Lady Vol Hoops Report (1/2/19)

Holly Warlick – Lady Vols coach / Credit: UT Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick met with the media on Wednesday in advance of Thursday night’s SEC opener at Auburn. The Lady Vols and the Tigers will tip at 6:02 p.m. CT (7:02 ET) in a game streamed by SECN+.

The No. 10/10 Lady Vols concluded their non-conference slate 11-1 with an 84-76 home victory over Belmont on Sunday afternoon and will face a 12-1 Auburn team in a tough road environment. A Tigers team that has been known for its pressure defense has become a better offensive unit in 2018-19, averaging 82.0 points per game while giving up 62.7.  Those numbers look very similar to a UT squad that is averaging 82.8 points and allowing 64.2 thus far, but Auburn features a more experienced starting lineup (Sr./Sr./R-Jr./Jr./So.) than the Lady Vols have (Sr./Sr./So./So./Fr.).

Tennessee features quality wins over No. 12 Texas (10-2), Oklahoma State (9-2) and Clemson (9-4) as well as stout mid-major programs UAB (12-1) and Belmont (7-4), plus a 10-point loss to No. 8/9 Stanford (10-1). Auburn defeated North Carolina (9-5) and New Mexico (10-1) for its top wins while losing by three at No. 25 Iowa State (10-2). The Tigers also beat Oklahoma, which is 4-7 but led No. 1 UConn by 13 before eventually falling to the Huskies.

Tennessee Head Coach Holly Warlick

On what she expects out of Auburn:
“I think we’re just two very similar teams. They’re athletic, rely on defensive pressure, full court pressure, rebounding. They play hard. They’re just like us, so it’s always interesting when we play Auburn. And they’re having a great year.”

On Auburn’s shooting:
“They’re shooting the ball so much better this year. It makes it difficult because not only are they three-point shooters, they penetrate. It makes it really, really difficult to defend. And they’re playing with a lot of confidence; they’re 11-1. I watched the game they lost and that was early on.”

On what the team has learned in previous games that they will apply to the game plan against Auburn:
“We’ve got to get better guarding threes. We’re progressively getting better, but we’ve guarded that all year. It seems like all year we’ve guarded teams that can shoot the three and penetrate. We’ve got to keep people out of the paint, and we’ve got to get in peoples’ faces on the three, and we’ve worked on it every day, but it’s difficult. Defense is difficult; it’s hard. It takes a lot of heart and a lot of energy, and we’ve got to get back to understanding the importance on the defensive end.”

On Tennessee’s improved three-point shooting:
“I think kids have gotten in the gym and worked on it. They worked on it this summer. They continue to get in the gym now and work on it, so I think you’re seeing it pay dividends on the floor. When you get in and shoot reps, it gives you confidence to shoot them in the game.”

On Tennessee averaging five more points a game than last year and if it’s a result of the incoming freshmen contributing or the pace at which UT plays:
“I think it’s probably a combination of both. We signed some really strong offensive kids and they fit into the offense. I think our offense, we’re distributing the ball a lot better (than last year). The ball isn’t getting stuck in one person’s hands. And when that happens we’re getting great looks. The players that are here, again, we’re reaping the benefits of them working in the summer.”

On guards driving to the basket:
“We’ve worked on the dribble drive a lot, and we’re doing that. We’re doing that against zones and against man. In the past we haven’t been doing that, we just moved the ball around. (Now) we’re attacking the defense. And that does start with Evina. She’s really attacking the basket, and she’s learning to pull up and shoot or kick out. We’ve done a great job of trying to get them in gaps and understand you can screen and you can drive on zones just as much as you can on man-to-man.”

On the team averaging 20 assists per game:
“It’s a combination of (people). Westbrook is doing it.  I think Jaz Massengill has come in and distributed the ball. We’ve talked a lot about getting great shots instead of just good shots, and sometimes that means making the extra pass.  I see that that’s helped us down the road in terms of getting great shots, and that adds to assists.”

On SEC teams having more non-conference losses than in years past:
“I don’t even look at the records of SEC teams when we go into SEC play because every team ramps up their game, their team. It’s just a different ballgame, and you know what you’re going to get in the SEC. And it’s tough; it’s hard. It’s a grind; it’s grueling. I don’t care if they’re 0-10. It’s a tough league to play in, and I can say that because I’ve been in it.”

On the difficulty of starting SEC play on the road:
“I’d love to start at home. I’d love to play every game here. It is difficult, but we’ve played some tough games on the road. We played at Texas. We played at Oklahoma State. It’s going to help us. It’ll be a tough environment (at Auburn), but we seem to be a little more focused on the road, so we’ll take that. We’ve struggled down there at times, but we’ve played really well down there at times. I hope the team that plays really well shows up.”

On Auburn’s defense posing a challenge:
“Obviously we have to take care of the basketball. Keep your dribble, don’t panic. Auburn speeds you up, kind of like us. They speed you up and make you panic, and we can’t do that. If we’re going to turn it over, it needs to be something going toward the basket. We can’t do it in the front court and give them easy shots. And that’s what they thrive on. That’s what we thrive on, so that gets both teams pumped up. We have to be really mindful of that, and our freshmen do too. They haven’t seen the pressure that Auburn is going to put on us.”

On if she expected freshmen to contribute as much as they have:
“I don’t know that I expected it. I expected them to come in and contribute. That’s awesome. We need them to do that in league play. Look at us, we’re young. We’re a majority of freshmen and sophomores, and that group is the main group we’re playing. They’ve just got to use what we’ve put them through. They’ve got great experience. We’ve got 12 games under our belt. The majority of them played good minutes in them, so we need them to step up and rely on what we’ve done to help us going forward.”

On UT’s improved three-point shooting:
“If we’re hitting threes, that’s great. But if things aren’t working, we’ve got to adjust and we have to adapt.  I know we can get better of going from a timeout to discussing things to back on the court, and that’s just a learning process we have to go through. They’re smart basketball players, and they understand when their three-point shooting isn’t working, they’ve got to get to the basket. And that’s what’s really good about Meme JacksonZaay Green and Westbrook – all of those guys who shoot threes, they have the capability of getting to the basket as well.”

On the fast pace Auburn plays:
“We do like a fast game, but we don’t want them to speed us up and us turn it over. We want to speed them up and we want to play fast, but when we’re getting pressed we don’t want to just turn and throw and turn it over. So we want to attack, yes. But if we’re not attacking and we’re turning it over, we’ve got to pull back and be a little more deliberate with the basketball.”


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