Defense and rebounding.
Two areas in the game of basketball the Lady Vols program has prided itself on. Through four games, things are no different for the 2013-14 Lady Vols.
During No. 3 Tennessee's 4-0 start, the Lady Vols have proven their emphasis on the defensive end over the summer and preseason has paid off.
At times, the Lady Vols have needed to take a step back and play looser due to an increased emphasis by officials on calling hand checks, but they still have managed to frustrate opponents and prevent them from finding a groove on offense.
So far this season, no team has shot better than 35 percent from the field against the Lady Vols. In fact, their four opponents – MTSU, North Carolina, Chattanooga and Georgia Tech – have only managed to scrape out a .315 shooting percentage.
Junior forward Cierra Burdick's prowess on the defensive end of the ball boosted her team this Sunday in its win over Georgia Tech. In the second half of the game, she was challenged by her head coach to hinder the scoring ability of Yellow Jacket freshman guard Kaela Davis.
She answered the call.
In the last 11 minutes of play, she held the former Lady Vol commitment to three points and denied her from any open looks.
"I think Holly and the team and our coaching staff was really proud of the way I defended Kaela Davis," Burdick said. "She had 25 points early and she got hot so they put me on her to face guard. I appreciate them for having the confidence in me to do so knowing I can go out there and get those stops we needed."
What has also stuck out on paper this season so far is the rebounding numbers that second-year head coach Holly Warlick's team has put up.
On average, the Lady Vols have outrebounded their opponents 52.5 to 39.8, and their 65 total team rebounds against Georgia Tech this past Sunday was the program's fifth highest total for a single game.
Unlike any other team in Division-I women's basketball, this season the Lady Vols feature three girls in the frontcourt that average nine or more rebounds a game: Isabelle Harrison (9.25); Bashaara Graves (9.25); and Burdick (9.00).
"We take a lot of pride in the rebounding aspect of things," said Warlick. "I hope it is an example of Tennessee basketball that we are carrying. We've always been a great rebounding team and people are seeing the results of us emphasizing it."
While the team hasn't been overly excited with their performance on the offensive end, where they have still managed to score 78.7 points per game despite shooting just .407 percent from the field this season, they believe that can be counter attack with their ability to haul in offensive rebounds.
"Second chance points give you the chance to erase if you missed a shot," Warlick said. "I don't worry so much about missing the shot as if we don't get on the boards and finish the plays. Our team understands the importance of getting second chance points."
Burdick has been one of those to struggle with her shot in the early going, as the 43 percent career shooter is shooting just .231 percent (9-of-39) from the field this season.
Despite this being the first time in her career she has struggled to hit the shots she normally makes in games, Burdick said she believes she can overcome the sluggish start on the offensive end.
However, the success of the team remains her top priority.
"It helps me in a sense to know that I'm contributing to my team," Burdick said. "Even when my shot isn't falling the biggest thing is that I'm helping my team get this win. We are undefeated right now and I can't get upset of be too down.
"At the end of the day it's not about Cierra Burdick's shots falling, it's about us winning a national championship and winning ball games."