Lady Vols hold off Hurricanes

Bashaara Graves

The Lady Vols beat a second ranked opponent on the road with a 79-67 win over Miami on Sunday and earned a holiday respite from coach Holly Warlick. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game story, analysis and videos.

With a week between games and a young team that, once again, came up big on the road, Holly Warlick will practice this week and then send her charges home Wednesday for a brief break at Thanksgiving.

The players will return Friday to begin preparations for Alcorn State, which is coached by former Lady Vol Tonya Edwards and comes to town next Sunday.

"We found a way to win," Warlick said. "I'm proud of us."

That seemed like a near certainty at halftime when Tennessee (3-1) led 46-21, over Miami (2-1), a rather shocking score considering the Lady Vols were on the road facing another ranked ACC team.

Isabelle Harrison won the tip for Tennessee, and Meighan Simmons immediately nailed a three to give the Lady Vols a quick lead 3-0 lead.

But that was followed by a flurry of missed shots and turnovers by both teams. The Lady Vols, led by Ariel Massengale and Andraya Carter, settled down and slowly built a lead by being patient on offense and tenacious on defense.

"We made great stops," Warlick said. "We got key rebounds. We were physical. We moved the ball. We were clicking.

"There is a reason you get up like that. We were playing as a team."

The Lady Vols had 11 assists on 15 made baskets in the first half and shot 57.7 percent.

Miami, meanwhile, shot 20 percent (7-35) in the first half, and it seemed to take the wind out of the Hurricanes.

"Our response to missing the shot would be to play less defense," Miami coach Katie Meier said.

Tennessee opened the second half with a jumper by Cierra Burdick and a 48-21 lead within the first 30 seconds of play, and she added one more point with a made free throw after getting fouled on an attempted stick-back. Taber Spani got a steal and then Bashaara Graves picked one off and converted the layup for a 51-25 lead less than four minutes into the second half.

The Lady Vols kept the lead in the 20-plus range and then Miami made its surge.

A Morgan Stroman layup with less than 10 minutes to play cut the lead to 58-41, and Meier wanted timeout. The Hurricanes went on an 11-0 run that was stopped by two Graves free throws, but Miami crept closer, 60-47, on a Caprice Dennis three-pointer with 8:26 remaining. However, Carter answered with her fourth trey of the game for a 63-47 lead at the 8:01 mark.

Tennessee kept the lead in double digits until Miami got to 71-63 and then 71-65 on two Stefanie Yderstrom free throws with 2:30 left to play.

"Our second half we played great," Stroman said. "When it was down to six I thought we weren't going to lose."

Tennessee lost its massive lead with a succession of quick shots that were off the mark.

"A 20-foot jump shot in that stretch is not a good shot," Warlick said.

Burdick noted, "They were giving us the jump shot, and we were taking it, and we didn't need to."

It took two defensive plays by two freshmen to really seal the win.

Massengale missed a shot with 2:04 left, and Miami got the rebound and started a fast break. The pass ahead for the layup was tipped out of bounds by a leaping Carter, who landed awkwardly on her right shoulder and aggravated an injury from high school.

"She's a tough kid," Warlick said. "I think she's going to be OK."

The layup would have pulled Miami to within four. Instead, Yderstrom missed a three-pointer, and Spani scored a layup on the other end for a 73-65 lead with 1:31 left.

Stroman hit a layup to pull Miami to 73-67 with 1:18 to play, but then Massengale converted two free throws for a 75-67 lead. Miami still was within striking distance but Graves jumped to steal an in-bounds pass with 43 seconds left, and the comeback was squashed.

"Everybody was denying the pass," Graves said. "All five players played great defense."

Warlick added, "I thought the steal was huge."

Massengale was perfect from the line, and Tennessee left Miami on Sunday evening with a 79-67 victory.

"A game like that will age you real quick," Warlick said. "They didn't have a quit to them and fortunately we didn't either."

Meier accepted the blame for the loss.

"I didn't have my team ready, and that's on me," Meier said. "There is no question we weren't ready for that game."

Miami was led by Michelle Woods with 17 points. Stroman reached double digits with 13 points and also had eight rebounds.

The Hurricanes shot 31.9 percent (22-69) overall, 19.0 percent (4-21) from long range and 59.4 percent (19-32) from the line. Miami had 10 assists, 13 turnovers, 2 blocks and nine steals.

The Hurricanes did nip Tennessee on the boards, 46-44, but a perceived advantage inside with six post players and the Lady Vol posts in foul trouble for much of the game never materialized. Tennessee outscored Miami in the paint 34-30.

"Coach is taking all the blame, but we have to do it," Yderstrom said. "We have to practice the way we want to play."

The loss snapped a 41-game win streak at home for Miami.

"We owe it to this program to start another one," Meier said. "… Big moment and we laid an egg. We almost recovered from it."

Tennessee's Graves led all scorers with 20 points and Carter added a career best 16 points on the strength of 4-5 from the arc and 4-4 from the line. Massengale chipped in with 14 points.

The Lady Vols shot 42.1 percent (24-57) overall, 35.3 percent (6-17) from the arc and 80.6 percent (25-31) from the line. Tennessee tallied 17 assists, 18 turnovers, four blocks and nine steals.

Burdick led the way on the boards with 10, while Graves and Harrison added six each.

"Overall, we finished the game so I am proud of them for that," Warlick said.

MY TAKE FOR INSIDE TENNESSEE

Tennessee opened the season with a loss on the road to Chattanooga, an unranked team in the Southern Conference. Three games later – with only one at home – the Lady Vols are 3-1 with two wins on the road against top 25 opponents in the ACC.

That the Lady Vols would emerge from that four-game start with a 3-1 record is a testament to first-year head coach Holly Warlick and the willpower of a very young team.

Two of the three critical players in Sunday's 79-67 win were two freshmen, Bashaara Graves and Andraya Carter, who led Tennessee with 20 and 16 points respectively.

"That is what I love about those two," Holly Warlick said. "They play hard on every possession."

The third was sophomore Ariel Massengale, who took care of the ball under withering pressure and went 10-10 from the line – most coming down the stretch – and tallied 14 points.

"I thought Massengale stepped up and hit key free throws for us," Warlick said.

She did indeed. Tennessee had a 27-point lead early in the second half and it had dwindled to just six points late in the game. Massengale went 6-6 from the line with less than a minute left in the game and secured a win that seemed all but foregone midway through the second half.

It was a gut check time for a very young team and the fact the comeback was snuffed by two freshmen playing in their fourth collegiate game and a sophomore bodes well for Tennessee's future.

The present looks pretty good, too, though a schedule that includes three of last year's Final Four teams means the Lady Vols have formidable challenges ahead.

Warlick was sweating in the post-game video of the press conference – of course the game was in Miami and it was hot and humid – but she was also smiling.

While the loss of a 27-point lead had to be agonizing, Warlick kept pushing the right buttons and making the right substitutions. She also had to counteract foul trouble early in the second half – Jasmine Jones picked up her third and fourth quickly – and Isabelle Harrison also finished with four fouls, as did Cierra Burdick and Meighan Simmons.

That altered the second half attack to say the least.

"We started playing not to foul," Warlick said.

That meant the youngsters had to deliver, and they did. Massengale, despite still nursing an Achilles injury, logged 33 minutes. Graves checked in at 31 minutes. Carter tallied 28 and would have hit 30 minutes if not for the late shoulder injury.

"I'd say we handled it well, because we got the win," Carter said.

She was talking about the entire team, but the words really applied to that trio.

That Tennessee can win a game on the road with four players in four trouble, including the most experienced posts in Harrison and Burdick, says a lot about the mental makeup of a young team, and Graves in particular.

"I love her fight," Warlick said. "She doesn't back down."

For her part, Graves, who was Mickey Dearstone's player of the game on this radio show, noted her mistakes. She credited her teammates' defense for her late steal. That is a very humble freshman.

"She is just a workhorse," Warlick said.

Warlick and her staff have a lot of film to break down this week and use as a teaching tool. But on Sunday, Warlick hit the right notes on the sideline and the post-game press conference. She didn't berate her team for nearly losing the lead; instead she praised her players for holding on.

"It's huge," Warlick said. "If we had won by one, it's huge for us."

A team that started 0-1 is now 3-1 with two road wins that could not have been predicted with any degree of confidence on Nov. 9, the date of the season opener.

"When you beat two ranked teams on the road in your first four games, you're doing something," Warlick said.

VIDEO COVERAGE FROM MIAMI WEBSITE

Andraya Carter, Bashaara Graves, Cierra Burdick

Coach Holly Warlick

Coach Katie Meier, Morgan Stroman, Stefanie Yderstrom

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