Coming off crucial back-to-back wins over Missouri and Auburn a week ago, Tennessee entered a tough stretch that included two top 25 teams in Texas A&M and South Carolina.
Having just two wins against top 30 RPI teams, the Lady Vols needed to win at least one of the two to really boost their NCAA Tournament resume.
Not only did they get neither, they played poorly in the process, especially early, and it cost them dearly with the postseason fast approaching.
Here is a closer look at how Tennessee performed in both losses:
Sophomore guard Evina Westbrook again led her team in points with 17 against Texas A&M, but the Lady Vols were able to shoot just over 37-percent from the floor and 26-percent from the perimeter.
Against South Carolina, the guards did not fare much better, as Tennessee made one out three total attempted three-pointers.
Turnovers were also a big issue. The Lady Vols committed 16 of them, and 13 of those were given up by the guards, with Westbrook committing five of them.
Poor shooting and turning the ball over don’t often translate into a winning formula, and the guards struggling in both categories went a long way in Tennessee dropping both games.
While Tennessee has struggled, its play in the paint has been one of the few positives.
Against Texas A&M, senior forward Cheridene Green recorded yet another double-double with 12 rebounds and 11 points, while freshman Mimi Collins snagged 9 of her own.
Versus South Carolina, Tennessee out-rebounded the Gamecocks 44-35, and posted 46 of their 67 points in the paint.
Sophomore Rennia Davis tallied 15 points and 9 rebounds in the loss.
To win their next two, the Lady Vols are going to have to put together a game where both the frontcourt and backcourt are on the same page. For their sake, they’ll need the bigs to continue playing like they have been.
Turnovers on the offensive end were killer in Tennessee’s loss to South Carolina on Sunday as the Gamecocks scored 17 points off of the Lady Vols’ 16 giveaways.
The aforementioned bad shot selection and missed opportunities were factors again in both contests.
After going 4-of-15 from deep against Texas A&M,Tennessee hit just one three versus South Carolina, and it came in the first half.
Another alarming stat is that leading scorer Evina Westbrook hasn’t broken the 20-point mark as of late. Westbrook had, had nine 20 or more point games. She only had 10 against Texas A&M and led Tennessee with 17 against South Carolina.
The long periods of stagnant offense continue to plague this Tennessee team, as it did early in the South Carolina game.
The performances inside have helped, and have improved the Lady Vols’ offensive grade a little bit, overall.
Following the South Carolina loss, Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick told the media, “We let our offense affect our defense.”
That is not the first time this season that Warlick has cited that as being a factor in a loss.
Two Texas A&M guards managed to score 29 and 28 points, respectively on the Lady Vols’ defense, and South Carolina guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore added 28 on Sunday.
Cuevas-Moore was averaging eight points per game prior to that contest.
Tennessee allowed both opponents to hit a combined 12 three-pointers, and were outscored in the paint in both games, including giving up 50 to the Gamecocks.
Off of the bench, freshman forward Mimi Collins was a big part of Tennessee’s win against Missouri over a week ago.
In the last two games, however, the Lady Vols’ bench has accounted for 9 total points, including just one versus Texas A&M.
Freshman guard/forward Rae Burrell added 7 in the South Carolina game, even scoring a few baskets to help Tennessee inch closer in their failed comeback bid.
Tennessee still needs stronger contributions from the bench instead of just a few breakout performances here and there.
It is true that Holly Warlick cannot go out onto the floor at Thompson-Boling arena and make shots or prevent turnovers, but at the end of the day, the team’s shortcomings fall on her shoulders, in part.
There has been plenty of motivation for this Tennessee team to play better, especially with so much on the line, but there has been continuous inconsistency.
While Tennessee showed fight in the second half against South Carolina, falling behind by as much as 16 in the first quarter was too much for them to overcome down the stretch.
Something similar happened against Texas A&M just four days before, as the Lady Vols led by just five before the Aggies ran away with the game en route to a 17-point win.
For whatever reason, Tennessee wasn’t able to replicate what worked in the Missouri win in either game.
Two regular season games remain against two of the worst teams in the conference in Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, and the Lady Vols cannot afford a loss to either one of them.