By Steve Williams
It was like old times for the Tennessee Lady Vols Thursday night as they led No. 1 ranked Notre Dame at halftime.
But that lead didn’t last much longer and the UT women’s basketball program chalked up another dubious distinction – its first ever four-game losing streak at The Summitt, the court where the late, great Pat Summitt rarely ever lost.
Here lately, however, losing has become the norm, rather than the exception, for the Tennessee women, who suffered a program record sixth straight loss on this ‘We Back Pat Night” to raise awareness and foundation support for Alzheimer’s disease, which claimed Summitt’s life way too soon.
Holly Warlick, who played for Pat (1977-80) and then coached by her side until the end, was the logical choice to take over the reins of what once was the nation’s top women’s program. But as the women’s game has grown and produced more and more strong programs, winning is now much more challenging than it used to be.
Notre Dame, which trailed by as many as 11 points in the first period, caught up and pulled away for a 77-62 victory as the Lady Vols committed eight of their 11 turnovers in the third period.
Warlick pointed to those turnovers in her post-game comments and added: “The energy and effort was Tennessee basketball. We’re going to build on that.”
Just a week earlier, Warlick said her team had ‘no energy, no emotion’ in its loss at Alabama.
As much as I hate to say it, this could be a make or break season for Holly. The Lady Vols have dropped out of the rankings, and if they don’t pull out of this tailspin and have a strong finish in the regular season and SEC tournament, they could be in danger of not making the NCAA tourney for the first time.
After watching Tennessee in the second half against Notre Dame, I came away thinking these Lady Vols don’t even resemble past great UT players or teams. The program has dropped so far in recent years that attendance reportedly also has fallen to about half of what it used to be in its heyday.
Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer may have a difficult decision to make at the end of this season. Whatever that decision becomes, I know he will dispense it with class. Warlick certainly deserves that. There’s no question she has worked hard as the head coach and loves and cares for this program. It’s been her life and career.
But I am now starting to believe it’s time for a change in leadership. Warlick has had sufficient time to make her mark and show where she can take this program.
CREAMY OR CRUNCHY? We now know what kind of peanut butter Grant Williams would be. The crunchy kind, of course, for his performance in crunch time as he led the No. 1 ranked Vols to the 88-83 overtime win over Vanderbilt in Nashville last week.
Williams scored 43 points and made a SEC record 23 of 23 free throws.
Grant and Admiral Schofield, nicknamed “Peanut Butter and Jelly,” and their teammates also found out first hand that the wind indeed blows the hardest at the top of the flag pole.