Nov. 20, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- After playing three of its first four games on the road, picking up victories at top-25 foes Georgia Tech and Miami along the way, the Tennessee women's basketball team returns to the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena for a three-game home stand.
The Lady Vols, who have risen to No. 20 this week in the Associated Press Poll and to No. 15 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, return to action at 2 p.m. on Sunday, as Alcorn State comes to town with an 0-3 record to begin the welcomed spree of contests at Rocky Top.
Middle Tennessee, receiving votes in both polls, is up next on Nov. 28 at 7 p.m., followed by No. 25/NR North Carolina at 1 p.m. on Dec. 2. The tilt vs. UNC will be UT's first televised game of the season, with SportSouth and FOX Sports Tennessee carrying the game regionally and MyVLT broadcasting locally.
After stubbing its toe in the season opener at Chattanooga, UT has bounced back to win its last three matchups, and those wins on the road vs. ranked teams have done wonders for the team's outlook, according to sophomore forward Cierra Burdick.
"I definitely think we're feeling pretty good," Burdick said. "Obviously, we don't want to settle by any means, but I think our confidence has been boosted a bit. We've gotten two great road wins. It does help. It's good to know that our practice and hard work have paid off.
"Those were big-time wins. Georgia Tech is a great team, Miami is a great team. Both of them are extremely physical, extremely fast. Just to go and play in their house and get the win is big-time for us."
Now Tennessee has a chance to try and build some momentum on its own court, with a former Lady Vol bringing her squad to Knoxville. Alcorn State is coached by Tonya Edwards, who played at Tennessee from 1986-90 and helped the Big Orange win its first two NCAA titles in 1987 and 1989.
"I think when we look at the schedule and an opportunity for a team to come and play us, we always try and see what former Lady Vols are out there. Tonya expressed an interest to come, so I am excited that she is coming back and playing at Tennessee and bringing her team.
"She brings back great memories. She was probably one of the first impact guards that we signed in a while and from the Detroit area. She made a difference in our team. Her athleticism, the way she played, how hard she played. As they called her `Ice,' she was smooth but she got things done. She helped us get the ball rolling."
For this year's team, improved ball security and effort on both ends of the floor have gotten things going in the right direction. Eliminating mistakes is a must, but Warlick is hoping to overcome early-season miscues with a focus on all-out effort.
"I will tell you this," Warlick said about her team. "They are competitive, they are young and they are going to make mistakes. As long as we keep playing hard and keep playing with the mindset that we have right now, I am pleased with it. We can make mental mistakes because of our youth, but I think we make up for that in hustle plays and just playing hard all of the time. That is what we are trying to get them to do, play hard, and get the hustle plays and that will make plays happen."
So far, that formula has led to tangible improvement en route to a 3-1 record through four contests. The next few games, however, will go a long way in terms of dictating the direction Tennessee's season is headed.
"They're huge," Warlick said of the upcoming contests on the schedule. "You have teams coming in and then you go and play Texas and then you play Baylor who is No. 3 and then come home and play Stanford who is No. 1, so it's a pretty easy stretch right there (Warlick chuckles). It is what it is.
"We have to really focus on Alcorn State, and Middle Tennessee is good. North Carolina too. We have to keep plugging along. We have these teams at home and you have to protect your home court. We have to make sure that we protect our home court and win all our games at home. If we can do that and get a couple on the road, I think we'll be in business."