KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee needs to end more than a month's worth of road frustration or risk falling out of the Top 25 for the first time in three decades.
The 25th-ranked Lady Vols (14-9, 5-5 SEC) carry a five-game road skid into Thursday's game at Vanderbilt (15-8, 4-6). They haven't won on the road since beating Missouri on Jan. 4 in their Southeastern Conference opener.
''We're in our own little cocoon,'' Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. ''We're just trying to get better and focus on the next game, and obviously it's Vanderbilt. Look, they're devastated when they lose. They're disappointed.
''But we've got to watch the tape and we've got to move on.''
Or out of the Top 25, a position Tennessee hasn't been in since February 1985.
Despite the Lady Vols teetering on the unthinkable, Tennessee's administration is standing behind Warlick, who has had success.
The Lady Vols either won the SEC Tournament title or captured at least a share of the SEC regular-season championship in each of Warlick's first three seasons after she replaced former coach Pat Summitt, who led Tennessee to eight national championships.
After Warlick earned her 100th career win last week against Arkansas, athletic director Dave Hart congratulated her during a postgame locker room celebration.
Hart said in a statement Wednesday that, ''I remain proud that Holly Warlick is our women's basketball coach, and her staff and players have our full support.''
''I've always said basketball is a tournament sport,'' Hart said. ''The greatest opportunities come in tournament play at the end of the season. At that point, it's all about momentum and matchups. Two years ago, our men's team personified that example (by) coming within 10 seconds of playing Kentucky for a berth in the Final Four after a slow start out of the gate. Hopefully, we can get on a run to finish out the regular season heading into SEC Tournament play.''
Tennessee hasn't reached a Final Four since winning the 2008 national title, but the Lady Vols still have plenty of talent. Tennessee's roster features seven former McDonald's All-Americans. Bashaara Graves is a former SEC newcomer of the year and Diamond DeShields is a former Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year. Mercedes Russell was rated by multiple recruiting services as the nation's top prospect in her high school class.
But after being ranked fourth to start the season, the Lady Vols have steadily fallen down - and almost out of - the Top 25.
Early in the season, Warlick said the team wasn't consistent enough in its effort. Lately, though, it's more a matter of executing down the stretch in close games.
''I love how hard we're playing,'' Warlick said. ''I love how together we are, our chemistry. We've just got to finish the deal and get over that hump.''
Injuries have plagued Tennessee all year.
DeShields has dealt with shin splints since the preseason, Jasmine Jones hasn't played since suffering a Nov. 29 head injury and Graves played sparingly in a 76-71 overtime loss at Texas A&M on Sunday after missing two games with a sprained ankle. Reserve guard Alexa Middleton also has a sprained ankle that makes her status questionable for Thursday's game.
Tennessee has struggled to score as a result of the injuries, and often tightens up down the stretch of close games.
In its last two road contests, Tennessee blew double-digit, fourth-quarter leads at Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Tennessee is the only Division I team to lose multiple games this season in which it led by at least 11 points at the start of the fourth quarter, according to STATS LLC. Tennessee led Texas A&M by 11 with only three minutes left in regulation.
''We're getting a good lead,'' Warlick said. ''We're playing together. We've just got to finish it, finish it. I think we get a lead, get a little relaxed and kind of stop pushing it. I understand because we have a lead and don't want to force things, but we've got to find a little happy medium.''
Tennessee's inability to close out opponents is partially due to its struggles on offense. The Lady Vols are on pace for their lowest scoring average (66.7) since the start of Summitt's tenure in 1974. They rank 13th out of 14 SEC teams in 3-point field-goal percentage (.271).
They also aren't as dominant on the boards as usual. Although Tennessee has a plus-4.4 rebound margin, the Lady Vols gave up 24 offensive rebounds at Texas A&M and 20 at Mississippi State.
Warlick summed up all of Tennessee's woes, saying: ''The bottom line is we've got to get better at boxing out, getting stops and limiting our turnovers.''