Lady Vols' defensive stopper providing boost on offense
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee guard Andraya Carter wants to be known as more than a defensive stopper.
Carter, who leads the Southeastern Conference with 2.8 steals per game, has averaged a team-high 17.5 points in the Lady Volunteers' two league games after scoring just six points per game during their nonconference schedule.
The 5-foot-9 sophomore will try to maintain her momentum Thursday as No. 7 Tennessee (12-2, 2-0 SEC) hosts No. 9 Texas A&M (14-2, 2-0). Carter continues focusing primarily on defense and hustle, but she realizes the importance of contributing on both ends of the floor.
"No matter how I'm shooting the ball and what my offense is like, I'm going to bring those elements (defense and hustle) to the game as my role, but I definitely want to be more of a threat on offense," Carter said. "I think that helps the team. I think that helps us get going. I definitely want to be more of a complete player."
She's been that type of player lately.
Carter had scored a total of 10 points in the five games leading up to Tennessee's SEC opener, though her defense kept her in the starting lineup. She ended the slump with 16 points Friday in a 63-53 victory over Missouri and followed that up three days later with a career-high 19 points in a 57-49 triumph at Vanderbilt.
She credited her coaches and teammates for encouraging her while she was struggling.
"We know Draya's a great shooter," senior forward Cierra Burdick said. "We know she's athletic out of this world. She can get to the basket, she's got a quick first step and she's strong. She just had to build her confidence up."
Carter said she also benefited from mechanical adjustments to her shot that included "just the ball leaving my index finger last, having my elbow in, being more on balance."
Her emergence has helped Tennessee withstand the recent foul trouble of senior center Isabelle Harrison, who has scored a total of five points in the Lady Vols' last two games. Carter says opponents have concentrated on slowing down Harrison and junior forward Bashaara Graves.
"To stop the Lady Vols, I think they believe you have to stop them first," Carter said. "It's kind of up to the guards to really move the ball, get ball movement, player movement and really just know the difference between a good shot or a timely shot and a bad shot."
Carter has improved her offense without sacrificing her defense. Tennessee has allowed only one opponent to exceed 53 points during its eight-game winning streak.
"She's our best defender and we need her in there," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "She creates things. She creates steals. She creates havoc."
Carter also has plenty of poise, which was in full display Wednesday as she talked to reporters while her pet ball python was wrapped around her. Carter received the snake as a gift after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery two years ago. She named the snake "Nothing," after a character in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," a book she read often while growing up.
"I've always loved snakes," Carter said. "I had them when I was little, and I did want one, but I didn't know I was getting him. It was a pleasant surprise."