Conventional wisdom says that Tennessee shouldn’t force Missouri to shoot from the perimeter.
But conventional wisdom was absent on Thursday between the Lady Vols and Tigers, especially offensively.
Tennessee—known for its ability to dominate in the post—was unusually sharp on its outside shooting. Missouri – one of the nation’s top 3-point shooting teams—used dribble penetration to score easy layups all evening long.
Despite both teams playing in foreign offensive territory, neither struggled to put points on the board. The Tigers initially led 35-30 at halftime, but after an explosive third quarter, the game was knotted at 54-54 heading into the final ten minutes.
Going against conventional wisdom, Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick decided it was time to force Missouri to operate from its usual strength. The defensive adjustment worked wonders. The Tigers missed 10 of their first 11 shots during the final quarter and fell victim to a 17-4 Tennessee run.
“It’s hard for a team to shoot 56 percent if they’re not around the basket,” Jaime Nared said. “… we knew we had to make them shoot from outside.”
Luckily for the Lady Vols, they utilized the previous two days in practice to work on defending Missouri’s lethal outside shooting. The Tigers shot just 2-of-13 from beyond the arc on Thursday, compared to Tennessee’s 9-of-17 mark.
Diamond DeShields shines bright
Diamond DeShields is considered the most physically gifted player on Tennessee’s roster. However, that athleticism hasn’t always translated on the court, especially when it comes to outside shooting.
On Thursday, DeShields exorcised some of her perimeter shooting demons and had one of the most efficient shooting performances of her career. The redshirt junior finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range.
“I know I’m not a bad 3-point shooter,” DeShields said. “That’s why I have such a hard time understanding why my percentage is so low.”
DeShields was no one-trick pony on Thursday. When she wasn’t drilling daggers from the outside, she was either showcasing her athleticism on drives to the basket or creating for her teammates.
One play that particularly stuck out was when DeShields corralled a missed free throw and delivered a crisp bounce pass through the tightest of windows to Meme Jackson, who finished the play with a layup.
DeShields has made those kinds of plays all season long, but paired with what she feels is a refined jump shot, Tennessee’s preseason All-American is starting to play like one at the right time.
Rocky Top is home sweet home to the Lady Vols
Tennessee’s road woes are well-documented this season, but its performance at home has kept the orange and white in the national conversation. After an embarrassing loss to Baylor at home in early December, the Lady Vols are 9-1 in Thompson-Boling Arena with wins over Stanford, Kentucky and Notre Dame.
“It’s nice to see our fans,” Nared said. “They still support us even with our highs and lows of our season… it’s nice to sleep in our own beds. It’s nice to see our family and friends.”
Overall, Tennessee is 11-2 when playing in Knoxville, but 5-6 everywhere else.
Conference position more important than poll position
The Lady Vols have been in and out of the AP Top 25 over the past two seasons, and although it may be a cause for concern to a fan base accustomed to seeing Tennessee live at the top of the polls, DeShields and her teammates care more about the conference standings than national rankings.
“One game separates a few teams in this league…,” DeShields said. “… this was a must-win for us and them. It was going to be a battle. We knew it was going to be a dogfight. We’re trying to put ourselves in a position for March.”
Entering last evening’s game, both Tennessee and Missouri were tied for fifth place in the SEC. With the Lady Vol victory, Warlick has her team in sole possession of fifth place in the conference. Tennessee’s next opponent, Texas A&M, sits at third place in the SEC with an 8-3 conference record.
Edited by Quinn Pilkey
Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics