Downing ’Dores last chance to learn lessons
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (email@example.com)
If there’s anything bound to put the spirit on the bounce up in the winter doldrums, it’s Vanderbilt and Kentucky leaving frustrated from Thompson-Boling Arena on the same weekend.
And while the Lady Vols maintaining their personal perfection with an 83-64 win over the Commodores wasn’t as thrilling or nationally stunning as the men making SportsCenter for a good reason after embarrassing No. 25 Kentucky Saturday, it carried the impact of a team that moved its dominance over an in-state rival to 28 straight at home.
As Vandy departed still winless in K-town the impact of injuries was reenforced once more. When the pair met a a month ago in Nashville, the Commodores still had the services of Christina Foggie, the team’s second leading and most explosive scorer. The Lady Vols still had sophomore Isabelle Harrison and her near double-double numbers in the lineup then too.
“It was a different Vanderbilt team but they are always going to try to come in to Knoxville and prove a point and make us give our all,” UT junior Meighan Simmons said. “We knew we had to prepare for a battle today, We came out very composed and started very strong.”
Kentucky’s men may have taken the major impact of personnel loss before stumbling in and limping back out of Knoxville but the Lady Vols and Vanderbilt know the attrition of a thousand cuts. The Commodores were down three starters by the time they took the floor Sunday.
“She’s lost some key players and I understand it we have to,” UT coach Holly Warlick said as the Lady Vols injury total reached 41 games spread over four players this season.
Despite those losses there were times Sunday the Lady Vols appeared capable of taking the game up a level and — paraphrasing Kentucky coach John Calipari — running back over them a couple times. But it never happened.
The energy from the Lady Vols’ fast start that made it 14-5 died at the first media timeout. When UT’s lead hit 20 — at 60-40 with 12:39 to play —
the Lady Vols went 0-for-9 as Vandy cut the margin in half.
“We fought hard and had a couple of lapses but we got it done. It’s a good team for us to try and get better against defensively. Any team that shoots the 3 the way they do and is as coached well offensively is hard to guard,” Warlick said. “At times we get up and stop playing. Today was an example of us being undisciplined on the defensive end, we have to get the discipline in our game.”
The lapses were made evident as much by what Vanderbilt did as what Tennessee didn’t do in those moments. It’s hard to see the defender not getting around the screen or leaving their feet or falling off their stance away from the ball. It was easy to see what Vandy was capable of doing left unchecked. Jasmine Lister tying her season-high with 24 points on five treys was one indication.
And when the peach and white clad Lady Vols had their orange socks pulled into defensive position on Play 4 Kay Day?
At 25-23 the Lady Vols turned that defensive it on and the Commodores were 1-for-12 the rest of the half after shooting over 50 percent the first 14 minutes. Not coincidentally the Lady Vols opened the lead to 10.
“There’s going to be a night when the ball isn’t falling and you have to go back and have something to hang your hat on,” Warlick said of her focus on defense in practicing a team that is generally offensively gifted. “That’s why we keep working defensively.”
And as good a both Tennessee teams may feel after timely rivalry victories, the time when defense will determine who is celebrating by throwing hats in the air and who is dusting their’s off after it got knocked off is only a month away.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times. You can follow him on twitter at TDT_Sports. He wrote from Knoxville.