John Adams: Lady Vols need a boost from perimeter

The point of concern has shifted for Tennessee women's basketball. That was apparent before the Lady Vols lost forward Cierra Burdick indefinitely with a fractured right hand.

An obvious question in preseason: How would UT replace post players Glory Johnson, who led the team in scoring and rebounding, and Vicki Baugh, the team's second-leading rebounder?

An obvious question as Tennessee begins SEC play tonight against South Carolina: How can it improve production on the perimeter?

Freshman Bashaara Graves and sophomore Isabelle Harrison have had a strong presence inside. Graves is fifth in the SEC in rebounding and 10th in scoring. Harrison, the team's most improved player, is third in blocked shots and ninth in rebounding.

They also fare well when compared to their predecessors. Graves' averages of 14.0 points and 8.8 rebounds are only slightly behind those of Johnson, who averaged 14.2 points and 9.9 rebounds in her All-American senior season. Harrison's averages of 10.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game are all upgrades over what Baugh provided as a senior.

If Graves and Harrison can match those statistics in conference games, post play is the least of UT's concerns. Its perimeter game is a different matter.

You know what to expect from junior guard Meighan Simmons. She ranks fourth in the conference in scoring and has improved her defense. Sure, she still forces too many shots that evoke groans throughout Thompson-Boling Arena. But what's the alternative?

UT wasn't getting enough production on the perimeter before injuries became a factor. Freshman point guard Andraya Carter is out for the season with a shoulder injury; now, Burdick, who provided midrange scoring, has been sidelined, too.

Three players — Taber Spani, Ariel Massengale and Kamiko Williams — need to take up the slack. There's no evidence they will.

Spani looked like an All-SEC player early in the 2011-12 season before she suffered a knee injury. Her current malady of concern is back-related, and it's reflected in her 3-point shooting. A 37.8 percent shooter for her first three seasons at Tennessee, she has made only 28.9 percent of her 3-point attempts this seasons and has understandably become more hesitant to shoot.

Massengale's numbers are down, too. That has to be discouraging for UT coach Holly Warlick, a former All-American point guard.

Former coach Pat Summitt rarely has been as praiseworthy of a recruit as she was Massengale, a consensus high school All-American.

But after making the All-SEC freshman team last season, Massengale hasn't progressed as a

sophomore. She ranks 11th in the conference in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.

There's nothing wrong with Williams' numbers except when contrasted with her minutes played. She has made 41.7 percent of her 3-point tries and 50.9 percent of her field-goal attempts. Both are team highs. She has a 4-to-1 assist-turnover ratio and is second only to Simmons in steals with 18, even though she is averaging just 16.6 minutes per game.

The senior guard is one of the most puzzling players in the history of the program. She's athletic, talented and versatile enough to play either guard position or forward. She has the skills to be an All-SEC player, yet seems disinterested in being anything more than an occasional factor in games.

On a rare occasion, she might come off the bench to make a game-altering shot, steal or block. She is apt to have so little presence, you forget she's on the floor.

When asked about Williams' play after Sunday's victory over Rutgers, Warlick said Williams has "matured and gotten better." She said Williams has become a leader in practice.

If that's true, then why doesn't it translate to games — especially when you consider her talent?

Warlick didn't have an answer for that. Neither did Summitt.

"She plays up and down and when we need her, she seems to rise to the occasion," Warlick said.

Tennessee really needs her now — but not just for a play or a game. It needs someone to provide outside shooting, help force a fast tempo and apply defensive pressure on a consistent basis. Williams is physically capable of doing that.

But she's running out of time to prove it.

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 » 8

underthehill writes:

Williams is easily the best defender on the team..handles pressure well..one of the few Lady Vols ..maybe the only one..who can create her own shot..Kamiko should have been in the starting rotation all year..I think she knows it..I also think the other players know it ..odd it wouldn't be obvious to Holly..

jt45 writes:

Glass half full again Adams ? Sure would be nice
if you could actually put in a positive word now and then. I think most fans already know what the negatives are, I really hope these players never read this site.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to underthehill:

Williams is easily the best defender on the team..handles pressure well..one of the few Lady Vols ..maybe the only one..who can create her own shot..Kamiko should have been in the starting rotation all year..I think she knows it..I also think the other players know it ..odd it wouldn't be obvious to Holly..

Well, Simmons is also pretty good at creating her own shot, though admittedly not all of them are good ones. I think we all--coaches, players, and fans--recognize Kamiko's talent, but consistency HAS been an issue with her. I have been as baffled as any other fan over her sporadic usage throughout her career, but we cannot know what the real issues with her have been. We can only hope that she takes full advantage of her remaining opportunities and that the staff give her those opportunities. We pretty much know what we will get out of the rest of the team, so she is pretty much the only one left who could give this team the little "something extra" that could make the difference between a so-so season and one that marks at least the beginning of the return of the LVs to the ranks of the nation's elite teams.

Theo writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Well, Simmons is also pretty good at creating her own shot, though admittedly not all of them are good ones. I think we all--coaches, players, and fans--recognize Kamiko's talent, but consistency HAS been an issue with her. I have been as baffled as any other fan over her sporadic usage throughout her career, but we cannot know what the real issues with her have been. We can only hope that she takes full advantage of her remaining opportunities and that the staff give her those opportunities. We pretty much know what we will get out of the rest of the team, so she is pretty much the only one left who could give this team the little "something extra" that could make the difference between a so-so season and one that marks at least the beginning of the return of the LVs to the ranks of the nation's elite teams.

As you note, we just really will not know the full story re: Kamicko.
Her talent, however, is obvious. I've always wondered if it was that she tired easily - there always seemed to be a comment regarding about playing through being tired. I've even hear Kamicko say that. Also wonder how hard she practices. Anyway, good kid. Hopefully maturing into being a leader. Have loved her effort in some of the early games. Need her now.

vut5686#1405392 writes:

Wonder if Coach Adams watched the game tonight. Obviously, he knows what works best. Oops! Guess Holly & Company did not check in with him.

golfman1975 writes:

Always taking good coaching for granted.

"Three players — Taber Spani, Ariel Massengale and Kamiko Williams — need to take up the slack. There's no evidence they will."

JA's words...you need to become a elementry school english teacher...nah, kids need a good start in life and that will kill their chances.

golfman1975 writes:

"John Adams is a senior columnist"

Just how SENIOR is he?

ps11824 writes:

I too wonder about the lackadaisical KW. However, I do not know her personally. I do not see her off the court. I do not see her every day in practice or anywhere else, and I have not heard from anyone who does know why she is giving less than 100% to the program that awarded her a scholarship. It must be extremely frustrating for the coaching staff. That being said, I have no reason nor right to say why she is a bench warmer MOST of the time. Do you?

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