It seemed for a time that things were getting better for the Tennessee women’s basketball team. After one of the worst skids in team history, it picked up three wins in a row, and most of the players seemed to be regaining confidence.
Then the team traveled to No. 6 Mississippi State, and suffered its worst loss of the season, 91-63. Here’s how the Lady Vols performed on Sunday.
One of the biggest storylines of Sunday’s game was the absence of starting guard and preseason All-SEC team member Evina Westbrook, who has been the most consistent piece of Tennessee’s offense this season. She sat out due to a violation of team rules for the entire game.
In Westbrook's stead, the rest of the guards did not do a sufficient job of replacing the lost production. Freshman Jazmine Massengill got the start, and played a career-high 30 minutes. In that time, she only managed six points, with two shots made from the field.
Zaay Green did put up an admirable 13 point performance, but she eventually fouled out. Out of 18 total turnovers, the guards were responsible for 10 of them. Outside of Green, they only scored a total of 13 points.
Rennia Davis was about the only effective part of the Lady Vols’ offensive attack against Mississippi State. She had 29 points on 13-for-22 shooting, including three three-pointers. The rest of the team had just two.
Cheridene Green had a nice day defensively, with seven boards and a team-high three blocks to go with one steal. The performance from Tennessee’s forwards and posts as a whole leaves much to be desired.
Mimi Collins and Kasiyahna Kushkituah had just two points combined. Kushkituah, a 6-4 post player, had no rebounds, two turnovers, and four fouls. If it wasn’t for Davis, then Tennessee’s frontcourt may have graded out worse than the guards.
Tennessee’s offense has been marred with large periods of stagnation throughout the entire season, though it normally recovers. Even though it started well in the first half, it went dead cold in the second and never recovered.
With a 45-percent shooting clip overall, it appears as if the offense would have had a nice day. However, it only managed to put 63 points on the board. A plethora of times throughout the game, the Lady Vols went minutes without a bucket.
After a 4-8 start from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes, they were only able to hit one three in the second half. Outside of the combination of Zaay Green and Davis, the rest of the team managed a meager 21 points.
After a few games of acceptable play, the offense took a huge step back against the Bulldogs.
While the offense was bad, the defense wasn’t much better, especially down the stretch. Mississippi State was able to stay at around a 50-percent clip the entire game and shot 57-percent from the field in the second half.
The Lady Vols were also steadily out-rebounded, a rare statement for this season. The Bulldogs held a 38-30 advantage and had 15 offensive boards.
Teaira McCowan is one of the best players in women’s college basketball, and it showed. She finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds to lead her team in both categories. Tennessee was also only able to force eight turnovers, opposed to Mississippi's 18.
For a team that prides itself on defense, this was an all-around lackluster performance.
With Westbrook out, the Lady Vols had to once more turn to their bench. A reoccurring theme this season, and once again the Lady Vols failed to perform on a big stage.
The bench had seven total points, and all of those points came from one player: Meme Jackson. The other three reserve members scored a whopping zero points.
It’s hard to find an area that the bench performed well in. They were 1-for-9 from the field combined, and amassed just 10 rebounds combined. For a team that often has players out due to injury or other reasons, the bench has to do a better job.
It seemed that when Tennessee faced adversity on Sunday, it shrunk away. While this falls on the team, it is also the fault of the coaching staff, led by head coach Holly Warlick. Though this was a problem early on, the Lady Vols buckling under pressure is especially baffling, seeing as they have answered well in those situations in the past few games.
With six games left in the season, Tennessee is in a position to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the team’s history. With each game having a magnitude of importance, the coaches simply must do a better job.
It seems like this team is on the precipice of snowballing out of control. If Sunday’s performance is any indication, then it is very likely the Lady Vols may miss the tournament this season.
The Mississippi State loss is the worst this season, and one of the worst in recent memory. It will be interesting to see how this young team responds with a tough six game close left on the docket.