Feb. 27, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Lady Vols welcome Texas A&M to Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday. The teams face off for the first time as SEC foes, as Tennessee tries to snare its 17th SEC regular season title outright in the 7 p.m. ET contest televised on Comcast Sports Southeast.
Balancing Act on Senior NightThursday's game marks the final regular season home game for seniors Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams. Emotions will run high for the duo and crowd, as the pair steps onto the court for the last time in regular-season competition.
"Slowly, but surely, I am realizing it," Williams said. "I try not to focus on it because I don't want to get too emotional. Texas A&M is a good team, and I am just trying to take it as it is today. Tomorrow is just another game."
"I think you have to be careful," Spani said. "You have to, obviously, at the beginning when you have your family out, and you know you go through the Senior Night, the whole thing, that's emotional. You have to find a way after. Once the ball goes up, it's a game and we understand what's on the line. We're just going to try to leave everything out there. It's going to be a balancing act. I think for myself and Kamiko, as well, we kind of feed off of that emotion and that energy. Hopefully we just channel it in the right direction."
"My plan is that she (Spani) won't look at me so I can stay focused," Williams said. "I can't get emotional, because if I do I will be a wreck. I am going to tell her to stay in her box and I will stay in mine. We can get this W, then we can cry and do all that after the game."
For four years, the pair has donned the Orange and White and it has held special meaning to each of them. The duo has been through some of the toughest times in Tennessee women's basketball history.
"I don't think that I could honestly ever put it into words what it's meant to me," Spani said. "It's been so special. I just feel so blessed and honored to be able to be under Pat for three years and now Holly and to be a part of this. It's more than tradition, it's more than family. It's something that's really special to me. You know I'll miss it, for sure."
"You recruit kids, but they do not always get along," head coach Holly Warlick said. "There are different personalities, there are different makeups, but I think as they both matured, they both were injured, they understood their love for the game. I think it drew them closer now that they are the two lone seniors. I think that has given them a tremendous bond as well."
The duo will be recognized in an on-court ceremony prior to tipoff. Fans are encouraged to be in their seats 20 minutes prior to the start of the game.
"Both have done a phenomenal job leading on and off the court," Warlick said. "That is what seniors are supposed to do. They are supposed to lead, and they have led by example. I am very proud of them."
SEC Title on the LineThe young Lady Vol squad was picked to finish fifth in the SEC by the coaches in the preseason poll. But in true Tennessee fashion, the team has battled its way to prove others wrong, as the Lady Vols already have clinched a share of the SEC regular season title. Many were skeptical of the team's potential for success.
"Before we got on the floor, no, just because of our youth," Warlick said. "I think when you get around practice and you see them develop and you see them grow, I now understand where we are. We made a commitment to work every day in practice. Now I think you are seeing the results of starting off a young team and now a more mature, experienced team."
The Lady Vols head into Thursday's contest 13-1 in the SEC, the lone team atop the standings. A victory over the Aggies would guarantee UT shares the title with no one. "We didn't really try to focus on the outside, what everyone else was saying," Spani said. "We really believed in our team and what we could do this year. You know it's not done by any stretch of the imagination, but it's exciting that we have the opportunity. We've put ourselves in a place where we want to be. Where we can win it on our home court, outright, and you know that's special in front of our own fans."
"On top of everything, it would mean a lot," Williams said. "Coming from a place where people don't think or expect much from you and you can prove them wrong, that always feels good to me. I feel like I can speak for the team on that, too."
An SEC title would hold a strong and special meaning for this year's squad, who have worked through adversity and striven for the crown not just for themselves, but for Coach Warlick as well.
"Holly has been here and under Pat so she knows what it takes to win," Williams said. "For her to finally be the head coach and lead us the right way, I know that is going to mean a lot to her. It would mean a lot to us doing it for her."
"It would be special," Spani said. "I think the word that myself and Kamiko used at the beginning of this year was that we wanted to leave a legacy. And it was amazing because we were part of Pat's last team and part of Holly's first team. We didn't look at it as a rebuilding year. We wanted Holly to start her career coaching wise, head coaching wise, off on a great foot. We have the opportunity to take that first step with the regular season SEC Championship and then we'll look at the tournaments after that. But we've got that first step tomorrow night and that's exciting."