This is the only word that can describe the season for the Tennessee women’s basketball team. Game after game, the Lady Vols would show up and either look like world-beaters or look like they couldn’t even beat a recreational league team. There is no doubt that this team was talented, but the consistency never clicked with this team. It was concerning to see a team coming off an Elite 8 trip look so lost and confused on the court at times. The short seven-person rotation probably didn’t help matters, but head coach Holly Warlick will have a good deal of questions to answer of herself next season. But next season is next season. Here’s how things shook out for this year’s team.
The warning signs began early for the Lady Vols. Just a few short games into the season, Tennessee went on the road to face both Penn State and Virginia Tech. Both of these teams were unranked, and they both did not make the NCAA Tournament at the season’s end. The losses, although not crippling at the time, showed a sign of playing down to lower competition that would continue the rest of the season.
Tennessee also lost to both Baylor and Texas from the Big 12, with the Baylor loss coming in crushing fashion in Knoxville. However, they were able to pick up two very solid non-conference wins over Stanford in December and Notre Dame in January. The win over Notre Dame was especially nice because the Lady Vols found themselves down by 15 at one point during that game.
Conference play started well for Tennessee. After wins over Kentucky and Vanderbilt, it looked as though the Lady Vols might be able to get a winning streak going.
Then came the issues that plagued Tennessee all season. Following a loss at home to Mississippi State, Tennessee traveled to Oxford and laid an egg against an Ole Miss team that barely even made the women’s NIT. Following that, the Lady Vols got a huge comeback win over Notre Dame, which could have propelled them into playing well consistently. Instead, they went on the road at Auburn and lost by 18.
After this loss, Tennessee was able to put together a win streak of four, its longest of conference play. During that streak, Tennessee picked up a huge road win over a top-five South Carolina team. That win pushed them back into the top 25 after having been out of it for weeks. But just as they were starting to get some more national attention, the Lady Vols went on the road and lost to a Georgia team that finished barely over .500. From Feb. 5 to Feb. 16, the Lady Vols lost three out of four games, two of which were to teams that did not even end up making the NCAA Tournament. They were able to close the season strong, including an 18-point thrashing of a highly-ranked Mississippi State team in Starkville.
The postseason for the 2016-2017 Lady Vols was a microcosm of their season as a whole. In the opening round of the SEC Tournament, they drew an Alabama team that they had lost to just a few weeks before. Tennessee led by as much as 10 in the game but were not able to close out a team that they were more talented than across the board. Because of the loss, the Lady Vols were given a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, slated to play a pesky Dayton team.
In their opening round game, the offense at times was atrocious. The Lady Vols jumped out to a huge lead, only to let Dayton hang around until the end of the game. In the second round, they drew the No. 4 seed, Louisville, on its home court. Tennessee led after three quarters, but the wheels fell off in the fourth, allowing Louisville to move on to the Sweet 16.
The Final Verdict
There is no question about it: the Lady Vols’ season was a disappointment. While depth was an issue, this team was too talented to lose some of the games that they lost. The common factor in most of their losses this season was the simple lack of chemistry and consistency between the players. Diamond DeShields, who may be the first pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft, seemed lost in some of their losses. The leadership was not present like it has been on some of the great teams in program history. With a few more wins abasing teams they should have beat, the Lady Vols may have been able to advance further in March with an easier road. Next year may be a make-or-break year for Holly Warlick, especially with a new athletic director in charge. Luckily, Warlick will be able to try and utilize the nations’s top incoming recruiting class.
Edited by Robert Hughes
Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics