The Lady Vols (13-3, 4-0 SEC) haven’t been phased by conference play. That doesn’t mean SEC teams aren’t viewed as a challenge. Sophomore point guard Ariel Massengale said their recent overtime win against Florida was a great confidence boost for the team.
“Every time we play someone on the road in the SEC, it’s gonna be a tough game and a tough challenge for us,” Massengale said. “The coaches told us afterwards that any time you can get a win on the road in the SEC, it’s a huge win.”
Massengale said it was just good to know that the young team could compete in situations like that.
“It was a tight game. We had to get stops at certain key points in the game and we did that,” Massengale said. “Things got tight, we were down late in the game, but we stayed together as a team and we didn’t get rattled or lose focus or anything.”
With several injuries on the team, the Lady Vols’ bench is slimming. Massengale played the full 40 minutes of the Florida game and said it’s something you can’t really prepare yourself for.
“I think another thing that helped me was the game being so close, you really don’t think about, ‘oh man I played the whole game,’ you’re just trying to make that next play so you can win,” she said. Massengale added, “We know our numbers are tight and the bench is slimming. If you’re out there playing, you have to play hard and give it your all.”
Head coach Holly Warlick said she was proud of the team for pulling out the win in the end, but she was aware of the team’s weaknesses that made the game so tight. Warlick said missing rebounds was the result of a lack of focus on the team.
“That’s just something that we have to keep pressing and practicing and holding them accountable to,” Warlkick said. “It can be a difference in winning and losing a game.”
Massengale said the points when the team couldn’t seem to hit a shot were tough, but that it’s one of the aspects she loves about basketball.
“That’s the fun (thing) about basketball,” Massengale said. “Sometimes the shots go in and sometime they don’t.”
She said at that point their focus shifts to defense.
“We know if we aren’t scoring then we can’t let them score either,” Massengale said. “Coach Warlick told us to keep attacking the basket and if you attack they’ll call fouls and get to the free throw line and get some easy baskets.”
Warlick said the rebounding and defense are key and games without those aspects of basketball are going to be close and interesting. She said she thought the team could improve both offensively and defensively, but her focus is on the defense.
“They’ll be ready on Thursday,” Warlick said, regarding the Lady Vols’ upcoming game against Auburn. “We can’t rely on our offense to win games.”
Massengale said the team isn’t focused on playing harder or better, just playing up to the team standard.
“Every day we come out here, we’re giving 110 percent,” she said. “I think our coaches have done a good job of making practices tough for us and it makes the games easier in a way.”