Lady Vols, No. 17 Texas both dealing with early struggles
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee and Texas enter their annual women's basketball matchup amid unusual circumstances.
The 17th-ranked Longhorns (2-4) will remain below .500 whether it wins or loses Sunday's matchup in Austin, Texas. Tennessee (4-3) has tumbled out of the Top 25 and would drop to .500 with a loss, which would mark the latest point in a season that the Lady Volunteers haven't had a winning record since starting out 4-5 in 1981-82.
''We've just got to have more of a sense of urgency,'' Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said of her team. ''I think the atmosphere and the tone in practice has been, `Let's go to work. This is a business. You've got a job. You've got to get it done.' ''
Both teams reached regional finals last year but haven't been able to carry that momentum over thus far.
Texas had to replace three players who started nearly every game for Texas last season in first-team all-Big 12 center Imani Boyette, Empress Davenport and Celina Rodrigo.
The Longhorns' record also is somewhat deceiving because all four of its losses have come against top-10 teams: No. 1 Connecticut, No. 5 Mississippi State, No. 6 South Carolina and No. 10 Stanford. Of those four losses, only the South Carolina game was on Texas' home floor.
''There are teams across the country that have maybe played one high-level game,'' Texas coach Karen Aston said. ''We could easily have put ourselves in that situation, and we wouldn't have many losses and we'd probably have a false confidence about ourselves because young players have to learn by trial and error.''
Texas instead has learned some tough lessons while averaging 17.3 turnovers per game.
Tennessee is coming off an 88-66 loss to No. 3 Baylor that matched the Lady Vols' most lopsided home defeat ever. Tennessee trailed that game by as many as 35 points.
''We started off kind of slow and got ourselves in a hole we couldn't get out of,'' Tennessee center Mercedes Russell said. ''We weren't dictating. We were just letting them do whatever they wanted.''
Tennessee committed 15 turnovers against Baylor and had 21 more in a loss at Virginia Tech a week earlier. The Lady Vols have spent the last few days emphasizing the importance of playing with more energy than they showed against Baylor.
''The more we would turn the ball over or do things (wrong), the more kind of hesitant we got,'' Warlick said. ''When you get hesitant, you worry about how you're playing, and you don't have any energy and you don't have any effort.''
Both teams still have plenty of time to turn things around.
Tennessee need only point to last year, when the Lady Vols had their most losses (14) in school history yet rallied late in the season to reach a regional final. And while Texas is only one defeat away from matching the loss total from last season's 31-5 campaign, all those early lessons could pay dividends for the Longhorns as the season wears on.
''I'm not displeased at all,'' Aston said. ''I would be displeased if in a month we don't look like we've made some improvement because of the situations we've been in.''
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