Last night in a close and sloppy game the Lady Vols lost to Georgia, 53-50. It was their second loss this season. They've had other close games recently and this time they paid for it with a loss.
It didn't even look as if they showed up. The guard play was subpar. Bjorklund and Strickland shot 6 out of 21. Manning ran down the court for an open shot and missed it. Cain fouled out on a technical after opening her mouth in the vicinity of a ref about the prior foul. In a post game interview Glory Johnson said the team was too inconsistent and hinted that not every team member was with the program. I can't speak to that, but there were obvious issues.
It wasn't as if the ladies didn't hustle up and down the court. Orange suits were everywhere, but plays weren't executed. It reminded me of when I was learning wheelchair tennis. I spent so much time figuring out how to move my chair quickly enough to get to the ball that when I got there, I sat there and the ball flew past me. My coach finally shouted at me "You're there! Hit the ball!" "Backhand or forehand?" I would ask and she'd shout "Just put your racket out."
Of course I refined my play, but it occurs to me that maybe part of what some Lady Vols freshmen and sophomore players may be doing, since this is a team without any seniors and just one junior, is adjusting their game during games and failing to execute. Even if one or two players are doing it, it's an issue. When you consider that they're out of high school playing at a higher speed, playing more defense and suddenly playing in huge, loud (and sometimes hostile) venues, those are enough variables to make one wonder if this is part of it.
The good news is that there's a fix in a team sport. When I played doubles and spotted this kind of thing in my partner or vice versa, we could cover for each other. But someone has to show up and handle the ball. Just getting to the ball doesn't count.
Trust me, I know.
I just wanted to shout at them "You're there! Handle the ball!" last night. Okay, so I did.
I also shouted "Stretch!" at them, because an Australian Paralympian helped my game immensely by sitting on the sidelines down in Washington DC years ago and shouting "Stretch!" at me during a match that was hot, long and close.
I've found it to be a useful approach not only in sports, but in life.