KNOXVILLE — After dropping a tough battle with rival Kentucky on Sunday, the No. 10 Lady Vols (20-5, 9-3) are regrouping and focusing on the last four games of the regular season. UT welcomes Auburn (14-11, 5-7) to Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday with the race for the SEC title still on the line.
Tipoff with the Tigers
Tennessee will face AU in a 7 p.m. ET tip-off on CSS Thursday evening. UT owns a 38-10 record against Auburn, with an 18-2 mark when playing in Knoxville. The Tigers are coming off a 10-point loss against Missouri last Sunday.
“Auburn is a great defensive team,” assistant coach Jolette Law said. “Their motto is ‘defensive chaos.’ They run multiple defenses. You’ll see a 3-2 press into a 3-2, a 2-2-1 into a 2-3, so like I told the players yesterday, expect to see some sort of press for 40 minutes. They live by it; they let their defense create their offensive opportunities.”
“They throw so many different defenses at you just trying to confuse you,” junior forward Cierra Burdick said. “It is just a matter of us trying to stay within our system, running our sets no matter what, and playing together. Five together basketball is what is going to win this game. We are also going to have to stop their transition. They love to get up and down the floor. We are going to have to make an effort and maybe send two back.”
Auburn is the first of four SEC games remaining on the Lady Vols’ regular-season schedule before the league tournament in Duluth, Ga.
The Lady Vols have been troubled with turnovers this season. Kentucky forced 22 miscues by Tennessee on Sunday, the seventh game with 20-plus turnovers for UT this season.
“I think there were a lot of unforced errors on our part,” Burdick said. “It is just a matter of getting back to the drawing board. We have to make sure we come in here focused every single day. We were turning the ball over in practice before Kentucky. That is only right that it transferred over to the court against Kentucky. It is just a matter of having great prep days and preparing for the team we have coming up next.”
“It is always a concern, and definitely going into the game, I’m the accountability coach that puts them on the line to make them run with the ball,” Law said. “I think that we were turning the ball over a little bit too much prior to the Kentucky game. Did I think it was going to affect us the way that it did? No, because we have gotten much better in that area the last four games. Now that it happened, we have to go back to watching film and seeing what happened. We are going back to holding them accountable for the turnovers.”
Practices on Tuesday and Wednesday keyed in on limiting turnovers, working on defense and boxing out.
“We’ve been working on trying to just limit our turnovers,” Law said. “We’ve been putting them through situations in practice, use the infamous ball rack. If they turn the ball over in a drill, just say three more times.”
“I think we are just going to have to focus on turnovers in practice,” Carter said. “We had a little stretch where we were really taking care of the ball. Then, Kentucky just came in here and put us out of our element and put a little pressure on us. We did not take care of the ball the way we should have. But, we are all completely aware of it and it’s something that we are focusing on. Coach Law is holding us accountable. Hopefully we’ll just get it taken care of before tournament time.”
Although the Lady Vols have lost just five games, it can feel like 20 games for a player donning the Orange & White. The 11 players are keeping each other accountable and picking each other up after losses.
“That is what we are built on,” Burdick said. “We have to hold each other accountable. I think Coach Law does a great job of that. If you watch practice, you know she has a ball rack out. If we miss box outs, she has five balls on the rack. If all those balls are off the rack, then we are running. It is holding each other accountable, staying positive and encouraging one another. We have to have great leadership. We have to lead in the right direction. Like Andraya (Carter) said, we have to play Lady Vol basketball.”
The coaches are doing their share of making the players in-tune to what is required and keeping the Lady Vol standard.
“It is a good amount of running,” Carter said. “Our coaches are really holding us accountable, and we are holding each other accountable. We will get it taken care of.”