Lady Vols placing emphasis on defense, dodging letdowns

Missouri's Kyley Simmons, center, tries to dribble the ball past Tennessee's Ariel Massengale, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 80-63. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Missouri's Kyley Simmons, center, tries to dribble the ball past Tennessee's Ariel Massengale, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 80-63. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

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.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2013 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Comments » 7

BxVol writes:

Coach, In the heat of battle in a game it`s obvious the players are forgetting the plan and scouting report at times, you need to remind them.I know this sounds so simplistic,but I really believe this is the problem many times on both defense and offense.Obviously if you are reminding them and they are not hearing you, a spot on the bench next to you would be in order.
In spite of all the injuries the Lady Vols are tied for first place, so let me say great job Coach and team!

tonyvick#213307 writes:

I say score 1 more point than your opponent by the end of regulation. But I am certainly not a bb coach.

volfan2002 writes:

At least the players understand what they are doing wrong and want to fix it. They could add lazy telegraphed passes to the list. This team does play harder than the last three or four previous editions so if they can start overcoming mental errors they can win the SEC and make a good run in the NCAA Tourney.

RLL59 writes:

Improving basketball skills and techniques given the same emphasis as psychological encouragement. Good move by the coaching staff. Hope it pays off, though it's unlikely the Lady Vols will be able to prove anything at home against a poor Mississippi team.

soitgoes12 writes:

It just seems like this team plays a lot of lip service to the defense and rebounding priorities. Are these girls being taught proper techniques and working on their quickness and explosiveness? Because it doesn't look like it. Notre Dame and Connecticut takes semi athletic white girls and yet have 2 of the best team defenses in the country. The team is young and is dealing with injuries.. but they didn't seem like they were getting better on defense even before the injuries. Part of the problem is focus and intensity for a full 40 minutes... but a large part of it is each player being weak 1 on 1. Massengale gets beat consistently off the dribble and even Graves gets handled by more polished post players. Simmons is good on the ball but loses her mark constantly off the ball. It's one thing to say that your focus is on defense, it's another to show it on the court. With the athletes we have (injuries or not) this should not be the 8th best defense in the league.

ladyvolsfan789 writes:

Total scoring defense doesn't really tell the whole tale when it comes to a team's overall defensive performance. The Lady Vols play such a transition heavy game and score so quickly that both sides are going to have more shot attempts and thus have a higher overall score. The LSU game is a good example of the reverse being true. Both teams shot pretty well. Tennessee almost shot 50% for the game and LSU was above 45% but the final score was a rather low 64-62 because LSU's offense's is slower than Tennessee's and slows the game down. A better stat would be average points per possession in which Tennessee is 4th in the conference allowing opponents an average of .84 points per possession. Tennessee also leads the conference in their average points scored per possession with 1.07.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to ladyvolsfan789:

Total scoring defense doesn't really tell the whole tale when it comes to a team's overall defensive performance. The Lady Vols play such a transition heavy game and score so quickly that both sides are going to have more shot attempts and thus have a higher overall score. The LSU game is a good example of the reverse being true. Both teams shot pretty well. Tennessee almost shot 50% for the game and LSU was above 45% but the final score was a rather low 64-62 because LSU's offense's is slower than Tennessee's and slows the game down. A better stat would be average points per possession in which Tennessee is 4th in the conference allowing opponents an average of .84 points per possession. Tennessee also leads the conference in their average points scored per possession with 1.07.

Excellent point. Overall stats can be extremely misleading if they don't take pace of play into account. The thing I like most about this team is that they have shown they can win both high- and low-scoring games. The latter is especially important in post-season because play generally slows down when opponents are evenly matched. They will need to continue to tighten down on the unforced turnovers and individual defense, especially defensive rebounding, if they are to make a deep run, because in those low-scoring post-season games, each possession is much more valuable.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features