Tennessee’s team chemistry on display in rout of Long Beach State

Mercedes Russell shoots a free throw. She had 14 points and 10 rebounds on the day. Photo by Emarie Marie/TGSportstv1.
Mercedes Russell shoots a free throw. She had 14 points and 10 rebounds on the day. Photo by Emarie Marie/TGSportstv1.

Long Beach, Calif. – No. 7 Tennessee extended their season-opening winning streak to 11-0 Sunday as they made easy work of Long Beach State, 90-61.

Meme Jackson and Anastasia Hayes each had 15 points for the Lady Vols, while seniors Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared each added double-doubles, with 14 points and 10 rebounds and 11 points and 11 rebounds, respectively. Freshman Evina Westbrook scored 14 points.

Tennessee, coming off of an upset of then-No. 2 Texas last weekend, out-rebounded the 49ers, 62-30, held them to no fast break points while scoring 18, and had 22 assists on the day.

Coach Holly Warlick said she was pleased with her group’s energy and cohesion.

“This team is young, but they play hard, they play together,” she said. “(Long Beach State) made us work, but I loved our togetherness, I loved our ability to defend and rebound. We just played hard. We’ve been preaching that quite a bit, playing hard and playing together.”

Russell said the Lady Vols have had tough practices since their takedown win, which was evident in their first game in a week.

“It showed how hard we play for 40 minutes – we showed a lot of grit and toughness. We were locked in from the start today,” she said. “You can see it on the court in our smiles and our involvement with each other.”

Tennessee got out to a quick start and never looked back, overpowering a young 49er squad that lost eight players last year and has only four upperclassman this season. The hosts forced the Lady Vols into 17 turnovers, and scored 22 points off of them, but they also shot 33 percent for the game.

Long Beach coach Jeff Cammon said consistency has been an issue for the young team.

“I thought we got better in some ways (in the game), but you want to see three or four kids consistently putting certain numbers together, and we haven’t really found that yet,” he said. “But I think it’s figuring out who they are each game. Where they’re going to get their shots from and doing what they do well on both ends of the floor.”

Freshman Ma’Qhi Berry led three 49ers in double figures with 19 points.

Tennessee also has a new-look roster this year with five upperclassmen, one sophomore and four freshmen. Two of the newcomers – Westbrook and Rennia Davis – have worked their way into the starting lineup. Warlick said the team has come together in recent weeks, especially.

“It’s our chemistry, our togetherness has been huge for us,” she said. “We have the talent. This is a very unselfish team right now. They don’t really care who gets the shots, they just want to win. That’s hard as young women, because they’re competitive. They want to be in the game and they want to help the team.”

“Jamie and Mercedes have done a great job with their leadership, and the young players are following. I love our camaraderie, how we get excited for each other.”

Jackson said the work ethic of the Lady Vols has been exceptional.

Junior Meme Jackson was one of five Tennessee players in double figures, with 15 points. Photo by Calvin Mattheis.
Junior Meme Jackson was one of five Tennessee players in double figures, with 15 points. Photo by Calvin Mattheis.

“Everyday (we’re) coming to practice ready to work,” Jackson said. “We just really give energy, and that’s what I like about this team this year, is every time we step on the court, we’re all willing to work hard and give our best.”

Next up for Tennessee is No. 18 Stanford Thursday – the continuation of a long rivalry series between the two programs. Warlick said her squad will be ready.

“They’re very disciplined, so we’ve got to be disciplined, as well,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of the ball. They run off of turnovers, they’re a great three-point shooting team, so we’ve got to defend the arc, but they can also go inside. It’ll be a tough game for us; it’ll be a physical game.”

“I think the team with the least amount of turnovers will win. Our kids understand who Stanford is and what they’ve got to do.”

Notes:

Lady Vol great Chamique Holdsclaw was in attendance, as was Sarah Parker, the mother of standout Candace Parker.

The crowd was about evenly populated between Tennessee and Long Beach State fans.