Jan. 22, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Lady Vols will travel west on I-40 as they take on Vanderbilt Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. Ninth-ranked Tennessee enters the contest undefeated in the SEC at 6-0 while Vanderbilt, who is receiving votes in both polls, is 3-2 in league play.
HARRISON'S HOMECOMINGThe Tennessee-Vanderbilt rivalry is more than just that to Nashville native and daughter of a former Vanderbilt football player, Isabelle Harrison.
Harrison's father, Dennis, played for the Commodores from 1974 to 1977, picking up a first-team All-SEC selection his senior year. Because of her family history, Vanderbilt has a special meaning to her. Harrison's father didn't have any hard feelings for her coming to UT, however. She said "he understood."
Harrison, as well as her teammates, knows that Thursday's matchup will be nothing short of hostile.
"We just have to play under control," junior Meighan Simmons said. "[We] need to come in poised and patient. [We can't] let the fans or anyone else get to you."
Simmons says they need to bring a "bulldog defense" that was put into place in the Pat Summitt era in regards to defense and rebounding.
"We just [need to] take one game at a time, and make sure we stay focused," Simmons said. "Start doing the little things early on in the game and take care of business. We [have to] make sure we all know our roles on the court."
That `focus' that Simmons knows is crucial for a win carries over into Coach Holly Warlick's coaching style as her team looks to improve to 7-0 in the SEC.
"We're focusing on SEC opponents and playing Vanderbilt, which is a difficult task for us: a huge game for us," Warlick said. "I'm really concerned for Vanderbilt and their style of play."
Warlick said it was hard to lose to Vanderbilt the last time they visited Memorial Gymnasium. The Lady Vols lost 93-79 on Feburary 9, 2012.
"I'd prefer us to come out and play the way we're capable of playing," Warlick said.
As Harrison returns back home, her teammates have confidence that she can make those game-changing plays.
"I think [Harrison's] toughness, her confidence and understanding that everyone believes in her [will make her succeed]," senior Taber Spani said.
After their eight-game winning streak, this team is ready to bring back the Lady Vol fight to the other side of Tennessee and continue in their drive to be undefeated in the SEC.
AN UNORTHODOX ARENAOn Thursday night, the Lady Vols will head to Vanderbilt where many of them will truly experience Memorial Gymnasium for the first time.
The gym, built in 1952, is very different from most Division I facilities. This arena has its benches situated on the baseline and a playing court that sits above portions of the crowd, creating a tough place to play for visiting opponents.
And last season when the Lady Vols visited Nashville, the gym got the best of the team.
"You have to acknowledge that there's differences," said senior Taber Spani. "I think it's the only court in America like that. Also you can't focus too much on that. You have to look at it, it's still basketball. It's still a court. It's still the same intensity and atmosphere. We still have the same goals. You need to address it, but I don't think you need to harp on it too much."
"Going in this year, especially with young players, their gym is different, their fans are hostile," continued Spani. "This is a great rivalry game for us. Honestly, it's just about toughness and who wants it more on the defensive end and how tough can you be."
The Lady Vols defense sits at/near the top of the conference in the 2012-13 season. In SEC play the Lady Vols have allowed just 61.3 points per game holding their opponents to a .343 shooting percentage and .285 beyond the arc.
"We started SEC play with some really good defense in second halves of games," said Spani. "South Carolina, Georgia, were really good defensive spurts for us. We need to just do that for 40 minutes. Vandy has a ton of sets, they run them to perfection, we all know they are smart and can pick up stuff and run a lot of plays. We need to really be in tune on the defensive end on what we need to do and bring that defensive intensity right away."