KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Lady Vols are in a tailspin.
A lack of scoring and cohesiveness has Holly Warlick's squad tumbling down the rankings. And if they're going to correct the problems, the fix will have to start in Tennessee's first road game of the season Friday at Wichita State (1-5).
After opening the season ranked fourth in the nation, Tennessee has fallen to 16th, its lowest position in the Top 25 since November 2012.
"We'll get better," Warlick said. "I think we've gotten better with practice this week. I'm not by any means giving up on them. They're great kids and they're working hard. We've just got to transfer what we're doing in practice into the game situation."
Tennessee (6-2) has dropped two of its last three games, including a stunning 57-43 loss to unranked Virginia Tech. The Lady Vols posted their lowest single-game point total since former coach Pat Summitt took over the program in 1974.
"We have to be able to put an entire game together, and then we have to be able to put a string of games together," guard Andraya Carter said after the Virginia Tech game. "That's what the great teams do. We're just not there yet. It is disappointing because we are underachieving."
The numbers support Carter's assessment of the team.
The Lady Vols are averaging just 67 points per game to rank 12th out of 14 Southeastern Conference teams. Since Summitt's arrival in 1974, Tennessee never has finished a season scoring fewer than 69.3 points per game. Tennessee is shooting 23.9 percent from 3-point range to rank 314th out of 344 Division I teams, making the Lady Vols susceptible to the zone defenses they've frequently encountered.
Tennessee anticipated it could need some time to develop chemistry on the floor after experiencing plenty of offseason turnover.
The Lady Vols lost Cierra Burdick, Isabelle Harrison and Ariel Massengale, who combined for 227 career starts. Three of Tennessee's top four scorers — Diamond DeShields, Mercedes Russell and Te'a Cooper — didn't play for the Lady Vols last season. DeShields, a North Carolina transfer, didn't practice much before the season as she recovered from shin splints.
Injuries to forward Jasmine Jones (head), Kortney Dunbar (ankle), Alexa Middelton (ankle), Nia Moore (ribs) and Jaime Nared (hand) left Tennessee with only seven healthy players against Virginia Tech. Warlick said Dunbar is the only player in that group who could be back Friday.
All that transition has left Tennessee seeking someone to take charge.
"We need an emotional leader, when things are going back, to just reach down and build us up," Warlick said. "I think that's a learning process."
Tennessee has been here before, so there's no panic — yet.
The Lady Vols were 4-2 and ranked 14th last year after dropping consecutive games to Chattanooga and Texas, but they went on to finish 30-6.
But this team hasn't looked very impressive even in its victories. Tennessee beat Penn State, Syracuse, Chattanooga and Albany by a combined margin of 20 points. The No. 19 Orange is the only ranked team in that group.
Warlick has looked for ways to fire this group up.
When the Lady Vols struggled in the first half against East Tennessee State last week, Warlick shouted through a timeout and remained silent the rest of the game. Tennessee responded by rolling to an 85-49 victory that night but lost to Virginia Tech in its next game.
This week, former Lady Vols players Tamika Catchings, Alexis Hornbuckle and Glory Johnson attended a practice. Catchings, a former WNBA MVP and a member of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team, also spoke to the Lady Vols.
Warlick said the players are eager to get better.
"Usually (with) kids, watching film is not their forte," Warlick said. "They've wanted to get in and watch tape. They've gotten extra shots. I've watched extra film with kids. I think now that finals are over, the understanding (is that) we've really got to bring it in practice a lot more than we have been.
"I think they understand what's at stake and what we need to get done. It's a matter of going out and doing it."