Lady Vols romp in win over Coker

Burdick, Harrison get defensive

The Lady Vols finished the exhibition season with a 118-44 wipeout of Coker on Sunday. Go inside for game story, InsideTennessee's Take and video coverage.

Coach Holly Warlick said she wanted her team to run this season, and that style of play was on display Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena as the Lady Vols took a high-energy approach on both sides of the ball.

"There're three things I wanted to focus on before the game: play with a lot of energy, make sure you play with a tremendous amount of effort, and play with a big heart," Warlick said. "Those sound like very simple things, but those things helped us focus on what we needed to do. The rest will take care of itself because we're talented, we're athletic.

"But if we don't play with a lot of energy and a lot of heart, then our talent is totally not there. We tried to focus on those three things and today, we came out and did those things and we saw a better result than we did against Carson-Newman."

Both exhibition games resulted in lopsided wins – 104-44 over Carson-Newman and 118-44 over Coker – but the coaches sought improvement from Thursday to Sunday, and they got it.

"Overall, we didn't put them at the free throw line as much, we didn't foul as much," Warlick said. "We really focused on playing with our feet and not our hands. We got the ball out in transition a lot better than we had.

"I thought we scored a lot in transition, and that's what we want. We want high-energy playing."

The guards pushed tempo, as did the posts, and the Lady Vols put six players in double figures, led by 22 points from freshman Bashaara Graves, and tallied 28 assists on 48 made baskets.

Meighan Simmons and Taber Spani combined for 13 of the team's 28 assists and every player logged at least one helper.

Isabelle Harrison and Simmons opened the scoring with a layup and a three ball and then Graves scored the next six points on two layups and two free throws. Graves was active early on the defensive end, too, getting a tie-up of a loose ball after a trap set by Harrison and Cierra Burdick caused the ball to squirt loose.

"Bashaara plays hard," Warlick said. "She's talented, but she plays hard."

Graves had 12 points by halftime and had scored by getting to the basket for layups and grabbing offensive boards. After Andraya Carter pressured the ball handler, Spani got a tipped steal, corralled the loose ball and fired underneath to Graves, who completed the and-one play for a 30-8 lead with 10:02 to play in the first half.

The seniors got involved, too, with Kamiko Williams making the most of her minutes on both ends – she finished with 14 points, four assists and three steals – and wowing the crowd when she swooped in for an offensive board and a 43-19 lead. That was followed by a one-handed runner by Spani in transition for a 45-19 lead with 5:56 remaining before the break. When the Lady Vols went to the free throw line, Spani made sure her teammates knew who to pick up in the press when Coker would in-bound the ball, especially the freshmen, serving as a defensive signal caller.

For the second game in a row, freshman Nia Moore got a steal at the top of the press – this time she nimbly poked the ball free as the player tried to pass her – and converted at the other end for a layup. She had eight points, five boards, one assist, one block and a steal and showed a knack for being in the right place.

She closed the scoring in the first half to give the Lady Vols a 60-30 lead after Taber Spani drove and then flipped the ball to Moore, who hit the layup as the buzzer sounded.

"She just produces. She gets in there," Warlick said. "She has a blocked shot when we need one. She has had a steal a game at the top of the key, which is huge for us.

"I am really pleased with her and how she is playing and the results of how she is playing."

Coker had success against Tennessee in the first half with the long ball – the Cobras were 8-15 before the break – but opened the second half with trying to get the ball inside. Harrison swiped the pass and committed a foul on the other end but got the ball back off a Simmons steal and hit the layup for a 62-30 lead barely 30 seconds into the second half, allowing the fans, announced at 10,137 but closer to 7,000, to settle back into their seats quickly since they stand for each half until a basket is made.

The Cobras went back to the long ball – they were just 3-18 for the second half – and Tennessee kept scoring in transition and by driving and kicking to the open player either on the wing or in the paint.

Tennessee's three ball defense was somewhat better in the second half and part of the issues came from not having the defense fully installed for the young players.

"Yes, it is. We have one thing in on ball screens, and that's trapping," Warlick said. "If you don't rotate, you don't have a good trap, you're going to give someone an open look and a lot of times that's what we did.

"That's a great opportunity for us to go back and watch film and to correct those things. We've got to do a better job, and we'll probably come up with a different scheme besides trapping on the ball."

Tennessee's defense, other than the long ball, was improved over Thursday, and the Lady Vols scored 51 points off Coker's 21 turnovers. The Cobras tallied just five points from Tennessee's 14 miscues.

The Lady Vols scored 71 percent of their points – 84 of the 118 – inside the paint to just four points inside for Coker.

Graves did the bulk of her scoring inside and one second-half play showed her skill, strength and overall game. A Coker player had an arm in Graves' neck, but she was able to tip the defensive rebound to herself, control it, start the break and fire the ball to Simmons for a 67-30 lead at the 16:48 mark.

That was followed by a Burdick pass in the corner to a wide-open Graves under the basket and a 69-30 lead.

"She works before the ball," Warlick said. "She works on the rebounding end to get in position for the ball. She just always constantly works, and that's what I love about her.

"I don't care if she's a freshman or what she is, she's a basketball player who plays with a lot of energy and has a lot of effort."

Warlick spread around the minutes again, and she especially got a long look at the freshmen. Three started the game in Carter, Graves and Jasmine Jones.

"We started a little different lineup, and we did that on purpose just to see how people would play together," Warlick said.

Whichever combination was on the court was under orders to run, and the players responded. Tennessee's scoring ended with a Graves layup, Williams' trey and Moore jumper for the final 118-44 score.

For the freshmen it was another chance to adjust to the high-octane pace in a game situation.

"It is fun once you get used to it because we're just scoring, and we're all up tempo and have a lot of energy," Carter said. "It definitely takes some getting used to.

"I think the more games we play, the more we'll get used to it because you can't simulate stuff like that in practice. So the more games we play, the more we'll get used to it and the better we'll be."

Coker was led by Hailey Yohn with 15 points, while Angie Lawrence added 10.

"It'll definitely help us prepare for our conference play," Yohn said. "It's good experience for you to come here, but we have a lot of learning points that we can use for practice and get better on."

Point guard Heidrun Kristmundsdottir left the game in the second half at the 14:49 mark with an injury to her lower left arm – she was hurt in a scramble for a loose ball – and that seemed to slow Coker's attack.

"She's kind of the backbone of our team, solid point guard, pretty poised," Coach Jenny Finora said. "Hopefully she's OK. We don't know the status of her yet, but it did hurt. She's obviously a heady point guard, but hopefully she'll be OK."

Coker shot 26.7 percent (16-60) overall, 11-33 (33.3 percent) from long range and 25.0 percent (1-4) from the line.

The Cobras had difficulty keeping Tennessee off the glass and lost the rebounding battle, 54-25.

"Tough. They're beasts," Finora said. "It was good for us to experience. We've got to box out if we're going to win games. Credit to them. They're a very good team; they're going to go far. It's very hard to keep them off the glass."

Tennessee shot 60.8 percent (48-79) overall, 21.4 percent (3-14) from the arc and 86.4 percent (19-22) from the line.

Six players reached double figures led by Graves' 22 points. Simmons added 20, Harrison contributed 17, Burdick tallied 16, Williams notched 14, and Spani chipped in with 10.

"I thought this game we showed what we needed to do and could do," Warlick said. "So, I am very pleased. I am glad we had the opportunity to have these two exhibition games. I think they are going to get us ready for the next two games."

INSIDE TENNESSEE'S TAKE

The Lady Vols got what they needed out of the two exhibitions this week – plenty of game film and minutes spread throughout the nine available players.

Those nine players, especially the freshmen, should sleep well tonight. Tennessee had its running game on display and, led by freshman point guard Andraya Carter, with help from senior Kamiko Williams, pushed tempo from start to finish.

The only really break in the action came in the final 19 seconds when junior guard Meighan Simmons dribbled out the clock.

"I think there was only one other time that I have played a game that fast," sophomore Cierra Burdick said. "It was with USA basketball my 17-and-under year against Japan. All we did was run. It got to the point that I was so tired that I looked over and said to Rel (Ariel Massengale) can we please slow down, let me get to half court before we shoot another layup because it was that fast.

"This game was extremely high tempo but that is what Holly wants. She wants us to run. Everything needs to be in transition and I think we did a good job of that today."

Running against Coker is one thing. The competition switches to Division I next week, and Burdick knows from her experience a year ago, that the next level is just that – another level. It is a message the returning players must send to the newcomers.

"I think as veterans and returners, we try to stress to them that some of the shots we're getting right now we're not going to get when the season starts," Burdick said. "We talked about that in halftime how we really need to slow the ball and when we're not transitioning the basketball, just really get into our offensive principles. Really swing the ball and get good shots.

"That's the biggest thing that we try to stress on offense because we're not going to get these easy layups we're getting against Carson-Newman and Coker."

Head coach Holly Warlick wanted to see better defense against Coker – specifically not so much fouling – and she got it, especially from Carter, who may be one of the best freshman defenders in program history.

Carter had four fouls against Carson-Newman but just one against Coker and made a highlight play in the second half when she harassed the ball handler, poked the ball loose, dove on the floor for it, secured the ball and passed ahead to Burdick for a layup and a 73-33 lead. The official scorer charted the play as Carter steal, Burdick layup, Carter assist.

Carter is relentless on defense and is capable of picking up the ball deep in the backcourt. Her reaching fouls Thursday were a concern for the coaches. She had a few slipups Sunday but managed to pull her hands back and not commit a foul but once. She watched film between games with coaches Kyra Elzy and Jolette Law, and the study paid off Sunday.

Isabelle Harrison smiled at the post-game press conference when Carter discussed the learning curve of not fouling. Harrison had her share of foul trouble as a freshman – Burdick jokingly reminded Harrison of five fouls in five minutes against Baylor – and she had some advice for the newcomers.

"Calm down and not let the crowd and everybody around you get to you," Harrison said. "Know that you can play your game, slow down and breathe."

Tennessee may have increased its game tempo this season, but Harrison has slowed hers down. And that's a good thing. Harrison played too fast last season and would too often turn loose of the ball. Against Coker, she was 8-10 for 17 points with nine boards.

"I don't feel as rushed as I did last year," Harrison said. "I trust my teammates to score as well. So if I get double-teamed I can kick it back out and see what we are working with."

That is key for Harrison because last season she would have felt like she had to do something with the ball herself. In Sunday's game getting the ball to the guards was a good thing. They accounted for 20 of the 28 assists. Add three from Burdick, who played outside, too, and that's 23 assists from perimeter players.

The posts are the beneficiaries with Harrison's 17 points and a game-high 22 points from Bashaara Graves.

"That is Dean right there, just get in the mindset that when you get in the paint just go to work," Harrison said. "We appreciate when the guards look for us, we are going to show them that we appreciate it and put it in the hoop for them."

Jasmine Jones added eight points and Nia Moore, who Dean Lockwood said needed to be more patient and finish, was 4-5 from the field for eight points and added five boards, a block and a steal.

"I love her effort and when she gets excited I am even more hype for her," Harrison said. "She is just that type of person; I can feed off her energy. Just seeing her improving every day, that is what I love. … I can see her getting better every day. That is what I enjoy."

The coaches will watch the tape and see some of the improvement they sought, specifically fewer fouls and better ball security.

The Lady Vols had just five turnovers in the first half with 14 for the game. Given the breakneck pace, that is an impressive stat.

They committed just nine fouls with Coker content to fire away from behind the arc, and the Cobras went to the line just four times.

Tennessee tallied 28 assists – Taber Spani and Meighan Simmons combined for 13 – and 23 steals with Carter leading the way with five thefts.

Those assist numbers are impressive considering that incumbent starting point guard Ariel Massengale remained out to rest a sore left Achilles tendon. Warlick expects her to be cleared to play for the regular season opener. Sophomore Jasmine Phillips, who is a solid defender, remains out with a left quad injury.

"I think Ariel will be there for the opener," Warlick said. "She could have gone today. I just want to make sure that we aren't doing anything that could make it worse, down the line we are going to need her.

"Phillips, I am not quite sure. I know she has a pretty bad pull. We will turn to the doctors and Jenny (Moshak) to make that decision. On both of them. I didn't want to push it, especially with Ariel. It was a great opportunity for our kids to get playing time and for her to have some rest."

Warlick will also take a long look at the three-ball defense. Coker hit 8-15 in the first half, prompting an irate Warlick to call timeout right before halftime.

Coker was 3-18 from long range in the second half, but Warlick was still a tad steamed.

"You can't give up 11 threes," Warlick said. "We've got to change that, and that's been our MO for a while. We'll just go back and look at it. We knew going in that they shot the 3 ball. That's one side of the game that we've got to get ahold of real quick."

It would be hard to argue with Tennessee's point production – the Lady Vols got 84 points in the paint to just four for Coker – but the three-ball shooting wasn't effective in the two exhibition games. The Lady Vols were 7-24 from the arc in the two contests – 3-14 on Sunday – and are shooting 29.2 percent from long range. On the bright side, they are shooting 58.2 percent overall led by Harrison and Williams, both at 72.7 percent.

"When you get the ball inside and you get three points the old fashioned way with and one's I am OK," Warlick said. "I am good with that. I am not so much concerned with that (three-ball shooting) as I am what we are doing on defense and how we are dictating plays. That has been our focus this preseason.

"We haven't been getting up a lot of shots because we have been focusing on the defensive end. Now, we will taper off a little bit and get more shots. Not really as much concerned about it. Ask me in the next couple days. If we continue to do that I may get a little nervous about it."

Warlick joked with the media when she walked in to the post-game press conference and it was noted that she wasn't pouring sweat like she did after games last season. She smiled and said wait until the team takes the floor in Chattanooga.

The meaning was clear. These games don't count. The exhibitions allow the freshmen to get game experience and for the coaches to try assorted combinations without any real regard for the scoreboard.

But that all changes next week when Tennessee takes to the road to take on Chattanooga and Georgia Tech.

Tennessee wants to be an up-tempo team. Opponents will try to stop it and those foes will provide much stiffer resistance than Division II schools in exhibition games.

"That's our goal," Warlick said. "We want to try to score in transition. Now, we've got to continue to get in shape and stay in shape. I don't think we're quite there yet, but we're getting there.

"But I think this group loves to play up tempo. I want to try to take advantage of that."

GAME HIGHLIGHTS FROM UTSPORTS.COM

INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE

Lady Vols pre-game, Cierra Burdick's little brother, C.J., was in the row of children who greet the players

Holly Warlick

Cierra Burdick, Isabelle Harrison, Andraya Carter

Coach Jenny Finora, Amber Lau, Hailey Yohn

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