Holly Warlick on Lady Vols' dramatic win at LSU.
Tennessee will take the court Sunday fully intending to win with defense.
The numbers suggest, however, that any women's basketball success against Ole Miss (8-14, 1-8 SEC) at Thompson-Boling Arena (Tipoff: 2 p.m.) might be achieved in spite of this traditional strength.
The game will not be televised but video will be streamed online at UTSports.com.
No. 12 Tennessee (18-5, 9-1) ranks eighth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 62.7 points per game. But games against difficult non-conference opponents aren't entirely the cause for the average. In conference play, the Lady Vols are giving up 63 points per game, which ranks seventh.
On Thursday night, head coach Holly Warlick called alignment switches throughout the second half against LSU. She even changed strategy within the same possession. She also used timeouts to rest her players. While UT topped off a 22-15 edge in points off turnovers, the Lady Tigers still shot nearly 60 percent from the floor.
"We've just got to keep pounding away and driving it home in practice," Warlick said. "I think, at times, we get better. Then we have letdowns. We have to get to the point where we don't have a letdown."
In the eight games since Tennessee held Missouri to 39 points and 19.7 percent field goal shooting on Jan. 10, the opposition has averaged 68.6 points per game and shot 40.3 percent from the floor.
Five players have scored 20 or more points against UT during the span. Notre Dame All-American Skylar Diggins struck for a career-high 33 on Jan. 28.
Led by Morgan Eye's six 3-pointers and 26 points, Missouri bounced back with 80 points and 52.7 percent shooting in pulling off last Sunday's 80-63 stunning upset in Columbia, Mo. Afterward, Lady Vol Taber Spani called Tennessee's defensive effort "unacceptable" and said the team strayed from the scouting report.
In the euphoria of Thursday night's 64-62 comeback victory, Cierra Burdick said Tennessee played "a terrible defensive game" against LSU and noted more scouting report neglect.
"There was one period where I was like 'man they're not missing,' " Burdick said. "They were getting too many open looks. (Adrienne) Webb had almost six points back-to-back off that curl (move). So it's just recognizing that and shooting the gaps. It's just the little things we wanted to do that we failed to do."
Injuries have hurt UT's cause. The loss of freshman guard Andraya Carter, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in December, deprived the Lady Vols of a ball hawk. Center Isabelle Harrison underwent surgery on her left knee on Feb. 1 to address a lateral meniscus injury and is out indefinitely. Her 6-foot-3 wingspan around the basket has been missed. She leads the team with 40 blocks. The next highest total is 12, which is shared by Spani and Burdick.
At least Kamiko Williams hasn't missed any time from a sprained right ankle. She was on crutches after the Missouri loss but recovered enough to play 28 minutes against LSU. Warlick expects to have the senior guard manning the perimeter ramparts Sunday against Ole Miss.
The Rebels' attack is dribble driven by guard Valencia McFarland. The 5-4 junior guard has surpassed the 1,000-point career scoring milestone this season and has 113 assists.
Warlick thinks that switching defensive alignments might be UT's best strategy for the time being. But she conceded that the effectiveness is impacted by who's on the court.
Spani didn't make such a distinction last month when talking about Tennessee's defensive potential.
"I think anyone out on the floor is capable of guarding," she said. "I think it's just getting down and doing it. I don't think it's a lack of ability. It's the mentality more than anything."
Diggins, of all people, saw some promise as well. Before warming to the occasion last month, Diggins and the Irish faced a Tennessee defense in the first half that she said created, "the most pressure we've seen this year."
Sounds like a defense with which Tennessee can win.