Holly Warlick: Lady Vols don't 'deserve half the crap thrown at them'

Phil Kaplan
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick in the final minutes of Tennessee's loss to Oregon State in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday.

An emotional Holly Warlick fought back tears defending her program and her players from critics after the season ended for Tennessee on Sunday.

The third-seeded Lady Vols (25-8) could not overcome a poor third period in a 66-59 loss to sixth-seeded Oregon State (25-7) in the second round of the Lexington (Ky.) Regional of the NCAA women's basketball tournament at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Fighting back tears answering the final question during the media session after the loss, the sixth-year coach of the Lady Vols said her players don't "deserve half the crap thrown at them."

Holly Warlick: "The things that are thrown at these kids are unfair"


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"You come here wanting to win championships and the expectations are extremely high," Warlick said. "Sometimes the things that are thrown at these kids are unfair. They come here wanting to learn and get better and just play the game. They get criticized quite a bit. These kids are tough and they're resilient. I'm tough and resilient, but right now I'm hurting."

A former player under legendary coach Pat Summitt and an assistant under Summitt for 27 years before taking over after Summitt stepped down after the 2011-12 season, Warlick is 153-54 in six seasons. Summitt won eight national championships, with the last coming in 2008. 

"If you're not a part of it, then you don't understand it," said Warlick, who has one year left in her current deal. "This isn't about winning or losing. It's about young ladies getting better on and off the court and I don't think they deserve half the crap thrown at them. So I'm upset but on the other side, I'm angry. But it's just a basketball game and we're going to get better and move on. That's what we should do. If it means something to you, it should hurt."

Tennessee entered the game 57-0 in NCAA tournament first- and second-round games on its home floor. Under Warlick, UT has reached the Elite Eight three times but has been eliminated in the second round for two consecutive seasons.

"You can't take away what these kids have done throughout the year with a target on their back," Warlick said. "They've had to battle critics and everything all year long. I'll take them, I don't care if we lost, I'll take them to battle anytime."

Russell, Nared end careers with Lady Vols

It was the final game with the Lady Vols for three seniors — center Mercedes Russell and forwards Jaime Nared and Kortney Dunbar.

Russell finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, both game highs, and played 38 minutes. Earlier this season she became the sixth player in school history to record 1,500 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. 

The ending was an emotional one for Russell, who left the court with her jersey wiping away tears. Her voiced cracked at times during the media interviews as she answered questions about her time at UT.

"It's tough. Obviously my last game as a college athlete, but I'm just blessed," Russell said.

"It's been awesome playing alongside (Nared)," Russell added. "Super thankful to our coaching staff and our university believing in us. It's been a long ride and blessed I made this decision." 

Nared scored UT's first basket and had six points in the first period. She finished with nine points on 3-of-14 shooting in 36 minutes. 

Nared, who, along with Russell, is from Oregon, said she was welcomed at UT from the start.

"My teammates, my coaches, everybody has had an impact on my life," Nared said. "I wouldn't change a thing. I think I learned a lot. Definitely, grew here. It was a blessing to be able to play here under the tradition and this team. "

Warlick had nothing but praise for Nared and Russell.

"They are two outstanding ladies who have grown up and matured. They have been great, great role models. I can't say enough about them. They took a chance on me, and we're going to miss them. And they're going to make an impact whether it's with basketball, personally. They're just quality kids."