Ariel Massengale challenged to lead

Ariel Massengale

The Lady Vols will look to get back in the win column after the break with a matchup tonight against border state opponent Davidson. Go inside with InsideTennessee to get ready for the game.

Holly Warlick didn't mince words when she chatted with point guard Ariel Massengale after the Christmas break.

"She came in and challenged me and she pretty much told me, ‘Ariel, I can't rely on you right now,' " the sophomore said. "Being a point guard that hurts for your coach to say something like that. …

"She let me have it. It is still bothering me. I am trying to gain her trust back each and every day. She had a lot of trust in me and pretty much let me call my shots on the offensive end and defensive end. I still think we have a great relationship.

"That is what you want from your coach. When you're not playing well, especially when your coach knows what you are capable of doing, they challenge you. She knows I am better than that. I know I am better than that. My teammates know I am better than that.

"She challenged me, ‘We've lost two games. You're supposed to be the point guard leader of the team. What are you going to do about it?' "

No. 13/15 Tennessee (7-3) takes on Davidson (4-6) on Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena. A free webcast is available on the Lady Vol basketball website by CLICKING HERE.

Massengale intends to show Warlick that she can be reliable.

Warlick, a point guard for Pat Summitt, likely heard similar words during her playing days and is generating some vintage motivational tactics.

"Exactly," Massengale said with a smile. "I am sure she is, most definitely. When your coach tells you something like that, there is not much that you can say back. … It hurts. Being a competitor and being a point guard – and I know coach Warlick was a point guard in her career and so she knows what it takes to get it done – so for her to say that, it hurts.

"I went and talked to my dad. Do I apologize? Do I show her on the court? I am going to try to show her to the best of my ability that she can rely on me."

Massengale is just a sophomore, but she has been asked to be the team's leader because of a paucity of upperclassmen. Warlick doesn't have time for Massengale to become a veteran. She needs her now.

"I am looking forward to getting on the court and showing her what I am capable of and what this team is capable of doing," Massengale said.

Massengale misses the court presence of Andraya Carter. Although Carter, who is out for the season because of right shoulder surgery, is just a freshman, she was a difference maker on defense and took considerable pressure off of Massengale on both ends of the court since she could also handle the ball.

"She has been that defensive stopper for us and she was also doing a great job of running the show," Massengale said. "Not having her there I know I will have to play more minutes and pick up what we're missing by her not being out there.

"But that's why basketball is a team sport and I can't do it all by myself. That's why I have four others on the court with me and nine other teammates to pick me up."

Massengale played 33 minutes in both the Baylor and Stanford games. Those numbers are unlikely to come down. She will need to log extended time on the court while pushing the tempo on offense and putting pressure on the ball on defense.

"It's a challenge," Massengale said. "To me if you come in here every day in practice and do it, therefore it becomes a habit, which makes the games a lot easier."

Assistant coach Jolette Law said the team needs to get back on the court.

"I think we just need to get our confidence back," said Law, who prepared the scout for the Davidson game with a cover that emphasized four Cs.

"Commitment, composure, confidence, consistency," Law said. "What we've been committed to from day one, it doesn't change. We stay composed, and we'll be fine.

"We've got to make sure that we're confident in each other and the game plan and what we decide to do. At the end of the day, we've got to stay consistent."

Law added, "We watched the film and went back to the basics."

That was evident with repeated full court defensive slides to start practice Thursday, a drill that looks relatively tame but players have to stay low in a stance and keep a towel raised over their heads the entire time.

"Does this look like the team that played against North Carolina, that played against Georgia Tech, that played against Miami, that played against Texas?" Law asked the players.

"It is finalizing and completing plays. Right now they are responding."

Warlick met with the media Thursday and still had quite a bit to say about the Stanford loss before the break. She watched the game film repeatedly. She has let the players know the lack of effort and execution on both ends was inexcusable. She has been direct with players – Massengale got her earful during a film session Wednesday – and raised her voice.

Law is now in the role that Warlick had under Summitt – serve as a cushion between the players and head coach.

"Holly is being hard," Law said. "We're the buffers. I am mama buffer."

Fellow assistant Kyra Elzy is also trying to take that role.

"Kyra is mama buffer … I am more the buffer. Kyra is still mad," Law said with a smile. "I am trying to get them to relax. Holly has to do that."

Law counseled the players to show consistency instead of playing great defense in one game and playing passively in the next. Law sees a team that is tantalizingly close to getting to the next level.

"How do you expect her to see it?" Law told the players. "Holly is going off on them and I am trying to make them understand we are not far off. We are trying to get up there in the same breath as Baylor and Stanford, because that is where Tennessee belongs.

"Yeah, we got punched. We got knocked down. How do we respond? Are we going to stay down on the mat or are we going to get up swinging? Are we going to get up fighting?

"It starts with Davidson and then Rutgers is going to come in here. It's going to be a dogfight. How are we going to respond? What are we going to do?"

Massengale is ready to put back on a Tennessee uniform and face opponents. Davidson is first on Friday evening with a rugged Rutgers team in the arena on Sunday afternoon.

"We're ready for it," Massengale said. "We've had two losses and I don't know if I've lost two games in a row since I've been here. Get back on the court. Get in front of the fans. I think we disappointed them these last two games.

"We need to gain their trust back and let them know we're ready. We're back. We're still Tennessee."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5-6 sophomore guard, No. 5, hails from Bolingbrook, Ill. (9.1 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game, 3.9 assists per game); Meighan Simmons, 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas (17.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.0 steals per game); Cierra Burdick, 6-2 sophomore forward, No. 11, hails from Charlotte, N.C. (8.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg); Bashaara Graves, 6-2 freshman forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (14.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg); and Isabelle Harrison, 6-3 sophomore forward, No. 20, hails from Nashville, Tenn. (8.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.3 blocks per game).

Davidson coach Michele Savage is expected to start: Barbara Sitton, 5-4 senior guard, No. 32 (3.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.8 apg. 3.6 spg), hails from Richmond, Va., tallied at least four assists in eight games; Katrin Chiemeka, 5-7 senior guard, No. 12 (5.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg), hails from Marienthal, France, has connected on 11 trey balls; Laura Murray, 5-9 junior guard, No. 2 (9.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg), hails from Harrisburg, Pa., reached double-digit scoring in 48 career games, has connected on 19 treys; Dakota Dukes, 6-0 freshman forward, No. 23 (7.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg), hails from Raleigh, N.C., tallied season-high 23 points against Mercer this season; and Sophia Aleksandravicius, 6-4 senior forward, No. 21 (14.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 3.3 bpg), hails from Pound Ridge, N.Y, reached double figures in seven of 10 games this season, scored career-high 40 points against High Point earlier this month, preseason Southern Conference player of the year.

A key player off the bench for the Wildcats is Sarah Davis, a 6-3 senior forward from St. Clair, Mich., who scored a team-high 13 points against Miami.

GAME NOTES

This will be the first game between the two border state programs. Davidson is located near Charlotte, N.C., and is close to the hometown of Tennessee sophomore Cierra Burdick. The Wildcats play in the Southern Conference, which includes Chattanooga. Davidson earned a share of the SoCon title last season and won 22 games. Michele Savage, who played at Northwestern University and was inducted in the school's Hall of Fame in 2002, was the SoCon coach of the year. She is in her third season at Davidson after assistant positions at Chicago State, Toledo, Cornell and Tulane. … Some numbers never seem to really change. Tennessee's strength of schedule is No. 1 and its RPI is No. 5. ... Tennessee and Davidson could compare some notes and scouting reports. Both teams have played Miami, a 79-67 win for the Lady Vols and 67-35 loss for the Wildcats; and North Carolina, a 102-57 win for Tennessee and 70-59 loss for Davidson. The Wildcats played at Rutgers and lost 55-49, while the Lady Vols host the Scarlet Knights on Sunday. Tennessee lost to Chattanooga, 80-71, and Davidson hosts the Lady Mocs on Jan. 18. The Wildcats were selected in preseason to win the Southern Conference.

INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO

Lady Vols basketball practice

Holly Warlick

Isabelle Harrison

Ariel Massengale

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