Nov. 13, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- For the second-straight year, the Tennessee women's basketball team opened its season with two road games. With double-digit victories at Middle Tennessee and at No. 12 North Carolina, head coach Holly Warlick and the Lady Vols are pleased with the team's early progress.
"Two wins on the road is awesome," Warlick said. "I was very pleased. We put it together at MTSU. I thought we finally settled down and did some good things. The North Carolina game - it was a very talented team and I'd like to cut down on some of our turnovers, but I thought our defense was solid. I thought we let up when we looked up at the scoreboard. I thought we did some really, really good things and there's so much room for improvement."
On Thursday, Tennessee hosts in-state foe Chattanooga at 7 p.m. The Lady Mocs upset the Lady Vols, 80-71, in UT's 2012-13 season opener in Chattanooga. When asked if there is still some emotional scarring from that loss, Warlick quipped, "Absolutely!"
"When you lose your first game, you want that back," she said. "I just want us to come out and obviously I want us to win, but I want us to give the effort that we have done. When you do that, I think things take care of themselves."
ONE YEAR LATER UT vs. CHATTANOOGA
Just over one year removed from that loss to the Lady Mocs, Warlick notes that the current Tennessee team is much more confident and experienced. She credits the team's recent victories to an incredible team chemistry that was not present a year ago.
"We're just playing very well together and we've got a really strong bond that hasn't been there," she said. "You can feel it and you feel it from the team. I think that has a lot to say with our success now."
MASSENGALE STEPPING UP
That hasn't stopped the Tennessee offense. Junior point guard Ariel Massengale (16.0 ppg) and junior center Isabelle Harrison (13.5 ppg) have shouldered the load and made the most of their opportunities. Massengale had an outstanding performance in the win over the Tar Heels, posting a game-high 20 points while shooting 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.
"I think it tells you about the depth of our team," Warlick said. "I think people are keying in on those two (Simmons and Graves), and rightfully so - they should. They led out team last year. I think you're going to see people taking up the slack. I thought Massengale played her best game since she's had a Lady Vol uniform on and was very proud of her. But those two, Bashaara and Meighan, they'll get it going."
Warlick challenged Massengale in front of the team recently, wanting her junior point guard to take a larger responsibility role on the team. The Bolingbrook, Ill., native said that Warlick wanted her to push the tempo from the point guard position and be "the coach on the floor."
"I am a junior now, so a little bit older, and I can take on that leadership role for this team," Massengale said. "I just wanted to step up and make her proud and make my teammates proud. I knew it was a big game for us and we needed that W, and I was willing to do whatever it took for us to get that."
As far as Warlick is concerned, Massengale has the keys to the team when she's on the court.
"I wanted her to run the basketball team. Not me, she needed to run the basketball team and be a great leader. I thought she played well on the defensive end, instructed the team, got them where they needed to go and she shot the ball well."
A WIN'S A WIN
UT had played a ranked opponent in November in three consecutive years, going 2-1 in those games. An early-season win over a tough opponent like No. 12 UNC serves as both a confidence boost and a measuring stick for the team.
"It definitely gives us confidence and it's funny because there are things that we're really disappointed in that game as well," Andraya Carter said. "Like even afterwards we didn't feel very good about it. We got a win but it was an ugly win. There are even things in that game that we know we want to do better. We're striving for greatness this year as Cierra Burdick said after the UNC game and she couldn't be more correct. We want to do great things, we want to better than that game, and we will be."
Massengale echoed those sentiments, stressing the importance of winning away from home.
"I think it was a good win for us," Massengale said. "Any time you can win on the road it is a good win. We talk about how it wasn't the prettiest win, but Coach Warlick said that she would take an ugly win over a pretty loss."
HOME SWEET HOME TO ME
Tennessee opens a three-game home stretch on Thursday when the Lady Vols host Chattanooga at 7 p.m. After two games on the road, UT is more than excited for its regular season home opener.
"It's so exciting," Carter said. "I mean I don't have any doubt that we have the best fans in the nation. So to come back and play in front of our fans, they're really excited we've gotten two really good wins. Everyone's excited about the team I know the fans want to see us. We want to play here; we like to be in the sea of orange."