No. 12 Tennessee improved to 3-0 on the young season Sunday afternoon with a 96-31 win over Florida A&M.
“We wanted to focus on us,” Holly Warlick said following the game. “I thought we did a really good job of doing that.”
The game was decided within moments of the opening tip, as the Lady Vols jumped out to a 20-0 lead. Tennessee’s run would extend to 25-2 thanks to seven Rattlers’ turnovers. Florida A&M’s first points of the game didn’t come until the 5:39 mark of the first quarter. The Lady Vols led 34-11 at the end of the opening frame. Their 34 first quarter points are the sixth-most in a quarter in program history.
It was much of the same for Tennessee in the second quarter. Its lead climbed to 42-12 with 4:54 to go in the second frame thanks to a 6-0 run. With A&M shooting 18.6 percent in the first half, the Lady Vols claimed a 58-18 lead thanks to 28 points off turnovers.
Tennessee would end up scoring 39 points off turnovers on the afternoon, building itself a 65-point win. Florida A&M (0-3) shot 14.3 percent from the field in the second half. In the fourth quarter, the Rattlers scored just five points as Tennessee finished the game on a 19-3 run.
Here are our biggest takeaways from the Lady Vols’ big win.
A New Defense
The Lady Vols’ defense played the best its played all season on Sunday. The competition wasn’t the greatest, but still, any time you hold a team to 31 points in a basketball game, that’s notable. In fact, it’s the sixth-fewest points allowed in the program’s history.
“We wanted to work on our zone,” Warlick said. “We just put it in. For the most part I thought we did well with it.”
Tennessee’s newly implemented zone defense resulted in 22 steals as it forced Florida A&M into 32 turnovers. Not only did the Rattlers do a poor job of taking care of the basketball, but the Lady Vols’ zone affected their shots. Florida A&M shot 16.6 percent from the field on the afternoon and 2-of-23 from the 3-point line.
“Any time you get game experience, it’s great,” Warlick said of the new zone defense. “I’ll have to watch the film, but I think we did a great job of boxing out of it, rebounding out of it.”
UT out-rebounded A&M 59-36 and won all of the hustle stats on defense. Tennessee scored more points in the paint by a margin of 52-12, out-scored them 23-4 in transition, and forced their best player, Mya Moye, into 3-of-13 shooting from the field.
The Tennessee native came out on fire. Jackson kick-started the scoring by draining a three and then followed it up with another three on the following possession to make it 6-0. She then jumped in front of an A&M pass for a steal and quickly found Evina Westbrook for a layup.
“It’s great for her,” Warlick said of Jackson’s performance. “I thought she played one of her better games. She was inspired on defense. She rebounded the basketball. She ran the floor. She attacked the basket and shot threes. We asked her to do a lot of stuff and she produced tonight.”
Jackson finished with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting and 3-of-8 from beyond the 3-point line. The senior guard added six steals, four assists, two blocks, and two rebounds in 21 minutes of play.
“We were moving the ball well and my teammates were finding me for the open looks,” Jackson said. “We were playing inside-out.”
Minutes to go around
“Take a picture of it because it won’t happen again,” Warlick said when asked about the minutes being evenly distributed. What she’s referring to is five players — the starters — playing 21 minutes and five other players playing 19 minutes.
Essentially, Warlick is rolling with a hockey-esque rotation, where she is subbing in a completely different lineup at some point during the quarter — usually midway through. The bench rotation is essentially nothing but freshmen, as four of the five on the second unit are first-year players.
“I want the freshmen to gain experience,” Warlick said. “I think they’re doing just that.”
Her freshmen combined to play 38 percent of the team’s minutes. The minutes received have been productive as well, particularly against Florida A&M. Mimi Collins, Rae Burrell, Jazmine Massengill, and Zaay Green combined for 34 points on 12-of-37 shooting, 27 rebounds, seven steals, six assists, and five blocks.
After three games against lower-level competition vs. the likes of Presbyterian, UNC-Asheville, and Florida A&M, the Lady Vols will now travel to the Bahamas for Thanksgiving break.
“We are off tomorrow because we have to be,” Warlick said of the week’s plans. “Tuesday, we will lift weights and have practice at 8 a.m. and then we leave at noon. We’ll practice Wednesday, play Thursday. And then we will see where we play from there.”
In the Junkanoo Jam, Tennessee will face much better competition. On Thanksgiving day, it’ll face Clemson at 3 p.m. ET. Whether UT wins or loses, it’ll face Oklahoma or UAB on Friday or Saturday. Tennessee will then return to the United States and prepare to travel to Oklahoma State on Dec. 2.
“We’ve continued to talk about that, and we talked about that after this game,” Warlick said. “The competition is getting better and again, we have to focus on us.”