"Talented, but young" must be code-speak for "you're going to be frustrated at times".
The Lady Vols completely dominated Miami in the first half, opening up a 46-21 lead at the half. They were able to run the lead up to 27 total points and looked to have the game firmly in hand, but a slight run by Miami snowballed into a bad second half. With the lead down to 6 points with about 2 minutes to go, the Lady Vols finally found enough of a footing to hold on and win, thanks to 6 clutch free throws by Ariel Massengale and a steal by Bashaara Graves to take away Miami's last hopes.
This team is young, and they need time to learn to play through slumps. At one point, some decent shot selections failed to hit home. At the same time, the high number of foul calls in the game (both teams ended with 25 fouls) made them hesitant on defense, allowing Miami to finally find driving room for easy buckets. With the lead dwindling, UT went into trigger-happy three-point mode, failing to cycle their offense and allowing the lead to melt even more. But a couple of well-timed timeouts by Holly Warlick allowed them to get enough focus to get back to their offense. It was enough to get the job done.
The Lady Vols can take a few lessons from this game. First, they beat a good up-tempo Miami team that loves to press and very rarely loses at home. The combination of Andraya Carter and Ariel Massengale at point gives the Lady Vols 40 minutes of terrific point duty on both ends of the court, and the team responded very well around them. Second, they pass the ball well. Out of 24 made shots, Tennessee had assists on 17 of them. Third, they can learn to not panic when the game tilts away from them. Like Georgia Tech, a second half run nearly turned disastrous until Tennessee found their composure and stopped taking hasty three-point shots on every possession. They need to learn that the game doesn't always go in their favor and that they'll have to work their way out of cold spells.
But all in all, this was a great win. The Chattanooga loss is looking further and further behind in the rear view mirror, and we can probably call that game a first-game fluke for the young squad. They'll have their down moments, but it's a very talented team with consistency issues from their youth, not an overrated team with flashes of playing over their heads. They'll have a long December with a lot of high quality teams, but they should be in good shape heading into conference play. There's a lot to like about these Lady Vols.
Bashaara Graves again led the team with 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals. She is fast becoming the most valuable player for the team. Andraya Carter and Ariel Massengale worked terrifically as a combination, playing a lot of minutes together on the floor. Carter's 16 points and Massengale's 14 points/5 assists kept the team's backcourt in good shape. Jasmine Jones was perhaps the only player to be truly disappointed with her play, as she had 4 early fouls that kept her out of the second half entirely. (She learned the hard way that some college refs love to insert themselves into the game.)
The Lady Vols get Thanksgiving off and play again on Sunday against Alcorn State in Knoxville. The week of rest, practice, and refocus is very well-timed and well-deserved.