Exhibition turns into one-sided track meet
By Dan Fleser
Although the regular season now stretches out before Tennessee like a four-month marathon, the Lady Vols show no inclination to pace themselves.
They literally raced through their final women's basketball exhibition, thrashing Coker College 118-44 Sunday afternoon before a listed crowd of 10,137 at Thompson-Boling Arena. The 32 fast-break points the Lady Vols were credited with didn't do justice to their play. The 84 points scored from the foul-lane area and 51 points scored off turnovers framed a more complete picture of their sprinter's mentality.
Sophomore forward Cierra Burdick thumbed through her memories back to her USA Basketball playing days and a U17 game against Japan to recall a game with a comparable pace.
"It got to the point (against Japan) that I was so tired that I looked over and said to Ariel (Massengale), can we please slow down," Burdick said, "let me get to halfcourt before we shoot another layup because it was that fast.
"(Sunday's) game was extremely high tempo but that is what Holly wants."
First-year head coach Holly Warlick realizes that playing this way in Friday night's season opener at Chattanooga, not to mention thereafter, will be a bigger challenge. But her team's marching orders won't change.
"Now, we've got to continue to get in shape and stay in shape ,'' Warlick said. "I don't think we're there yet, but we're getting there. But I think this group loves to play up-tempo. I want to try to take advantage of that."
The advantages against overmatched Coker were many. Six players scored in double figures, led by Bashaara Graves' 22 points. Meighan Simmons scored 20 and Isabelle Harrison had 17 in 15 playing minutes.
The Lady Vols had 28 assists, 23 steals and a 54-25 rebounding advantage. Along with her points, Simmons had nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals. The Lady Vols also cleaned up the foul problems that plagued them Thursday against Carson-Newman. They were charged with just nine.
Coker coach Jenny Finora has a Tennessee frame of reference, having played against the Lady Vols as a player at Kentucky. She scoring the decisive free throws of a 66-63 upset victory on Jan. 26, 2006. Finora didn't think that this UT version, despite its relative inexperience, looked different than the teams she faced.
"They're long; they're athletic, quick, aggressive," she said. "That's Tennessee basketball. It's always been that way, and it's never going to waver at all from that."
Coker gave Tennessee some cause for pause in the first half in the person of point guard Heidrun Kristmundsdottir. The 5-foot-7 sophomore from Fludir, Iceland, described by Finora as "kind of the backbone of our team," had the wherewithal to attack UT's pressure. She initiated the ball movement that maximized the Cobras' player spacing. The result was eight 3-pointers in the first half.
Kristmundsdottir went out with a left-arm injury with 14:49 left, leaving the Cobras with no answer for UT's defense.
In the end, all nine Lady Vols played at least 14 minutes. Warlick expects to have point guard Massengale back for Friday night. She sat out Sunday's game to rest a case of tendinitis in her left Achilles' tendon. The status of fellow guard Jasmine Phillips (left quadriceps pull) is uncertain.
"I think Ariel will be there for the opener,'' Warlick said. "She could have gone today. I just want to make sure that we aren't doing anything that could make it worse."
When Massengale returns, she'll hit the court running with the rest of her teammates.