glory hasn't made herself into even an acceptable free-throw shooter in her whole career. With her long arms, it is hard to develop a shorter, more repeatable stroke, but she still tosses the ball from side to side, winds up, and just flings it up there with no touch at all. It is just NOT true that shooting can't be improved, but first you need a coach that knows how to coach it and a player who is willing to accept that coaching and to put in the time to make it a habit. I'm not sure which in lacking in this case. I'm not going to belabor that basic story for each and every player, but it is just too old and familiar by now, and whatever it is that the staff and team are doing, it just isn't working anymore.

AMEN

oldbasshead writes:

This team lacks confidence. That's why they play so badly away from home. Even I feel it when I see Coach Summit on the sidelines. Imagine what they feel in these hostile gyms. In addition, who is in charge? Is it Warlick, Moss or Dean? I just have the feeling that the girls are listening to different coaches. I also wonder if the coaches are not doing some posturing as a possible candidate to replace Pat. If any or all of this is true, then the performance at ND was to be expected. This is what I sensed as I watched the game.

dj54 writes:

YOU HAVE TO QUESTION THE "WANT TO" PART OF THIS TEAM

RockVegas writes:

We missed alot of easy shots early,and then I don't know what happened.I finally see that all the other teams have more or just as much talent as the Lady Vols now a days.We didn't look good all night,they just plain out beat us.I think we would have lost even if we were playing in Knoxville.

underthehill writes:

in response to movinonup:

To be expected, but really easy to see that Coach Pat has good days and bad days. The good days when she is up on the sidelines and coaching, the LV are a much better team. Last night was obviously a bad day - sitting with legs crossed and arms folded. Any doubt about who has been running the train all of these years has been answered. As a long time LV fan, it is hard to watch but I disagree with above poster about her retiring now - I think she should finish this year and then retire---she has earned this victory lap.

Pat has certainly earned this victory lap..and who knows how much good the "I Back Pat" campaign will do..The Pat before this problem would not want to do anything to wreck what she has worked so hard to create and it does appear she needs to step down as head coach AFTER this year if that is what she decides. Pat's presence will not hinder in any way what this team does or does not accomplish in the year end tournaments. That will be determined by the leadership of lack of leadership provided by the current assistants.

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