Anyone that anticipated the Lady Vols’ offseason coaching change to be a seamless transition from teacher to student was blindsided on Friday evening.
Tennessee’s season-opening loss at McKenzie Arena was anything but that.
The young Lady Vols (0-1) shot just 39 percent from the field, committed 26 turnovers, and didn’t have an answer for Chattanooga’s offense, which piled up 52 second-half points.
“Outside of (freshman point guard) Andraya Carter putting pressure on the ball, we didn’t affect them one bit,” said first-year head coach Holly Warlick, who has the daunting task of replacing the best coach in the history of the women’s game, Pat Summitt. “We were at the mercy of them missing shots. Our defense was just non-existent.”
Tennessee looked young and out of rhythm throughout its 80-71 defeat, and Chattanooga’s veteran squad didn’t help matters.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t (sense our youth),” Tennessee senior Taber Spani said. “Over half of our team is playing in their first game as collegiate athletes. There’s going to be nerves, but overall I thought our freshmen did a great job. They played hard. It’s on us seniors to show them the way.”
Freshman forward Bashaara Graves finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Aside from stringing together 12 straight points midway through the first half, though, the Lady Vols didn’t have much to feel good about.
The 12-0 run helped Tennessee take its first lead of the contest, but as quickly as the Lady Vols had built their advantage, it disappeared just as fast.
It never returned.
“At halftime you talk about getting your defensive intensity up, and you give up 52 points in the second half,” Warlick said. “Until our defense becomes a priority for us, we’re going to struggle. Right now our defense is not a priority.”
The Lady Vols weren’t much better on the offensive end.
Junior guard Meighan Simmons scored a team-high 24 points but finished just 9-of-25 from the field and 1-of-8 from 3-point range.
While she was frustrated with her team’s performance, Warlick knows there’s a lesson to be learned.
“As long as we learn from it we’re fine,” Warlick said. “I know they’ll hurt tonight, but tomorrow we’ll get back and get ready for Georgia Tech.”
Tennessee will travel to Atlanta to face the No. 22 Lady Yellow Jackets on Sunday.
“That’s just the nature of our schedule,” Warlick said. “It’s extremely hard with five new players. It is what is it; there is nothing we can do about it. We just have to roll up our sleeves and go back to work.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.