John Adams: Effort counts more for shorthanded Lady Vols

John Adams
Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale (5) tries to slap the ball away from Mississippi State guard Darriel Gaynor in the first half of an NCAA women's college basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Photo by Wade Payne

Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale (5) tries to slap the ball away from Mississippi State guard Darriel Gaynor in the first half of an NCAA women's college basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

The Tennessee women's basketball team was short on players Thursday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.

But Mississippi State's shortcomings were more apparent. They were measured in points.

The Bulldogs, who rank last in the SEC in scoring, played up to their stats in an 88-45 game, whose outcome was predictable after the first three minutes when the ninth-ranked Lady Vols (17-4) took a 10-0 lead.

You couldn't tell by the score that injuries had deprived UT of two players, including starting center Isabelle Harrison, who injured her left knee in Monday's loss to Notre Dame.

She was scheduled to undergo surgery today.

"Honestly, I hope she is back (this season)," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "Until they figure out what has gone on with her knee, I don't know.

"I guess it's 50-50 (whether she will return this season). I'd love to have her back but not at the expense it will hurt her down the road."

Kamiko Williams' productive play (10 points, 13 rebounds, six steals and six assists) in her first start of the season and the return of Cierra Burdick from the injury list helped make up for Harrison's absence. Seldom-used Nia Moore chipped in with eight points and three rebounds against the Bulldogs.

Look for Burdick to play a more prominent role as she rounds into playing shape. Still hampered by an injured right hand, Burdick said her shooting range was limited to about four feet in her first game since Dec. 30.

"I hope to be 100 percent Sunday (against Missouri)," Burdick said. "I've been making leaps and bounds since I got my cast off. It has been extremely painful."

You couldn't tell it by her passing. Twice, she had nifty assists for easy second-half baskets and would have had a third if Moore hadn't missed a layup.

Burdick, who missed eight games after breaking her hand while doing extra work, finished with four points, five rebounds and three assists in just 16 minutes.

Her return will become more meaningful the longer Harrison is out.

Before she was injured, Burdick averaged 8.8 points and 6.5 rebounds while starting on the wing. But she's just as comfortable inside.

"With one (healthy) hand, she had five rebounds," Warlick said. "She's not going to make up for Izzy's presence on the defensive end, but she's creative offensively and is a great passer."

The loss of Harrison will impact UT's coaches as well as the players. It surely will demand more situational coaching from Warlick, who will have to find ways to best employ Burdick, Williams and Moore.

"I think we're going to have to be real strategic on what defense we play,"

Warlick said. "I don't think we can play the style we (usually) want to play for 40 minutes.

"We will have to throw in some zone and press a little bit. Today, I used some timeouts just to get some rest."

The schedule should help the SEC-leading Lady Vols, whose next three games are against Missouri, LSU and Ole Miss. They have a combined conference record of 8-16.

But as long as UT is shorthanded, its effort will be more important than the schedule.

"They're playing awfully hard," Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. "All those kids come in and play like you're supposed to at Tennessee."

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 » 3

dunc writes:

Thanks, John. Good "lay of the land" summary.

johnlg00 writes:

Holly seems to have made a good assessment of the state of the team right now. She seems to have a plan to deal with it. Phooey on those who think she can't coach.

wigmeister writes:

Holly has done a good job, and the players have stepped up their performances. Team continues to improve. Good job ladies!

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