Ariel Massengale's willingness to get down and dirty paying dividends

Tennessee Ariel Massengale, right, battles for the ball with Alabama's Jasmine Robinson in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Photo by Wade Payne

Tennessee Ariel Massengale, right, battles for the ball with Alabama's Jasmine Robinson in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Ariel Massengale on Lady Vols' earlier win over Vanderbilt and the bye week

Ariel Massengale knows her playing history and dresses accordingly.

Tennessee's point guard wears padded spandex as if she were donning armor. The 5-foot-6 sophomore realizes that, sooner or later, she's hitting the deck.

"A lot of talk about me is I'm always on the ground and I might as well be on the janitorial service because I just fall so much during the game," she said. "I think that's kind of just a habit. I try my best to stay on my feet but sometimes it just doesn't work that way."

Massengale dislocated the middle finger of her left hand last season while diving for a loose ball in practice. Her drives to the basket often send her barrel rolling across the court. She literally laid out in threading a pass around two taller defenders to teammate Bashaara Graves for a basket during UT's desperate rally against LSU on Feb. 7

The tumbling routine continues Sunday (TV: ESPN2, 5 p.m.) when No. 12 Tennessee (19-5, 10-1 SEC) faces Vanderbilt (16-8. 6-5) at Thompson-Boling Arena. The game will be UT's "Think Pink, Bleed Orange" game — part of a women's basketball initiative to support the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

No amount of experience or attire could prepare Massengale for her hardest fall this season. Head coach Holly Warlick floored her after Christmas break. She told the player who essentially was named a starter before arriving on campus that she "couldn't rely" on Massengale to lead the team. Massengale was yanked from the starting lineup for Tennessee's game against Davidson on Dec. 28.

"I try to look at it as motivation," said Massengale, who was bothered by the demotion. "Having coach say that, it makes you want to go out there and work that much harder. In a sense not prove her wrong, but prove her wrong."

Apparently, she's made her point. Based on Warlick's review this week, Massengale has scrambled to her feet and is standing on solid ground.

"I think she's done a good job of running the team, pushing the ball, attacking in transition," said Warlick, a former All-American point guard at UT. "That was one of our biggest concerns. She wasn't running enough. Now she's running and getting our team in their transition and getting into our offense quicker."

Massengale is running an offense that ranks among the nation's best in productivity at 79 points per game. Given the changes in personnel — not to mention the offense itself — the coaches readily concede that the points add up to a pleasant surprise.

Before recovering from Warlick's stinging rebuke, Massengale had to recover from tendinitis in her left Achilles' tendon at the season's start. Freshman Andraya Carter started the first five games before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in December.

Since Carter's been sidelined, Massengale has played 35 or more minutes six times. She played 42 minutes of an overtime victory at Florida on Jan. 13. Senior Kamiko Williams has evolved into an efficient backup with 65 assists and just 21 turnovers. But Williams also is helping at two other positions, and she isn't thinking solely as a point guard.

Massengale bears that responsibility. Her per-game average for assists (4.6) is slightly down from last season (4.9) while her 8.2 scoring average is up from 7.4. At 36.8, her field goal percentage is down from last season's 38.7.

In SEC play, she's averaging 8.8 points and nearly five assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the floor (41.2 percent on 3-pointers).

Massengale is most concerned with turnovers. She's averaging 2.6 per game this season, slightly more than last season's average of 2.3. There's some correlation between this statistic and her shot selection.

"I have to stop predetermining things," she said. "I know a lot of teams are now playing me for the pass. Coach (Kyra) Elzy and Coach (Jolette) Law are constantly reminding me that I have to be aggressive. If I go and get one or two layups then that opens up the passing lanes for me. Ultimately that's what I want to do."

Toward that end, Massengale nailed a jumper with about two minutes left against LSU. The Lady Tigers were playing her to shoot on the aforementioned drive, enabling her to assist Graves on an important basket with 15 seconds left.

Warlick seems more preoccupied with Massengale's leadership. The coach has become confident enough in her point guard to give her options and some freedom to call plays.

"It's remarkable what a point guard can see on the floor and not a coach," Warlick said. "Because you're in it. You're involved."

Massengale definitely is on the floor — sometimes literally.

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Comments » 15

movol53 writes:

So can UT get a medical red shirt for Carter or did she play too many games this year?

snowpeapod#263184 writes:

in response to CheekMustGo:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You must or why would you take the time to read the article. Trying to stir up controversy must give you pleasure. I've been taught to ignore the ignorant but some times it's difficult. The answer to the other post is YES.

movol53 writes:

The most unattractive person in the universe right now is: CheekMustGo. I know you will reply back but I will not as everyone one this board can see the type of person you are (pathetic - -loser).

DroopyDrawers writes:

in response to CheekMustGo:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You must! Why are you reading the article? Let us who enjoy the Lady Vols be. Be gone!

Caspian writes:

in response to movol53:

The most unattractive person in the universe right now is: CheekMustGo. I know you will reply back but I will not as everyone one this board can see the type of person you are (pathetic - -loser).

You're replying now. Why does anyone reply to any of this, ever?

Caspian writes:

I'd vote for more minutes at point for Kamiko. I think she's underrated and underutilized.

kazoo writes:

Massengale is a good player who could be better--and so Warlick was/is right to push her. She definitely needs to be more aggressive on offense and take the ball the basket--with her ball-handling skills and body that is an offensive asset that the team needs--and she needs to be a leader on the court. Championship teams usually have title-worthy PG play. Massengale is talented and capable but must keep working to get better and instill confidence in her teammates so that when the Vols play the big games, they don't wilt under the pressure has they have the last few years. As the saying goes, UT needs to get its swagger back and it starts with your PG.

volfan2002 writes:

in response to movol53:

So can UT get a medical red shirt for Carter or did she play too many games this year?

She got the redshirt and will be a freshman next season. I look at next years team as top three in the nation and National title contender.

movol53 writes:

in response to volfan2002:

She got the redshirt and will be a freshman next season. I look at next years team as top three in the nation and National title contender.

I absolutely agree one of the top three going into next year (barring and injuries).

richvol writes:

Marciniak and Jolly were the last great point guards UT had. Really miss their skills. Massingale has talent but seems to get too casual with her passing at times resulting in turnovers.

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

Top 3 yes but still stiff competition. We will have a solid team along with Duke, Uconn, Standford, UNC, and ND. Baylor and UK will be my dropouts

wigmeister writes:

Ariel does the little things that make her valuable. She is not perfect, but a force in many ways on the floor. Kamiko is under utilized for what she brings to the floor. Know she is dealing with the ankle, but the underutilization started much earlier than the injury. They are beginning to click as a team. Still having hiccups now and then. Believe in yourselves ladies. There are many things that go into each victory. If something is not going well that day, I am sure there are other things you can excel at to assure victory.

soitgoes12 writes:

Massengale would be a much better player if she was better defensively. She is still pretty terrible at on the ball defense and not quick laterally at all.

RLL59 writes:

in response to soitgoes12:

Massengale would be a much better player if she was better defensively. She is still pretty terrible at on the ball defense and not quick laterally at all.

So, why do you think that, game after game, she is either told or allowed to overguard to the extent that her opponent repeatedly goes by her and disrupts the Lady Vol defense?

soitgoes12 writes:

in response to RLL59:

So, why do you think that, game after game, she is either told or allowed to overguard to the extent that her opponent repeatedly goes by her and disrupts the Lady Vol defense?

Can't speak to that but just watching her guard on the ball is painful. She's as bad on the ball as Simmons is off the ball. She goes under every screen because she has to and you'll even see her have to turn her back to catch up and get turned around.

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