By Steve Williams
The Tennessee Lady Vols are wobbling, but there’s still time to make them stronger for a post-season run. Coach Holly Warlick just needs to do some tweaking.
With 11 games remaining before the SEC tourney, here are my recommendations:
Work the ball inside more to 6-2 senior Bashaara Graves. After all, she’s making 61 percent of her field goal attempts and even leads the team in free throw shooting, having swished in 47 of 58 (81 percent) heading into tonight’s game at Kentucky.
The Clarksville High product was a Coaches’ preseason All-SEC first team selection and she’s been living up to it with her workmanlike style of play.
Graves moved into ninth place on UT’s all-time rebounding list after collecting six boards in last week’s 58-49 win over Vanderbilt. She now has 916 career rebounds and is on pace to crack the 1,000 mark in the final regular season game at home against Georgia.
Bashaara, who is averaging 10.6 points per contest, also drained two clutch free throws in the final minute to help the Lady Vols keep their home record spotless (31-0) against Vandy.
Okay, here’s another tip for Holly to consider:
Don’t give Diamond DeShields the green light behind the 3-point arc. She has shot more from there (77 times) than anyone on the team but has made only 19 of the shots (25 percent).
Te’a Cooper is even worse from that range (22 percent). The freshman also is hitting only 32 percent of her field goal attempts, yet has taken the second most shots on the team.
I believe the Lady Vols could benefit with Kortney Dunbar getting more 3-point attempts. Alexa Middleton also is better than average as a ball-handler and mid-range shooter.
Finally, after what I saw from UT’s turnover-riddled offense at Notre Dame last week, Tennessee needs a full-time floor general and my vote is for redshirt junior Andraya Carter.
We understand defense is Tennessee’s bread and butter and DeShields is the team leader in steals and also a shot-blocker. Carter and Cooper also are top defenders. But efficiency on offense, which includes putting the ball in the hole with good marksmanship, is important, too.
The Lady Vols (12-6 overall) really need to shake things up after some upset losses and too-close-for-comfort victories. The 64-59 loss at Arkansas tops the list.
That hadn’t happened in 20 years. And Vanderbilt had a chance to tie Tennessee in the final minute but turned the ball over.
Duke dropped out of the women’s Associated Press Top 25 last week, ending a 16-year run of 312 straight weeks in the rankings.
The Lady Vols still have the longest streak going in the Top 25 with 561 consecutive weeks of being present, followed by Connecticut’s 423. But Tennessee dropped five spots to No. 18 after losing at Arkansas, and another unexpected loss could land the Lady Vols a seat beside Duke on the outside looking in.
Just another reason for Holly to shake things up. It may be the Lady Vols’ only claim to fame left.