published Friday, March 28th, 2014

Lady Vols want to keep winning inside out

  • photo
    Tennessee coach Holly Warlick reacts in a game against LSU Friday in Duluth, Ga.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — The phrase gets endless replay by Tennessee's women's basketball players and coaches. If anything, "inside out" has been upgraded from a favorite refrain to an urgent battle cry.

The declaration amounts to a competitive directive. The Lady Vols want to play through their post players on offense. The strategy becomes more crucial as the stakes get higher during the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee (29-5) -- the Louisville regional's top seed -- plays No. 4 seed Maryland (26-6) on Sunday at the KFC Yum! Center. Louisville, the No. 3 seed, plays No. 7 LSU.

UT has arrived at its strategy in logical fashion. Junior center Isabelle Harrison averaged 19 points for three SEC tournament victories earlier this month and was named the event's most valuable player. Tennessee averaged 46 paint points per game in beating LSU, Texas A&M and Kentucky to win the championship. All four teams are still alive in this tournament.

"You're talking about players who take high-percentage shots," UT coach Holly Warlick said. "You're talking about players who want the ball."

Still, there's evidence to suggest a journey was involved in reaching this point. Tennessee scored four fewer paint points in routing Vanderbilt 81-53 on Feb. 10 in Knoxville than it did in the teams' first meeting -- a 74-63 loss in Nashville on Jan. 12. Nonetheless, Commodores coach Melanie Balcomb detected a difference in the Lady Vols' attitude during the rematch.

"From the tip, we had trouble guarding their size inside," she said afterward. "They buried us. They were on the boards, and basically in the paint we got killed. They were very aggressive from the tip at doing that, which they weren't last time."

At this point, the "out" might be as important as the "inside" as teams scheme against Tennessee's scoring strength.

"The No. 1 thing is patience," assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. "Sometimes you can't get it in. You have to recognize that. You have to move the ball and move the defense and be patient. Don't lose focus on what you're trying to do."

Harrison indicated that the advice also applies once she's received the basketball.

"You definitely can't rush yourself," she said. "I know I did that a lot last year, even my freshman year. I felt really rushed. I had to make a move every time I got the ball."

Video study with Lockwood has helped Harrison manage her impulsiveness. Her first move Monday night against St. John's was to pass when defenders swarmed toward her. She located teammate Meighan Simmons on the perimeter, and the senior guard stepped into her only made 3-pointer of the night.

The play reflected the extent of the posts' scoring influence. The Lady Vols' 3-point shooting needs the assistance, too. During the past six games they've shot a chilly 21.1 percent (11-for-52) from long range. Simmons, UT's most productive 3-point shooter, was 4-for-25 (16 percent) in that stretch.

By getting the ball inside, Tennessee also hopes to help its outside game.

"We've scored with people packing it in. We've scored with people being physical," Warlick said. "So we want to keep doing what we're doing. Hopefully that will open up some easier looks for our perimeter people."

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