Lady Vols know they need to improve defense heading into NCAA tournament

Tennessee's Nia Moore and Jordan Jones scramble for the loose ball in the SEC Tournament game at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, GA. on Saturday, March 9, 2013. Tennessee loses to Texas A&M, 66-62. 
  
 (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Photo by Saul Young, 2013 Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee's Nia Moore and Jordan Jones scramble for the loose ball in the SEC Tournament game at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, GA. on Saturday, March 9, 2013. Tennessee loses to Texas A&M, 66-62. (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

DULUTH, Ga. — Tennessee left suburban Atlanta on Sunday morning lugging some familiar baggage.

The Lady Vols made no secret about what weighed them down the most.

“Defense,” forward Cierra Burdick muttered after a 66-62 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday in the SEC women’s basketball tournament semifinals. “We’ve been saying this from the beginning of the season. Maybe it took this loss to realize it. Maybe Kentucky wasn’t enough. Maybe we needed to lose here. If this is what it takes to be better in the NCAA tournament, then let it be a blessing in disguise.”

After squandering a 10-point lead over the final 12½ minutes against the Aggies, a few other attributes could’ve been reviewed with similar disdain.

For example, ball-handling — which has been inconsistent throughout the season — was shoddy throughout the tournament.

Texas A&M converted 15 Tennessee turnovers, 11 of which were Aggies steals, into 25 points. While Florida wasn’t as disruptive, the Gators still managed a 12-11 edge in points off turnovers.

Counting a 78-65 loss at Kentucky to end the regular season, Tennessee has surrendered 70 points off its turnovers during the last three games.

Another tournament issue was the battle around the basket. The Lady Vols commanded the high ground the majority of the regular season, but not over the weekend. Florida softened them up on Friday with 42 paint points. Texas A&M added 34 more, plus a 42-31 advantage in rebounding.

“(The Aggies) kind of pushed us around a little bit,” UT guard Kamiko Williams said. “We battled. You can’t say we laid down or nothing like that. We definitely did battle. We just didn’t make the stops when we needed.”

Williams didn’t suddenly lose her train of thought in circling back to defense. The topic was popular throughout the locker room as a means of guarding against any and all calamity.

Against Texas A&M, the Lady Vols did more than talk a good defensive game as well.

Saddled with first-half foul trouble and forced to deploy a smaller lineup, they held A&M to 3 for 10 shooting and came up with three turnovers during the final 4½ minutes of the half.

The trend continued after the break when the Aggies shot 3 for 15 for nearly nine minutes to start the second half.

They finished, though, by scoring points on nine of their last 11 possessions.

“I keep saying it’s lapses,” UT senior Taber Spani said. “I don’t know how to fix that, but we have to figure it out. We have to put our heads together as a team and a coaching staff and figure it out.”

Tennessee’s cause will be helped by the return of center Isabelle Harrison, who leads the team with 42 blocks. She might have returned during the SEC tournament but suffered a setback in her recovery from an injury to the medial collateral ligament in her right knee.

“We had a practice on Thursday and somebody ran into her and tweaked her knee again,” coach Holly Warlick said. “That kind of set her back. I think we’ll have her for the NCAA tournament. I think the next two weeks will be huge for her to rest and for her to rehab and get her knee solid.”

Tennessee doesn’t play its first NCAA game until March 23 at Thompson-Boling Arena. The tournament selection show is next Monday and the Lady Vols likely will receive no worse than a No. 3 seed.

In the meantime, the break should do them all some good — lighten their load for awhile.

Dan Fleser covers Tennessee women’s basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS and http;//blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser.

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Comments » 40

SummittsCourt writes:

Learn and grow from it, that's all anyone can ask. How far they go in the tournament depends on how well they learn from these last 3 games. Having a healthy Isabelle Harrison helps, but they can still go far if they work on limiting the turnovers and playing defense.

Let's go Lady Vols!

soitgoes12 writes:

It just seems like after every loss or close win they talk about defense... but it doesn't seem to ever get better. I doubt they are going to make their players better defenders in the next week or 2.

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

I for one would like to give a hearty congratulations to these young women and the coaching staff for what they have accomplished this season and I am hoping for a deep run in the big dance to set the tone for next year's team. The article hit the nail on the head as far as some of the most glaring weaknesses are concerned, but this team has played with a character and determination all year long, and they have given us fans something to cheer about when there was little else at the time to lift our spirits. I really enjoyed seeing Taber have the game of her life last night, and I hope she can have a couple of more like that before her UT career ends. If there is an outstanding PG in next year's promising class, then there's a very good chance we could see another NC banner or 2 being hung in TB in the near future. Thanks LVs, not just for what you've done, but for who you are.

PureOrange writes:

Got to get tougher and meaner; Massengale has to stop allowing the ball being taken away from her in open court with little or no pressure; the soft, lazy passes must not happen again; fight like every possession is the game winning play; and stop standing and watching the action - stay active, on offense and defense. Sometimes it seems we forget we are a team. We have the talent to go far; we must acquire the guts and grit to make it happen.

And we must have the killer instinct. Finish teams off instead of going on cruise control when we get a lead.

Theo writes:

in response to volfaninbuckeyeland:

I for one would like to give a hearty congratulations to these young women and the coaching staff for what they have accomplished this season and I am hoping for a deep run in the big dance to set the tone for next year's team. The article hit the nail on the head as far as some of the most glaring weaknesses are concerned, but this team has played with a character and determination all year long, and they have given us fans something to cheer about when there was little else at the time to lift our spirits. I really enjoyed seeing Taber have the game of her life last night, and I hope she can have a couple of more like that before her UT career ends. If there is an outstanding PG in next year's promising class, then there's a very good chance we could see another NC banner or 2 being hung in TB in the near future. Thanks LVs, not just for what you've done, but for who you are.

Just a thought regarding the PG issue. I believe the starting PG position is wide open with Massengale, Carter (medical redshirt) and Reynolds. The last two being more athletic than Ariel but Ariel with more experience. One thing I think folks should remember regarding Massengale is that she is just a Soph. she has had a lot of playing time but she has a lot of upside still to go. As an example, Taber is much better athletically this year than at any other time in her career. I expect Massengale to make similar improvements. Before her injury Carter looked special to me and Reynolds could be the best of the lot. PG could be a strength for us in the coming years.

WCBB_FAN writes:

The "defense topic" is getting old. We have been reading about this same subject every since the season started. How long does it take them to learn how to play defense? What about all the casual shot selections around the rim, no look passing and don't forget the silly turnovers? These girls need to be taught how to run other set plays besides criss crossing around the perimeter all the time. Go find Muffet McGraw, Bruce Pearl or maybe a former nba coach.

JimmyJoe writes:

A&M manhandled UK in the paint today... We just won't go inside.

jt45 writes:

I wish Izzy would have been healthy for the tournament,

We need her blocking and rebounding ability badly
right now and I think she would have changed the
outcome of yesterdays game if she could have played.
I cant remember when ive seen more injuries in womens
basketball than this year.

flatrock writes:

Holly has gotten great senior leadership from Taber and Kamiko, but the key to this team is Izzy. Her ability to run the floor and defend the rim, covers up a defense that has no answer vs. a scoring PG and an offense that struggles to execute vs. more-athletic teams who take away Holly's beloved up-tempo style.

-

volsmanll writes:

you people that complain about Massengale should know that maybe CPS saw something in her that Holly can not or will not see. She needs to be coached "up" a little but do the coaches have anyone to do it ? I am sure CPS saw a lot in her when she brought her in as a starter her freshman year. Where is our coach to bring it out in her now ??? Just asking

cgbtn writes:

in response to jt45:

I wish Izzy would have been healthy for the tournament,

We need her blocking and rebounding ability badly
right now and I think she would have changed the
outcome of yesterdays game if she could have played.
I cant remember when ive seen more injuries in womens
basketball than this year.

Without another big, other teams sag and just smother Graves. We need a healthy Izzy, and please hurry Mercedes. Those three could make next year a great one. The Ladies have done much more than was ever expected this year.

ps11824 writes:

[[[ “Defense,” forward Cierra Burdick muttered after a 66-62 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday in the SEC women’s basketball tournament semifinals. “We’ve been saying this from the beginning of the season. Maybe it took this loss to realize it. Maybe Kentucky wasn’t enough. Maybe we needed to lose here. If this is what it takes to be better in the NCAA tournament, then let it be a blessing in disguise.” ]]]

Poppycock! Maybe??? Why must it take it take a kick in the gut at crunch time to realize what has been a glaring bugaboo ALL SEASON LONG?

They've squandered eads in several games. Why's it necessary to upchuck on the same noodle casserole time after time to know darn well the stuff's gonna make you pay dearly? Eat the jello, for pete's sake.

[[[ For example, ball-handling — which has been inconsistent throughout the season — was shoddy throughout the tournament. ]]]

We also knew going in - take a look at game stats - we were turning the ball over way too much, Unforced turnovers were rampant in MOST games. They surely knew opponents were aware of our shoddy ball-handling, especially KY who thrives on knocking their opponents off the ball with their 2-man traps all over the court.

Appears to me A&M watched tape. Paid off large for them. But we didn't execute "cherishing that basketball" down the stretch. Get the ball to the hot (Taber) hand for that last shot?

[[ "15 Tennessee turnovers, 11 of which were Aggies steals, into 25 points." "Tennessee has surrendered 70 points off its turnovers during the last three games." ]]

I do realize what a daunting task it will be for these ladies to get over this loss and get back to preparing for the NCAA season. Holly will do everything she can do to coach 'em up for post season. She can't 'dress out and get it done' the way she did in days of old. Another thing she cannot do is heal the wounded to playing condition. But she will get serious about playing post season basketball.

OldVols68 writes:

Hate to say this but BOTH Texas A&M and Kentucky remind me of the old Lady Vols -- long, tall, and athletic....Matthew learned from Pat well when he served on the Lady Vols staff, and if Arkansas fired Gary Blair they made a BIG mistake. (I don't remember if he left on his own or not).

Afraid the Lady Vols are not the same any more...all good things must pass. Maybe all the bad things will too.

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

Ariel is a good point guard . She just needs to play tougher and learn how to not dribble into traffic . I think our best PG is on the bench learning every game (Carter) to me she just seems tough as nails. Reynolds at 5'10 is going to be good to and physical. I do like the fact that Ariel was confident in her shooting this year.

All streaks must come to a end folks(SEC tourney) we just need to start another one. Still the best in the SEC #stillTenn

underthehill writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

A&M manhandled UK in the paint today... We just won't go inside.

Yes they did..and they did not let Ky set the tempo..coaching edge to A & M..
Bone took over the inside last 10 min of game..
back to the topic of defense..
anticipation of what your opponent is going to do and reacting..just ain't there..individual effort and pride to deny your opponent going where they chose instead of dictating their position on the floor ..just ain't there..you gotta love defense and the feeling of stopping your man..I do think Kamiko and Jones have to be on the floor when pressure on defense has to be turned up a notch..they are by far the most athletic and best defenders..Simmons could be ...

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

Someone mentioned before about the Aggies watching tape and I really don't know if it made a difference but I saw where the Aggie players had time to scout both games when we played Florida and when UK played GA. At both times they were really into the games , something Coach Blair I'm sure told them to pay attention too. Time to win two and move on in Knoxville.

dwolfcreek#397971 writes:

in response to volsmanll:

you people that complain about Massengale should know that maybe CPS saw something in her that Holly can not or will not see. She needs to be coached "up" a little but do the coaches have anyone to do it ? I am sure CPS saw a lot in her when she brought her in as a starter her freshman year. Where is our coach to bring it out in her now ??? Just asking

Well Messengale is not getting any better ,she just ant and can't get job done . She can't handle the ball .She makes bad decisions ,CPS made a mistake .

cdtnladyvols931#663910 writes:

in response to soitgoes12:

It just seems like after every loss or close win they talk about defense... but it doesn't seem to ever get better. I doubt they are going to make their players better defenders in the next week or 2.

Well if it don't, depending on who they play one game will be all they will play!!!!!!

ps11824 writes:

OldVols, maxvolfan, and underthehill, some good points indeed. We are so soft in all positions. Seems to me we let team push us around, dictate the speed of the game and just plain old play harder. OldVols, you are spot on about the old Lady Vols. Probably poo-pooed by the young fans who have only read about the old corn-fed chicks style of play. Well Coach was one of the better old corn-fed chicks who came on the scene way on down the line, but watched her elders rule the roost in women's college basketball. Yes, the game has changed; fastlane ball rules the court now and is fun to watch when it is executed efficiently. When it ends in a turnover, it sucks big old rotten eggs.

madrigal writes:

To the people grousing about Massengale--her turnover states are actually not that bad; in fact they're pretty good. I have heard announcers mention how good they are (and what they are) several times during game broadcasts, but I could not find anything online. So unless you have the stats in black and white, maybe you should back off a little.

arkyvol writes:

i get the sense that the men's and women's programs are headed in opposite directions.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to volsmanll:

you people that complain about Massengale should know that maybe CPS saw something in her that Holly can not or will not see. She needs to be coached "up" a little but do the coaches have anyone to do it ? I am sure CPS saw a lot in her when she brought her in as a starter her freshman year. Where is our coach to bring it out in her now ??? Just asking

I think there was plenty to BE seen about Ariel as far as potential is concerned. It seems to be mostly a matter of concentration with her. There is no other earthly reason why she is good for at least one outright give-away and four passes into traffic with no LV in sight every game. She also seems to put a little too much dipsy-doo on her driving layup attempts; she needs to just put the ball up on the board instead of using that sweeping motion with spin on it. She can make open threes and she can deliver good passes. She is a pretty good FT shooter. She just needs a little better judgment and focus on the court.

kazoo writes:

Points::

1) If UT's defense isn't good now, and it isn't, it's not going to become good overnight. The season is nearly over. UT simply, sadly, does not have tough man defenders. Our guards and wing players are soft, and we don't have much size inside. Massengale is fairly lazy on defense, Spani lacks quickness and Simmons lacks size. Our defense in the ND game was the worst I think I've ever seen from a Vol team.

2) UT doesn't move the ball well enough, or pass the ball well enough, to beat good teams. We saw this in the A&M game: make two/three passes and then stand and see if Simmons or Spani can score. Nope.

RE Massangale: She's a talented point guard, but her defense is a problem and it would be nice he she showed a bit more leadership/passion. Let's hope Harrison can lay.

ps11824 writes:

madrigal, AM's assists to turnover stats last season were 4.9 to 2.3. I would venture to guess they aren't quite that good this season... From what I can remember of last season, she did not play as loose with the ball, giving it away, and making those passes to (no one) where she thought someone should be, maybe. That's just me recalling... somebody may let us know about this season's average. Now that I think about it, I miss several of our old regulars. Makes me wonder where they are; if they still follow the Lady Vols...

There used to be a regular poster on here who was on top of this kinda thing. Poster has long since gone, faded into anonymity. By now, would have posted answers to all relevant queries. Gosh, I miss that poster.

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

Was without the phone and computer since last Wednesday due to the snow storm here in VA, so here is the FWIW comments after the A & M game.

Taber was great in this game. So great that the others thought so as well, and therefore pretty much observed and didn't contribute very well.

IMO, it was a very off game for the guards. Simmons and Massengale just didn't score and the usual turnovers were killers. Still they fought hard, only lost by 4 to the really hot A & M team. We saw what they did to U K.

Now on to the big dance. We'll see.

troken writes:

UT is only a top 10 program now... It was Uconn and UT, but recruiting and player development has slipped big time. Holly doesn't have the same effect on UT as Pat did and only Geno does now...

ps11824 writes:

Regarding Massengale's stats: As a rookie she recorded 16.2 assists, most ever by a rookie. 8th best in Lady Vols history; led the league with 2.1 assist to turnover ratio. 4th best in SEC freethrows, 66 of 85 attempts.

That's the best I can come up with.

tonyvick#213307 writes:

Ladies lets keep it simple and do whatever it takes to score at least one more point than your opponent by the end of regulation.

Millisa writes:

Hey Lady Vols- Get Back to work Work harder and Get Tougher Go Lady Vols :) :) :)

jt45 writes:

in response to troken:

UT is only a top 10 program now... It was Uconn and UT, but recruiting and player development has slipped big time. Holly doesn't have the same effect on UT as Pat did and only Geno does now...

Well lets see ,,,,
Pat Summits first season 74-74, 16-8
First SEC Championship 1980

Geno whats his name first season 85-86 12-15
Didnt see post season play until the 88-89 season
and got knocked out in the first round.

Thank goodness Holly hasnt had the same effect in year one.

vol98champ writes:

As bad as most of you seem to think this team is; they almost beat a very good/hot A&M team and won the conference. A question for some of you deep thinkers; how many talented current players would you name before a single Lady Vol was mentioned? I'm guessing without much knowledge that the number is somewhere in the 20's.

Volinflan writes:

I'd get maybe 6 or eight before I got to Simmons. Griner, Ogwumike, Dolson, Diggins, Stewert, M-Lewis, (DelleDonne doesn't qualify, she plays in the minor leagues.) E. Williams from Duke, O. Sims, Achanowa, maybe Tinkle. Yea, then I'd have Simmons in there about then.

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

in response to Volinflan:

I'd get maybe 6 or eight before I got to Simmons. Griner, Ogwumike, Dolson, Diggins, Stewert, M-Lewis, (DelleDonne doesn't qualify, she plays in the minor leagues.) E. Williams from Duke, O. Sims, Achanowa, maybe Tinkle. Yea, then I'd have Simmons in there about then.

I'd drop Stewert from the group . Basharra is play way better thanher in their freshman year. DellaDonna(25ppg) is a definately a top 3 player . I'd have Simmons around 16.

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

Ok just saw Charlie Cremes latest and if this sticks I'm going out on a limb and say we make it to the final Four! We beat Duke and we get revenge against ND with a healthy Izzy. Go Vols!

UTFAN1993 writes:

in response to ps11824:

Regarding Massengale's stats: As a rookie she recorded 16.2 assists, most ever by a rookie. 8th best in Lady Vols history; led the league with 2.1 assist to turnover ratio. 4th best in SEC freethrows, 66 of 85 attempts.

That's the best I can come up with.

142 / 83 __asst to turnover 1.71

UTFAN1993 writes:

in response to ps11824:

madrigal, AM's assists to turnover stats last season were 4.9 to 2.3. I would venture to guess they aren't quite that good this season... From what I can remember of last season, she did not play as loose with the ball, giving it away, and making those passes to (no one) where she thought someone should be, maybe. That's just me recalling... somebody may let us know about this season's average. Now that I think about it, I miss several of our old regulars. Makes me wonder where they are; if they still follow the Lady Vols...

There used to be a regular poster on here who was on top of this kinda thing. Poster has long since gone, faded into anonymity. By now, would have posted answers to all relevant queries. Gosh, I miss that poster.

4.58 / 2.67

UTFAN1993 writes:

in response to maxvolfan#217855:

Ok just saw Charlie Cremes latest and if this sticks I'm going out on a limb and say we make it to the final Four! We beat Duke and we get revenge against ND with a healthy Izzy. Go Vols!

I'll go out on a limb and say that the Ladies shouldn't take their suitcases out of their closets to pack for a trip til they can get past Liberty.That is if in fact Charlie has the right predicted opponent.Their roster has SIX players at least 6ft and taller; with 3 being 6'5' and 6'6' and 6'4'. they av 48 reb/game. No Izzy, no trip. then there's the pesty Iowa St that played UConn w/I about a dozen.
93.62% chance to win both games , being at home

UTFAN1993 writes:

in response to UTFAN1993:

I'll go out on a limb and say that the Ladies shouldn't take their suitcases out of their closets to pack for a trip til they can get past Liberty.That is if in fact Charlie has the right predicted opponent.Their roster has SIX players at least 6ft and taller; with 3 being 6'5' and 6'6' and 6'4'. they av 48 reb/game. No Izzy, no trip. then there's the pesty Iowa St that played UConn w/I about a dozen.
93.62% chance to win both games , being at home

oops__I meant to say Baylor not UConn.
I/State has 5 players over 6-1, with a 6-7, a 6-4 and a 6'3' player. Got to have Izzy

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

in response to maxvolfan#217855:

Ok just saw Charlie Cremes latest and if this sticks I'm going out on a limb and say we make it to the final Four! We beat Duke and we get revenge against ND with a healthy Izzy. Go Vols!

That limb just broke. Baylor and ND in the championship game.

ps11824 writes:

UTFAN1993, is that you? Thanks for that response. Unless our Ladies are ready to play smarter and tougher than they have all season, you are pretty secure on that limb.

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