John Adams: Lady Vols could have used a boost from past

John Adams
Saul Young/News Sentinel
Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd and Tennessee's Bashaara Graves chase after a loose ball at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday.

Photo by Saul Young, 2012 Knoxville News Sentinel

Saul Young/News Sentinel Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd and Tennessee's Bashaara Graves chase after a loose ball at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday.

Raising of Pat Summitt's Banner

Tennessee honored its past in women's basketball Monday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. Notre Dame celebrated its present.

The Lady Vols raised a banner in honor of former coach Pat Summitt in pregame ceremonies as some of their greatest players looked on at courtside. Unfortunately for them, they couldn't script the game.

All-Americans Michelle Marciniak, Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker joined the rest of the crowd in a pregame standing ovation for Summitt, who led the program to eight national championships. But their contributions were limited to cheering.

"I wanted to put them in," UT coach Holly Warlick said with a smile.

Without them, there was no matching up with Notre Dame's present-day All-American, point guard Skylar Diggins. Once past the pregame festivities, she seized center stage, scoring a career-high 33 points as No. 2 Notre Dame pushed its record to 19-1 with a 77-67 victory and won its third consecutive game in a series once dominated by the ninth-ranked Lady Vols (16-4).

Holly Warlick on the Lady Vols' loss to Notre Dame

Tennessee won the first 20 games in the series —thanks, in part, to those famous alums at courtside. Notre Dame, which has played in the last two national championship games, is now building a tradition of its own with victories like this one and players like Diggins.

"(Tennessee is) the program for years people measured themselves by," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "There probably aren't many teams in the country who have won three in a row against them. I'm really proud of that."

Another current stat serves as a testament to Notre Dame's newfound elite status. It's the only program to beat established powers Tennessee and Connecticut in the same season three years in succession.

UT looked so helpless in a 28-point loss to Notre Dame last season, its most recent defeat constituted progress.

Another blowout was brewing early in the second half when the Irish stretched its halftime lead from four to 19 points. Just when Tennessee appeared to be falling by the wayside, it forged a surprising comeback that revived the crowd and cut Notre Dame's lead to five points with 3:54 to play.

But it couldn't get any closer and couldn't make up for all the mishaps that left it so far behind midway through the second half.

"This is one of the most competitive teams I've been on," said Tennessee senior Taber Spani. "The heart of this team and the competitiveness got us back in the game."

Warlick applauded both virtues. However, she didn't ignore the shortcomings, which included four missed layups in the first half and way too many lapses on defense against a well disciplined Notre Dame offense.

The same weaknesses were exposed in a 73-60 loss to sixth-ranked Stanford last month.

"It's just not consistent," Warlick said of a vulnerable defense. "At times, I thought we played really well. Then, we give somebody a back-door cut about six times.

"We can't use the excuse that we're young. It's just being disciplined and sticking to the game plan. We've got to get a little tougher and maintain some consistency on the defensive end."

Such failings will be easier to overcome in the SEC, where the Lady Vols remain atop the standings with a 7-0 record. If they face a team as good as Notre Dame again, it will be in the NCAA tournament.

In the meantime, Warlick will be preaching "consistency."

"I love that we didn't give up," she said. "But we've got to get to the point where we play like that all the time.

"We're gonna get there."

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 » 14

VolInIndy writes:

Defend the backdoor cuts and get the two injured gals back and these ladies will go far.

CaliVOL2 writes:

These girls plus Mercedes Russell will win number 9 in 2014! Book it. Great job Holly!!!!

madrigal writes:

in response to VolInIndy:

Defend the backdoor cuts and get the two injured gals back and these ladies will go far.

Three. Andraya's out for the season, won't be back till next year. Looked last night like Izzy might be too. Only Cierra will be back this season.

oldbasshead writes:

I see potential for a final four appearance in the near future. Current elite teams losing their play makers and with next years recruits plus some healthy players and experience from this year the LV's could go far.

kazoo writes:

Make no mistake: ND is a MUCH better coached team than UT. Diggins is great, but overall I would assert that UT has more talent than ND. But we play dumb and tight and they play smart and cool. Period. Indeed, UT has not been a well-coached team for years. Notice the difference between the two half-court offenses: ND features smart passing and screens and got about 20 layups against our SOFT defenders. UT makes three passes and then some body goes one-on-one against her defenders. This is why UT typically shoots poorly against the better teams. Warlick tried to use the excuse that the Vols are "young." That's lame: Spani, Simmons and Massengale are all very experienced, and they all had very poor games.

UT used to be the toughest team--physically and mentally--in women's basketball. Not anymore. Our defenders did not use their bodies and played lazy, and I was not surprised that Spani, Simmons and Massengale played poorly as UT has not had good, confident guard play for a long time. Spani and Simmons HAVE to shoot well for us to win big games--but they never do, partly because they get tight and partly because you need a good half-court offense to break down better defensive teams and get good looks, and UT doesn't do that consistently. I don't think we've shot even 30 percent in our last 4 games against Baylor. Massengale is a major disappointment: She is not as good a player as Diggins, but she's good--or could be, but we don't get enough out of her. She needs more fight, more leadership and needs to take the ball to the basket more. It was an embarrassing second half, and yet all the diehards want to talk solace in our comeback. There should have no need to come back from a nearly 20 point deficit. Until UT gets better coaching we will not see the final four again--even with some of the best talent in the country.

bspurlingcac#225603 writes:

in response to kazoo:

Make no mistake: ND is a MUCH better coached team than UT. Diggins is great, but overall I would assert that UT has more talent than ND. But we play dumb and tight and they play smart and cool. Period. Indeed, UT has not been a well-coached team for years. Notice the difference between the two half-court offenses: ND features smart passing and screens and got about 20 layups against our SOFT defenders. UT makes three passes and then some body goes one-on-one against her defenders. This is why UT typically shoots poorly against the better teams. Warlick tried to use the excuse that the Vols are "young." That's lame: Spani, Simmons and Massengale are all very experienced, and they all had very poor games.

UT used to be the toughest team--physically and mentally--in women's basketball. Not anymore. Our defenders did not use their bodies and played lazy, and I was not surprised that Spani, Simmons and Massengale played poorly as UT has not had good, confident guard play for a long time. Spani and Simmons HAVE to shoot well for us to win big games--but they never do, partly because they get tight and partly because you need a good half-court offense to break down better defensive teams and get good looks, and UT doesn't do that consistently. I don't think we've shot even 30 percent in our last 4 games against Baylor. Massengale is a major disappointment: She is not as good a player as Diggins, but she's good--or could be, but we don't get enough out of her. She needs more fight, more leadership and needs to take the ball to the basket more. It was an embarrassing second half, and yet all the diehards want to talk solace in our comeback. There should have no need to come back from a nearly 20 point deficit. Until UT gets better coaching we will not see the final four again--even with some of the best talent in the country.

Go back and read the young part again.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to kazoo:

Make no mistake: ND is a MUCH better coached team than UT. Diggins is great, but overall I would assert that UT has more talent than ND. But we play dumb and tight and they play smart and cool. Period. Indeed, UT has not been a well-coached team for years. Notice the difference between the two half-court offenses: ND features smart passing and screens and got about 20 layups against our SOFT defenders. UT makes three passes and then some body goes one-on-one against her defenders. This is why UT typically shoots poorly against the better teams. Warlick tried to use the excuse that the Vols are "young." That's lame: Spani, Simmons and Massengale are all very experienced, and they all had very poor games.

UT used to be the toughest team--physically and mentally--in women's basketball. Not anymore. Our defenders did not use their bodies and played lazy, and I was not surprised that Spani, Simmons and Massengale played poorly as UT has not had good, confident guard play for a long time. Spani and Simmons HAVE to shoot well for us to win big games--but they never do, partly because they get tight and partly because you need a good half-court offense to break down better defensive teams and get good looks, and UT doesn't do that consistently. I don't think we've shot even 30 percent in our last 4 games against Baylor. Massengale is a major disappointment: She is not as good a player as Diggins, but she's good--or could be, but we don't get enough out of her. She needs more fight, more leadership and needs to take the ball to the basket more. It was an embarrassing second half, and yet all the diehards want to talk solace in our comeback. There should have no need to come back from a nearly 20 point deficit. Until UT gets better coaching we will not see the final four again--even with some of the best talent in the country.

It's easy to be disappointed when the LVs don't play well, though I might not state it as harshly as you did. To me, the glaring difference in the game--aside from the general tightness you mentioned, something I said I was afraid would happen in an earlier pre-game thread--was the difference between senior All-American Skylar Diggins and inconsistent sophomore Ariel Massengale. ND had to replace a number of key players this year, too, but Diggins was the "security blanket" the others needed to keep their cool in big game. I like a lot of things about Ariel's game, but she definitely needs to fill some holes in it if the LVs are going to do anything special either the rest of this year or the next two.

For one thing, she has to take better care of the ball. She is good for at least three plays a game where you have to wonder what she thought she was seeing when she made a pass. She is among the worst offenders at missing wide-open layups. For all her talent, it is the lack of consistent concentration on the basics that is holding her back. I'm not sure what Holly or any other coach can do unless there is someone they could put in who would do those things better, and I'm not at all sure there is anyone available who could do that. Maybe Andraya could have been that player by now if she hadn't been hurt.

But it would be wrong to put all this on Ariel. She was not the only one who just watched an ND player dribble from the top of the key to the basket without stepping out. She was not the only one who didn't adjust her position to deny the pass on the back cuts. She was not the only one who missed easy open shots. I'm pretty sure the coaches have noticed all this and done all they can to teach the girls how to react in those situations, but they can't play the game for them or put in substitutes who aren't there right now.

The whole team needs to look often in the off-season at the tapes of the games with Baylor, Stanford, and ND to pinpoint the things those teams do in critical situations that the LVs do not. This should be a much better team next year, but only if the players take the responsibility to make themselves better at all the little tactical and mental things that are betraying them now. This year's experience should help, but only if they draw the proper conclusions and work to get better at those things.

Fall_Creek_Vols writes:

Glad to hear Holly address the "back door cuts". Kamiko looked like she was moving in slow motion not less than twice when Diggins made the cut. We must do better.

That said...with better defense, we could've (should've) beaten #2 with a team that is now VERY short-handed. I said earlier this would be an issue. Now, it is. So...deal with it. I'm sure Holly will.

I'm among those who think the glass is half-full. If we're playing this competitively now, the future is bright indeed.

airship writes:

in response to kazoo:

Make no mistake: ND is a MUCH better coached team than UT. Diggins is great, but overall I would assert that UT has more talent than ND. But we play dumb and tight and they play smart and cool. Period. Indeed, UT has not been a well-coached team for years. Notice the difference between the two half-court offenses: ND features smart passing and screens and got about 20 layups against our SOFT defenders. UT makes three passes and then some body goes one-on-one against her defenders. This is why UT typically shoots poorly against the better teams. Warlick tried to use the excuse that the Vols are "young." That's lame: Spani, Simmons and Massengale are all very experienced, and they all had very poor games.

UT used to be the toughest team--physically and mentally--in women's basketball. Not anymore. Our defenders did not use their bodies and played lazy, and I was not surprised that Spani, Simmons and Massengale played poorly as UT has not had good, confident guard play for a long time. Spani and Simmons HAVE to shoot well for us to win big games--but they never do, partly because they get tight and partly because you need a good half-court offense to break down better defensive teams and get good looks, and UT doesn't do that consistently. I don't think we've shot even 30 percent in our last 4 games against Baylor. Massengale is a major disappointment: She is not as good a player as Diggins, but she's good--or could be, but we don't get enough out of her. She needs more fight, more leadership and needs to take the ball to the basket more. It was an embarrassing second half, and yet all the diehards want to talk solace in our comeback. There should have no need to come back from a nearly 20 point deficit. Until UT gets better coaching we will not see the final four again--even with some of the best talent in the country.

Every thing you said is the absolute truth. It all boils down to coaching.

golfman1975 writes:

in response to kazoo:

Make no mistake: ND is a MUCH better coached team than UT. Diggins is great, but overall I would assert that UT has more talent than ND. But we play dumb and tight and they play smart and cool. Period. Indeed, UT has not been a well-coached team for years. Notice the difference between the two half-court offenses: ND features smart passing and screens and got about 20 layups against our SOFT defenders. UT makes three passes and then some body goes one-on-one against her defenders. This is why UT typically shoots poorly against the better teams. Warlick tried to use the excuse that the Vols are "young." That's lame: Spani, Simmons and Massengale are all very experienced, and they all had very poor games.

UT used to be the toughest team--physically and mentally--in women's basketball. Not anymore. Our defenders did not use their bodies and played lazy, and I was not surprised that Spani, Simmons and Massengale played poorly as UT has not had good, confident guard play for a long time. Spani and Simmons HAVE to shoot well for us to win big games--but they never do, partly because they get tight and partly because you need a good half-court offense to break down better defensive teams and get good looks, and UT doesn't do that consistently. I don't think we've shot even 30 percent in our last 4 games against Baylor. Massengale is a major disappointment: She is not as good a player as Diggins, but she's good--or could be, but we don't get enough out of her. She needs more fight, more leadership and needs to take the ball to the basket more. It was an embarrassing second half, and yet all the diehards want to talk solace in our comeback. There should have no need to come back from a nearly 20 point deficit. Until UT gets better coaching we will not see the final four again--even with some of the best talent in the country.

Take 2 of ND's starters out along with a top freshman and see how they would have done. A coach can't prevent injuries...you are not being fair at all.

golfman1975 writes:

John Adams uses selected information to get his exercise...jumping to conclusions. We lost 5 seniors from last years team. We lost 2 starters plus a top freshman and played a very young team. You ignore the obvious.

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to golfman1975:

Take 2 of ND's starters out along with a top freshman and see how they would have done. A coach can't prevent injuries...you are not being fair at all.

Golfman,

Give it up friend. You know how it goes......if it's a win, all is great. If it's a defeat, out come the critics, "we never should have hired this coach, etc" blah, blah, blah.
Know what, maybe hiring 'Jon Gruden' even to coach basketball would please some of these people........far fetched, sure.........but that's how a lot of them act.

When tournament time rolls around, and hopefully Izzy and Burdick will be able to contribute..........then we'll know even more about this team. Losing 4 starters, losing the coach, losing to Baylor, Stanford, and now ND.............let's hear more criticism.

U T Chattanooga? Would love to see them playing the Lady Vols again. The team knows what the most glaring problems are and IMO they want to get things fixed a lot more than our resident board of experts on GVX.

pomp_and_circumstance writes:

It is obvious there isn't a "back door cut" in the LV playbook. I can't recall seeing them do one in several years. If they don't even have the concept, how are they supposed to defend ND from pulling off a dozen?

ModelMaker writes:

in response to kazoo:

Make no mistake: ND is a MUCH better coached team than UT. Diggins is great, but overall I would assert that UT has more talent than ND. But we play dumb and tight and they play smart and cool. Period. Indeed, UT has not been a well-coached team for years. Notice the difference between the two half-court offenses: ND features smart passing and screens and got about 20 layups against our SOFT defenders. UT makes three passes and then some body goes one-on-one against her defenders. This is why UT typically shoots poorly against the better teams. Warlick tried to use the excuse that the Vols are "young." That's lame: Spani, Simmons and Massengale are all very experienced, and they all had very poor games.

UT used to be the toughest team--physically and mentally--in women's basketball. Not anymore. Our defenders did not use their bodies and played lazy, and I was not surprised that Spani, Simmons and Massengale played poorly as UT has not had good, confident guard play for a long time. Spani and Simmons HAVE to shoot well for us to win big games--but they never do, partly because they get tight and partly because you need a good half-court offense to break down better defensive teams and get good looks, and UT doesn't do that consistently. I don't think we've shot even 30 percent in our last 4 games against Baylor. Massengale is a major disappointment: She is not as good a player as Diggins, but she's good--or could be, but we don't get enough out of her. She needs more fight, more leadership and needs to take the ball to the basket more. It was an embarrassing second half, and yet all the diehards want to talk solace in our comeback. There should have no need to come back from a nearly 20 point deficit. Until UT gets better coaching we will not see the final four again--even with some of the best talent in the country.

I think you need to look at the injury situation a little closer. I wonder how Uconn would have looked against Notre Dame if they lost Lewis and Dolson with injuries. Injuries are very much a part of the equation. You have Ezzy at full strength in the second half and Burdick healthy and your looking at a completely different ballgame. It makes a big difference on defense when your driving in for a layup against a 6'4" defender who knows how to block shots. One key player can make a huge difference in basketball because there are only 5 players out there. As for Massengale you need to look at her complete game. Watch how many times she sets up other players for easy open shots. She seems to be money when the game is on the line. I think she plays well under pressure. I agree that she needs to be a little smarter with the basketball but that will come with experience. I don't think that you can blame the coach, when you have so many injuries. I think Carter could have made a big difference in the game also. You need to go back and check out all the injuries we have had the last four years.

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