KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT/Submitted) -- The No. 8 Lady Vol basketball team is coming off a week with two come-from-behind victories over Arkansas and Alabama. Tennessee hits the road to take on Ole Miss on Thursday for a 9 p.m. ET contest in Oxford. The game will be aired on CSS.
BIG WEEK FOR BURDICK
After leading the Lady Vols in scoring through two victories against Arkansas and Alabama last week, Cierra Burdick earned her second career SEC Player of the Week recognition. The junior from Charlotte, N.C., averaged 18.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks in UT's pair of games. In those contests, she combined to shoot 68.2 percent (15-22) from the field, including 71.4 percent (5-7) beyond the arc.
Entering last week's game, Cierra Burdick was averaging 7.7 points and 6.1 rebounds. She has many to credit for their support in helping her get back in the game mentally.
"My teammates, my coaches, my family, fans on Twitter and social media extended their support and encouragement," Burdick said. "I was talking with Coach John Lucas, who's helped me a lot this past summer getting my mentality right. I think the biggest thing was just to `Let go and let God.' That's the thing that has really helped me get through the slump and the mental block that I was dealing with, and just continuing to stay patient, positive, trusting in the plan and the process."
Junior teammate Isabelle Harrison has seen progression in Burdick's mental approach in the last month.
"I think she is really starting to realize her role on the team and how much we need her," Harrison said. "She is realizing whatever we need her to do, she is going to give her best effort and she is going to do it for us - that whether it's rebounding, scoring or just speaking up whenever she is on and off the court."
Head Coach Holly Warlick attributes Burdick's focus and mentality into things coming together for the Charlotte, N.C. native.
"I think that she sees the need of her scoring ability for us," Warlick said. "I've said this; she's been leading off the court and on the court. She's been very vocal. She's been very vocal on the bench. We needed somebody to step up and I think she's done that. I think that takes the tension, in her mind, off of her and then she relaxes and plays."
Burdick posted her third double-double of the season with a career-high 21 points and 11 rebounds in Tuscaloosa. But prior to the game, she had only seven games this season in double figures. During her slump, Burdick lost sight of her love for the game, but has since tapped back into her passion.
"I think it was just realizing that I love this game and I want to have fun doing it," the forward said. "For a while in the beginning of the season, I wasn't having fun. I think that was the biggest difference. I really woke up and I was like `look, I enjoy this game. I love it. I have an extreme passion for it and I want fans to be able to see that when I go out there, step in between those lines and play.' Just getting that love for the game back and going out there, having fun, putting the team before me and just focusing on getting those wins."
WARLICK BRINGING BALANCE
Burdick calls Holly Warlick the "glue" of the team. Through the season's ups and downs, Warlick has provided an emotional and positive balance to the group of 11.
"I think she's the glue," Burdick said. "She's been extremely supportive, encouraging and she's a great coach, but an even better person. She wants to have a relationship with us. I think that helps because she does want to see us do well so much. I know if anyone's disappointed after a loss, it's her. You can just tell by her body language--how she talks, how she moves. We just want to make her happy and make this program be successful because we have all the potential in the world."
The junior forward also admires Warlick's openness and willingness to fix problems for the student-athletes.
"She's got an extreme open-door policy," Burdick said. "She wants to know what we're thinking, how we're feeling, how we can fix things if there's a problem. She's not one of those coaches where it's her way or the highway. She's totally open to suggestions. She does a great job of looking for (assistant coach Kyra) Elzy or Dean (Lockwood, assistant coach) and coach (Jolette) Law's support. She knows she can't get it done alone, so she really does rely on us. It makes us want to play better for her."
At times, Warlick gets animated on the sidelines, but it serves as a motivating factor for the team.
"When I do see, I try to get our team in tune to what she needs us to do because she gets frustrated when she can't communicate with us if it's too loud," Harrison said. "This is Holly. She does it in practice and she is passionate about us doing well in the game, so she shows a little emotion."
"I think they need some stern talking to, but this team seems to respond on positive," Warlick said. "I'm trying to change my approach, as far as during the game and maybe not be as reactive. I think it's helped them. I can see them coming off the floor, and they get it now. I think in December, they'd come walking off the court and put their head down, but I don't see that right now. They're sprinting over to the bench and they're talking to each other about what they need to do. It's been a hard time to get to that point, but I think we're at that point right now."
COME-FROM-BEHIND WINS FOCUS ON IMPROVEMENTS
Both of Tennessee's victories over Arkansas and Alabama were come-from-behind wins with sluggish first halves. Burdick stresses the importance of defense in order for Tennessee to keep getting marks in the wins column.
"We've got to get defensive stops and we also know that we're going to get every team's best," Burdick said. "Alabama came out and they did not miss. I think they've played their best half of basketball against us the entire season. With that being said, if we want to be the best, we've got to be able to play other teams at their best any given night, and so we've got to come out with an intense urgency from the get-go."
Warlick attributes the team's ability to change momentum in the second half to better tuning into the tasks at hand.
"I think they tune up their hearing aids a little bit at halftime," Warlick said. "They get a little bit more focused it seems like to me, but I think they understand. We do a scouting report and they take that all in, but I just think, especially on the road, the crowd and the other team is pumped up, and you've got to equal people's runs."
"I think we notice our potential, but we also have to notice that things aren't just going to happen for us," Harrison said. "Things aren't just going to be given to us because Tennessee is across our chest. We have to work hard just like the previous teams did when they were here. Nothing was given to them so I think we are starting to realize what we have to do on game days."