Dan Fleser: Lady Vols Will Have To Deal With UCLA Star They Tried To Recruit

Thursday, March 21, 2019 - by Dan Fleser

 In a matter of moments, Michaela Onyenwere made a lasting impression on Dean Lockwood.

Tennessee’s assistant coach was on a women’s basketball recruiting visit to see Onyenwere in Aurora, Colo., and was impressed with the way she ran through a basic afternoon workout.

“She was going up these steps like her best friend was trapped in a fire in a third-story apartment,” Lockwood said. “You could tell this kid loves to work.”

The 5-foot-11 forward ultimately signed with UCLA in the fall of 2016. Undeterred, Tennessee signed four other players, who comprised the No. 1 ranked recruiting class that year.

Two of those UT signees – sophomores Evina Westbrook and Rennia Davis – will line up opposite Onyenwere as starters when the teams meet Saturday in a first-round NCAA tournament game in College Park, Md.

In terms of overall records and statistics, the two teams have an uncanny resemblance. But No. 6 seed UCLA (20-12) has lost just three times since the last week of January – all to top-10 ranked teams – and won six in a row at one point. In watching video of the Bruins, UT coach Holly Warlick noticed a reason for their improvement.

“The more I watch them,” Warlick said, “they understand the harder they play and the more effort they give, they beat teams.”

Onyenwere has contributed to UCLA’s effort by blossoming into an All-Pac 12 player, who leads the team in scoring (18.2 points per game) and rebounding (8.1). She’s one of only four players to average at least 20 points per game in conference play. She’s reached that point total in eight of the last 13 games.

Conversely, No. 11 seed Tennessee (19-12) has gone 8-11 since Jan. 1 and squeezed into the 64-team NCAA field with the next-to-last at-large bid. The Lady Vols’ ongoing inconsistency has mystified Warlick and had her fielding questions about her job security during a media gathering on Thursday.

She summarized athletic director Phillip Fulmer’s recent conversations with her to be “Good luck in your game.”

“I can’t worry about something I can’t control," Warlick said. “All I can control is getting this basketball team ready for the next game and that’s UCLA. It’s kind of like I can’t control whether we get in the tournament or not. We just have to put it out there, our best effort out there.”

To re-emphasize her point of view, Warlick said, “I’m worried about my 90-year-old mother not falling. I’m doing my job. It’s to get these young ladies ready for the next game.”

Tennessee’s effort will be dependent, to a large extent, on the play of both Westbrook and Davis. They’ve been starters for two years and made strides this season in terms of improvement.

Westbrook, a 6-0 point guard, worked on her shooting mechanics with UT men’s coach Rick Barnes during the offseason and nearly doubled her per-game scoring average to a team-leading 15.2 per game. She’s increased her assists (154-143) while reducing her turnovers (95-121).

Davis, a 6-2 forward, earned second-team All-SEC honors. She increased her per-game scoring average by nearly three to 14.7 and became the team’s leading rebounder at 7.7 per game.

Lockwood believes that a player’s development is dependent on a number of factors, including their respective circumstances. They’re not all running up the same set of steps.

That said, the harder you run, the better your prospects.

“I think I know for myself that the team goes as I go,” Westbrook said. “So the kind of energy that I bring, my team is going to feed off that. So I have to come with 100 percent, 110 percent.”


PREP BASEBALL/SOFTBALL/SOCCER SCHEDULES

Small Baylor Track Contingent Places Well At Vol Classic

Dalton State Lady Roadrunners Finish 4th At SSAC Track & Field Championships


(Changes, Corrections Or Additions: Please Notify Dennis Norwood at dennisnorwood56@gmail.com) PREP BASEBALL SATURDAY, APRIL 20 Sevier Co. Tournament Soddy Daisy Trojan Classic ... (click for more)

A small Baylor track contingent competed against over 50 teams from six states at the Vol Classic over the weekend. Autumn Seymour lead the way with her runner-up finish in the 300 huddles. ... (click for more)

HATTIESBURG, Miss. - As usual the Lady Roadrunners came up big when it counted. With a team of only 10 athletes, they managed to place fourth in the SSAC Track and Field championship. Finishing ... (click for more)


Sports

PREP BASEBALL/SOFTBALL/SOCCER SCHEDULES

(Changes, Corrections Or Additions: Please Notify Dennis Norwood at dennisnorwood56@gmail.com) PREP BASEBALL SATURDAY, APRIL 20 Sevier Co. Tournament Soddy Daisy Trojan Classic At Soddy Daisy 10:00 am: Soddy Daisy vs. Tullahoma 1:00 pm: McMinn Co. vs. Tullahoma 4:00 pm: Soddy Daisy vs. White Co. At Ooltewah 1:00 pm: Ooltewah vs. White Co. 4:00 pm: ... (click for more)

Small Baylor Track Contingent Places Well At Vol Classic

A small Baylor track contingent competed against over 50 teams from six states at the Vol Classic over the weekend. Autumn Seymour lead the way with her runner-up finish in the 300 huddles. She ran a season's best in 48.48. Seymour, along with teammates, Madison Sims, Aliya Cooper, and Miah Flanagan finished runner-up in the 4X200. The fast squad missed first by .12 ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Police Charge Gang Member With Gun Violations After Tying Him To Car Used In Several Recent Robberies

Police have arrested a gang member on gun charges after tying him to a car used in several recent robberies. Thomas Dewayne Sales, 21, of 1705 Wilcox Blvd., was charged with two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm as well as marijuana possession. An officer said on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. he was passing by 1705 Wilcox when he saw a white Nissan Sentra with tinted ... (click for more)

Dalton Police Department Seeks Suspects In Car Break-Ins

The Dalton Police Department is seeking help from the public to identify two men who broke into three vehicles parked at the Planet Fitness gym on Walnut Avenue. There have been several car break-ins in this parking lot over the past year because people using the gym often leave valuables inside of their cars instead of taking them inside. The suspects in these three break-ins ... (click for more)

Opinion

Why Does Walden Need A Large Grocery Store? - And Response (2)

The town of Walden has a population of 2,118 people. What do those citizens need with a 49,000 square foot grocery store? Or with 10,000 square feet of commercial office space? Or a fuel island? Or increased tractor trailer traffic with proportional damage to the road up and down the mountain? Or multiple traffic lights at the “W” Road intersection and at Timesville Road? When ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: An Easter Invitation

One of the hardest things a lot of people face is one of the easiest. Every so often someone will ask me about my faith and, while I mention it occasionally in a story, I never want to force my spirituality on anyone. But for some people, just the thought of asking God for forgiveness and His gift of eternal life is scary and it shouldn’t be. It costs nothing yet is priceless. And, ... (click for more)