Dec. 13, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Big Orange hits the road this weekend as the team travels to the Lone Star State to take on Texas and Baylor. The past 10 days away from competition have served as time for improvement and rest for the Lady Vols.
CRUNCH TIME IN THE BOOKS
Along with basketball, the Lady Vols take academics seriously. Under Pat Summitt's tutelage, Tennessee boasted a 100 percent graduation rate for every Lady Vol that exhausted her eligibility. Head coach Holly Warlick is adamant about keeping that standard.
"We take academics very seriously so I hope it shows in the results we're going to see after this semester," head coach Holly Warlick said. "We have to get it done in the classroom, and we'll make sure we get it done on the court."
The two-week break for the team also served as time the players could devote to studying for finals.
"We have five people that this is the first time they're going through this," Taber Spani said. "I know that they were feeling a little stressed the past couple weeks. It's a great burden off their back so now they can just focus strictly on basketball. It's a great relief for them."
"As you know Coach Summitt had a graduation rate of 100 percent, and we're trying to keep that going," Ariel Massengale said. "As much as we love being on the court and playing, we're here to get a degree and an education first.
"It's been very difficult, especially telling the young ones just to stay focused and try to finish up strong. Basketball may be tough, but allow basketball to be your outlet from school where you can go for two hours and not think about school and just have fun."
TWO WEEK NOTICE
Over the course of the last 10 days, the Lady Vols have honed in on their defensive skills.
"We've worked a lot on scouting defense and how we want to play these next two opponents," Spani said. "They kind of play differently and obviously we're focused on Texas right now, just working on our transition defense, matching up and a lot on rebounding, especially keeping them off the offensive glass because that's what they love to do. We kind of got burned a little against North Carolina, because they're so athletic and they got us a few times."
"Our defense has gotten better," Massengale said. "Our boxing out and rebounding. And just our mental toughness. We've had some tough practices. Having to go through that and exams at the same time, it shows a lot about our team."
Along with amping up the squad's defense, the break has served as a time to let the team rest.
"We've gotten better," Spani said. "We've allowed our bodies to rest a little bit and focus on academics. Now it's just kind of go time and we're excited about it. Everyone is really focused."
TEXAS TWO STEP
The Big Orange's preparation will come to life this weekend as the team faces two more ranked opponents. Texas and Baylor will be UT's fourth and fifth top-25 opponents of 2012-12.
"We respect Texas a lot and we've known them pretty well playing them for the last three years or so," Spani said. "Great talent and great scoring ability and really athletic so we're excited about it. "
After playing the Longhorns, the Lady Vols travel to Waco to take on the Lady Bears.
"Everyone knows Baylor is probably the number one team in the country even though they're ranking is number three," Spani said. "Everyone knows it. They're very, very good. We're just going to have to be us. We're just going to have to be who we are, and shoot the ball well and dictate the pace to the tempo we want them to play at. It'll be a fun matchup."
"Brittney Griner, she is who she is," Warlick said. "She's going to get her points. My concern is not only defending Griner, but stopping Odyssey Sims. I think she's the best point guard in the country. She leads that team. She's a great defender, great scorer, tremendous passer. I think we've got to make sure we contain her and not let her go off. Brittney Griner is going to get her points, that's understandable. We're going to defend her but we need to makes sure we really take care of Odyssey Sims and limit her touches."
After getting a fill of Texas, Tennessee returns home to face top-ranked Stanford. The Lady Vols are using the opportunity to make a statement about the program.
"I don't think you've ever arrived in this game," Spani said. "Honestly, Texas, Baylor, Stanford they couldn't care less if we've beaten three ranked teams or three ACC teams. These next three games are huge statement games for us. Kind of show us where we are, and at this point in the season where we stack up with some of the best teams in the country. This is a crucial three game stretch for us."
"They're huge," Massengale said. "We've been saying how it can put us back in the national championship run talk again, because we haven't been there for awhile. It's good for the program. That's why you come to Tennessee and play, to play against the best.
"I think you get that every time you step on the court, just to see where you challenge up against the rest of the country. It's great for us to be such a young team, it's a good experience for all of us. I think we're all looking forward to it. This year, we're kind of like the underdog in a lot of situations. Therefore we go out there and we have nothing to lose, and just play hard for forty minutes."
CARTER OUT FOR SEASON
While meeting with the media before practice on Wednesday, Warlick announced that freshman guard Andraya Carter would be having surgery on Thursday to address instability in her right shoulder. Carter is expected to be out for the rest of the season.
"She made that decision and we're behind her," Warlick said. "I think it's the best decision. I didn't tell her one way or the other, I wanted them to make the decision. I hate it for her. She was having a great year, but we'll have her back for four years."
The 5-9 rookie from Flowery Branch, Ga., played in all seven of Tennessee's games this season, starting five. She was averaging 5.3 points, 1.9 assists, 1.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 20.6 minutes per contest for the No. 13/12 Lady Vols.
Carter suffered a shoulder injury last season at Buford High School and reinjured her shoulder in Tennessee's game at Miami (Fla.) on Nov. 18. She hurt the shoulder again vs. Middle Tennessee State on Nov. 28 and aggravated the injury on Dec. 2 vs. North Carolina.
Tennessee will apply for a hardship waiver after the season for Carter. She is expected to meet the requirement (playing less than 30 percent of the team's contests) and would still have four years of eligibility remaining if the waiver is granted.
PHILLIPS BACK AT PRACTICE
Sophomore guard Jasmine Phillips, who has not been working with the team since just before the Middle Tennessee game on Nov. 28, returned to practice on Wednesday. Warlick held the 5-10 Phillips out of workouts and both the Middle Tennessee and North Carolina games, requiring the Hartsville, S.C., native to make a stronger commitment to her academic work.
Phillips is expected to travel to the Lone Star State this weekend, as the Lady Vols take on Texas and Baylor. Warlick, however, said Phillips will not play.