KNOXVILLE - Karen Aston spoke with great certainty about the Tennessee women's basketball team last Sunday. After watching a lot of video and then seeing the Lady Vols in person beat her Texas team 75-61, the Longhorns coach described Tennessee as "a legitimate top-five team."
Interesting that neither Tennessee coach Holly Warlick nor her players sounded as self-assured, either after Sunday's win at Thompson-Boling Arena or before team practice Thursday at Pratt Pavilion.
"We talk about how we're good right now but that's not good enough," forward Cierra Burdick said Thursday. "We want to be great."
No. 3 Tennessee (8-0) faces Troy (4-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday at the arena. The Lady Vols will be playing just their second game in more than two weeks.
Burdick's comment echoed Sunday's postmortem, not to mention the entire season. For example, the Lady Vols didn't hit their stride against Texas until the second half, scoring 47 points after halftime. The game was another in a series of UT opening acts that haven't been up to standards.
At least six of Tennessee's games have played out, in some fashion, as a tale of two halves.
"We have to get better starts," point guard Ariel Massengale said afterward. "We are still trying to figure that out, what it is that is going to make us go in the first half."
Thursday, center Isabelle Harrison suggested that the players concentrate more on specific game preparations at the outset.
"We need to stick by the game plan that Holly gives us," she said. "I think sometimes we get distracted. She gives us a game plan before every game. We definitely have to follow that."
Warlick has been focused on preparation as well. She has continued to monitor individual effort during practice. Usual starter Bashaara Graves was benched to start the Texas game based on practice, while Jasmine Jones was rewarded for her effort with a start.
"Everything has been predicated on how we're practicing, and I'm just kind of rewarding people who have really put in the time and effort in getting ready for the game," Warlick said.
Warlick said Thursday that she hadn't yet considered who will start in Saturday's game.
On the other hand, Warlick has taken Harrison's thought a step further and is devoting more practice to preparing for each opponent.
"We're kind of getting away from our principles of what we do offensively and defensively," she said. "Now we have to do a little bit more of a scouting report on how to attack somebody, how to defend them.
"It's a little bit different. I think we've got a great base. Now we just go back to how that [opponent] is playing."