The Lady Vols basketball program has been built on two pillars: defense and rebounding.
This season Tennessee has been pretty good outmanning their opponents on the glass – UT has been out-rebounded just four times in 20 games – but against the best competition, defense has let the No. 9 Lady Vols down.
Monday night's game is a prime example. No. 2 Notre Dame was able to run simple backdoor cuts for easy buckets time after time.
"Our defense let us down tonight," senior Taber Spani said. "We rely on playing solid defense but tonight we gave up too many easy layups and it killed us."
Tennessee is young, I will give them that. But Holly Warlick and the players won't use it as an excuse, so I won't use it as one for them.
The Lady Vols expect to win and they expect to play solid defense regardless of who's on the floor and what their age is.
Poor defense play wasn't the entire story of why the Lady Vols dropped to 1-3 against top 10 teams this year. I have to give credit where credit is due and Skylar Diggins was unbelievable. The All-American posted a career high 33 points against the Lady Vols, on two days rest and played roughly 39 minutes and 30 seconds – she went to the bench once but after a errant pass out of bounds the game went to a media timeout and Diggins returned.
Outside of Glory Johnson's weekend performance in last year's SEC Tournament, I haven't seen that level of play in women's basketball.
Against the likes of Baylor and Stanford, the Lady Vols had the same problems: stopping easy baskets and forcing the opponent into bad shots.
Yes, all three of these teams, at the time the Lady Vols played them, were in the top three nationally (Stanford No. 1, Notre Dame No. 2 and Baylor No. 3).
Yes, those are difficult games, and I didn't expect Tennessee to come away from those three games unblemished. But I did expect them to be within single digits at the final horn at least once.
This season, more so than in recent years, Tennessee is dependent on its defense getting stops and creating points. The Lady Vols' offense just isn't consistent enough against premier opponents to slack on the other end of the floor.
That caliber opponent is going to be able to take away facets of the gameplan and defense has to keep you alive.
Warlick and her staff and trying to coach their team out of the "lulls and valleys," but so far it hasn't happened in these games.
When they've gotten in those valleys offensively against quality opponents, the defense hasn't been there to bail the team out. Against Baylor, Tennessee trailed by as many as 28, Stanford 19 and Notre Dame 19. It's difficult to come back from deficits that large.
Yes, there is still time to correct these things, but Monday night was the final great test for the team before post-season play. Until then there will still be questions of whether or not this Tennessee team can get it done with the best of the best.