For the first time in school history, the Lady Vols have lost five-straight SEC games. In six SEC games this season, the Lady Vols already have as many conference losses (5) as they did in 16 SEC games last season.
Tennessee (12-6, 1-5 SEC) fell on a last-second shot to Arkansas (14-5, 3-2 SEC) on Monday night. The Lady Vols trailed for most of the game, but they fought back in the second half and claimed a 66-63 lead in the fourth quarter. They had a 79-78 lead with just 11 seconds to go, and it looked like the Lady Vols’ downward spiral might finally end.
But Malica Monk drove the length of the court and sank a shot with 3.6 seconds to go to give the Razorbacks an 80-79 lead. Evina Westbrook’s shot on the other end didn’t connect, and the Lady Vols fell once again.
After the game, head coach Holly Warlick was asked about her team’s effort in the game. Over the last few games, Tennessee’s effort on the court has come into question by fans and media watching the games. Against Arkansas, Warlick didn’t feel like that was the issue.
“I didn’t have to coach effort tonight. For me, that’s huge,” Warlick said after her team’s 80-79 loss. “I mean, obviously I want to win the basketball game, but at least get us in that opportunity to win a game.”
Four of the Lady Vols’ five losses during their extended losing streak have come by four points or fewer. Their last loss before Monday night was easily their worst, though. Tennessee came into the fourth quarter against Alabama on Thursday within single digits of the Tide, but the Lady Vols got run out of the gym in the final quarter of play. Alabama ended up winning 86-65 over the Lady Vols.
On Monday, the effort was there for the Lady Vols. The execution just wasn’t on point.
Tennessee turned the ball over 16 times while only forcing eight turnovers, and they made only 25 percent of their 20 three-pointers. The Lady Vols outscored the Razorbacks 44-28 in the paint, though, and they got more bench production than Arkansas. Tennessee even out-rebounded the Razorbacks 47-39.
But the Lady Vols gave up 12 three-pointers, and Arkansas scored 20 points off turnovers compared to seven points off turnovers for UT.
Not only did Tennessee lose, but they lost on “We Back Pat Night,” the annual game honoring the late and legendary Pat Summitt. Warlick was asked after the game if losing on a night meant to honor her former head coach stung a little extra. She said it didn’t, and she also added that she believes Summitt would’ve been proud of her team’s effort given the circumstances.
“I think Pat would be proud of us and how we fought,” Warlick said. “We’re in a tough situation today. I told the kids that what I’ve learned from Pat is in tough times, you lean on each other. I thought we did that today.
“The losses are tough. Everything right now is tough on this team. But we’ve gotta come together, because we’re the only ones that can fix it.”
Historically, the Lady Vols have owned the teams they’ve lost to during their five-game losing streak. The Lady Vols have lost to Missouri, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas in their five-game losing streak. Tennessee was 8-2 against Missouri before this season, 55-11 against Kentucky before this season, 51-16 against Georgia before this season, 49-6 against Alabama before this season, and 30-3 against Arkansas before this season.
Before Warlick took over as head coach, those records were even more impressive. The Lady Vols have gone a combined 29-16 against those five teams with Warlick as head coach. Those 16 losses over the last seven seasons are even worse when you consider Tennessee had just 26 combined losses to those five teams in the 30-plus years prior.
But this season, the Lady Vols have lost to all those teams.
“We’re supposed to beat Missouri, we’re supposed to beat Kentucky, we’re supposed to beat Arkansas, we’re supposed to beat Alabama. We just haven’t gotten it done,” Warlick stated. “We’re not supposed to beat Notre Dame (on Thursday), but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to prepare and fight and put our kids in the best opportunity to win. I think we’re going to win every game. When our kids are dialed in and playing hard, we’re pretty darn good.
“Does this hurt? Absolutely it hurts. But we’re going to keep plugging along.”
Because of all the losses that have piled up and all the recent bad history being made over the last few years, fans have been calling for Holly Warlick’s job. Warlick has gone 165-60 in her six-plus seasons as head coach of the Lady Vols, but 40 of her 60 losses have come in her last 119 games as head coach. And Tennessee has gone just 30-24 in SEC play over the last three-plus seasons.
But according to Warlick, her team hasn’t been listening to all the negativity around the team.
“I have confidence in them and confidence in my staff,” Warlick said of her team. “All the noise that we’re hearing, those kids have blocked everything out, and they’re playing with a lot of heart. That’s all I can ask.
“We’re right there, and I’m not going to give up on this basketball team.”