With an ugly loss behind them and an overmatched opponent in front of them, the seventh-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers turned their attention back to the basics.
The Lady Vols spent their practices since last week’s 17-point loss at No. 4 Stanford focused on regaining the defensive excellence that coach Pat Summitt expects of them. The result was a near perfect effort in a 90-37 win over Old Dominion on Wednesday night.
“Tonight, it was about Tennessee,” associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “It was about what was across our chest. We focused on getting better. I think what we did today was indicative of how hard we’ve practiced on the defensive end.”
Warlick estimated the team had spent all of two minutes total working on offense during practices on Monday and Tuesday. The coaches and players used the rest of the time to work on rebounding, pass deflections and preventing transition baskets—all things that haunted them in the 97-80 loss to the Cardinal on Dec. 20.
The Lady Vols (8-3) outrebounded the Lady Monarchs 54-32, limited them to 25 percent shooting, forced 23 turnovers and gave up just one basket on the fastbreak.
Tennessee now has won 16 straight and 31 of the last 32 against the Lady Monarchs, whose 37 points was the lowest total scored by either team in the 45-game annual series.
“We’ve put a lot of time in in the last two days,” Warlick said. “They responded, we got after it, we were aggressive. We were not aggressive in the Stanford game on the ball. I thought we did a total 180 as far as what we can do as far as pressuring the ball and taking people out of how they play.
“That’s the type of defense and that’s the type of Tennessee team we have to be to win, regardless of our opponent.”
Tennessee appeared a bit rusty on the offensive end early against Old Dominion (3-10), which scored the first two baskets of the game.
The Lady Monarchs were leading 8-7 when Alicia Manning hit a jumper with 16:14 in the first half that launched a 14-2 run to give the Lady Vols control of the game. Ariel Massengale, who hadn’t started a game since dislocating her left middle finger in practice Dec. 8, hit back-to-back 3s in the span of 28 seconds during the stretch.
“I was really happy with our play at the very beginning because Tennessee is such a big place to play and it’s really big-time,” Old Dominion guard Jackie Cook said. “I was really proud of how we stepped up and played from the very start. We just couldn’t finish.”
Tennessee took a commanding 50-20 halftime lead against Old Dominion by shooting 50 percent from the field and hitting 6 of 12 from 3. The Lady Vols turned the ball over just twice and posted 15 assists before the break.
Their improved defense led to balanced offense, with Glory Johnson logging 16 points and 11 rebounds. Vicki Baugh, who lost her starting job after poor play at Stanford, had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Meighan Simmons added 12 points, Massengale scored 11, Isabelle Harrison had 10 and Alicia Manning grabbed 15 rebounds.
“I like a game like this because we’re working on ourselves,” Johnson said. `We’re working on ourselves as a team and we’re trying to get better and work on our defense. We have so many things that we have to work on outside of the big games. We only have so much time.”
Cook led Old Dominion with 13 points, as the Lady Vols managed to frustrate Old Dominion’s top player, Tia Lewis. Lewis entered the game averaging 18.1 points and 9.7 rebounds but finished with eight points, eight rebounds and four fouls.
By the end of the game, Tennessee had scored 46 and had 26 points off turnovers. Old Dominion only scored eight points inside and had just a single point off the Lady Vols’ 11 giveaways.
“Right now we have a lot of young players, but we’re very confident,” first-year Old Dominion coach Karen Barefoot said. “ODU has a great tradition, and I really have a lot of respect for Pat Summitt. I’m really excited about getting this program built to the top, and we as a staff are going to continue to work hard. I thought it was a great experience for a lot of our younger kids tonight.”