KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Just four games into the season, the Tennessee women's basketball team is enjoying great balance with its inside and outside games.
Sunday's 87-76 victory over Georgia Tech was a Tennessee rebounding showcase with Bashaara Graves and Isabelle Harrison corralling 18 rebounds apiece. The Lady Vols' 65 boards in the win were their most since hauling down 65 against Marquette on Nov. 23, 1996, and tie for the sixth-highest total in UT history. This week, point guard Ariel Massengale has garnered NCAA Women's Basketball Player of the Week and SEC Player of the Week honors after averaging 15.0 points, 5.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals last week.
"I think we have great balance," Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said before practice on Tuesday. "I think the post players are doing their job and I think the guards are stepping up. We have a lot to choose from. I think everybody is getting some good playing time and everybody is really gelling together as a team. "
Balance is reflected in the season stats as well. UT has five different players (Massengale, Graves, Harrison, Mercedes Russell and Meighan Simmons) scoring in double figures and three different players (Graves, Harrison, Burdick) averaging nine rebounds or more. Massengale, Graves, Harrison, Simmons and Andraya Carter are all shooting 81 percent or better from the free-throw line.
Tennessee will next host Oakland on Sunday, Nov. 24, at 2 p.m. before a Thanksgiving trip to the Bahamas to play two games in the Junkanoo Jam.
BURDICK LOOKING TO END MINI-SLUMP
Written across the top of Burdick's orange sneakers are the words "NEXT PLAY." She has always played with that on her shoes, but admits that those words are even more important now.
While her defense has been strong with 9.0 rebounds per game and three steals, Burdick is looking to snap an early-season shooting slump. The junior from Charlotte, N.C., is averaging 5.3 points and shooting just 23.1 percent from the field. She was a 45.7 percent shooter entering this season.
"I'm definitely facing a little bit of adversity right now with that," Burdick said in reference to her uncharacteristic shooting percentage. "I think I'm in a serious mental block and it's something I've never dealt with before. So I'm seeking help. I've had a lot of support from family and friends from all over the country. I just have to continue to stay positive and upbeat and trust that it will come."
Warlick is confident that Burdick, one of Tennessee's key two-way players, will snap out of this shooting funk.
"I like that she's focusing on the defensive end and getting rebounds," Warlick said. "I think her offense will come. I just think she's putting a little bit too much emphasis on it right now. She'll get out of it."
Burdick has been knocking down shots in practice and in shoot-arounds. She knows that she just needs to duplicate that shooting when the lights are on and the whistle blows. Burdick's mother has been one of her best sources of advice.
"My mom continues to tell me to just "let go and let God" and to trust that everything's going to happen right at the right time," she said. "I know that I want it to happen right now but that may not be the best for me right now. I just have to learn to get over this. It's a bump in the road and I'll get through it."
Tennessee did not have a great shooting percentage in Sunday's win over the Yellow Jackets (38 percent), but the 33 offensive rebounds certainly helped.
UT's 33 offensive boards were its most since grabbing 34 against Arkansas on Jan. 10, 2000. The team scored 21 second-chance points. Warlick said that the team understands that cleaning up off offensive rebounds makes amends for a bad shot.
"You'd love to shoot 50 percent, but second-chance points give you the chance to erase if you missed a shot," Warlick said. "I don't worry so much about missing the shot as much as if we don't get on the boards and finish the play. I think they understand the importance of getting second-chance points."
Graves, who hauled down a school-record 14 of those offensive rebounds, said that the coaches have stressed the importance of rebounding - a staple to Tennessee's sustained success over the years.
"We have lots of rebounding drills during practice," she said. "I'm just getting in there and trying to get as many chances at the board as I can. If they're not blocking me out then everybody should go to the glass. Making contact before the ball actually goes up is what I worked on the most."
Warlick feels that Graves has the rebounding prowess of some of Tennessee's all-time great post players and that the sophomore is continuing UT's tradition of outstanding play inside.
"Bashaara is an old-school Lady Vol," Warlick said. "She goes to work and she is one of the best rebounders to be here at Tennessee. She's up there with Glory Johnson, Candace Parker and Chamique Holdsclaw and all those players. She understands the value of the basketball and she pursues it."
COMPETITION FOR BOARDS
Burdick, who had a normally-impressive eight boards on Sunday, joked on Tuesday that Graves and Harrison stole some of her rebounds.
"Obviously Pat has always stressed defensive boards and it continues to be stressed by Holly and the staff," Burdick said. "That's what we're known for - we're going to go after that ball. The fact that Bashaara and Isabelle both had 18 rebounds - that's incredible. I'm happy to be playing beside them. I joked around that they took some of my rebounds, but I'm happy for them. That was huge."
Graves playfully fired back that rebounds are always up for grabs.
"Cierra joked around a little bit saying that we stole some of her rebounds but she's got to get in there," Graves said.
With three post players averaging nine rebounds or more, Warlick and the coaches welcome the notion of teammates competing for rebounds.
"I love that it's a competition," she said. "They come out and they ask how many rebounds they had. They're thinking about it. Whatever motivates them to get the job done, I think it's awesome. Cierra kind of does that through motivation. If it's a competition, have at it."
SUMMITT STATUE DEDICATION
On Friday, Nov. 22, at 11 a.m., the University of Tennessee will dedicate the Pat Summitt Plaza on the corner of Lake Loudoun Boulevard and Phillip Fulmer Way.
The coaches and the players are looking forward to honoring the Tennessee legend and Hall of Famer on Friday and find it fitting that a statue of Summitt will overlook the gateway to campus.
"I think it's really great that the first thing you'll see when you come on this campus is a statue of Pat Summitt," Warlick said. "She's very deserving and I think it's awesome. It's a cool tribute and I think it's great that the athletic department made a great effort to get it built as a tribute to Pat. It's awesome."
The players look forward to honoring Summitt, a coach they all respected from their days as basketball youngsters to today. Graves, who never got the chance to play for Summitt, said that meeting her for the first time felt like a "championship moment" and that she loves being around her and seeing her in the gym.
"She's meant a lot to me," Graves said of Summitt. "I mean, when you think of Women's Basketball, you think about Pat Summitt and just growing up and me being from Tennessee, that's all I heard about."