Lady Vols return to SEC action

Ariel Massengale

The Lady Vols are back in SEC action tonight when they host Mississippi State. Go inside with InsideTennessee to get ready for the game.

No. 9/10 Tennessee (16-4, 7-0) will tangle Thursday with Mississippi State (9-11, 1-6) at 7 p.m. Eastern (TV: CSS) at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Bulldogs are coming off their first conference win of the season over in-state rival Ole Miss. The Lady Vols are trying to stay perfect in the SEC and put the disappointing loss on Monday to Notre Dame behind them.

"You've got to bounce back," Tennessee point guard Ariel Massengale said.

The team watched film of the loss to the Irish and one thing stood out considerably to the players.

"We missed a lot of layups," Massengale said.

Massengale had nine assists and would have easily reached double figures with a few more makes as she delivered the ball to players at the rim. That gave her 91 assists on the season to just 49 turnovers while averaging 30.0 minutes per game.

Her minutes have inched upwards since December when Andraya Carter's season was ended by shoulder surgery. Massengale's primary relief comes from senior Kamiko Williams, who has 52 assists to just 14 turnovers on the season.

The Lady Vols are now down yet another player with Isabelle Harrison in need of surgery because of an injury to the lateral meniscus in her left knee. The injury occurred in the first half of the Notre Dame on an attempted left-handed layup. Harrison needed assistance leaving the court and didn't return to the game.

The sophomore center was examined Wednesday by Dr. Greg Mathien, and an operation will be performed Friday. That surgery will help to determine the expected recovery time.

Sophomore forward Cierra Burdick, who broke her hand on Dec. 31, was back at practice under limits on Wednesday. She lofted shots in the paint and did some ball-handling drills in her first court action since the injury to the back of her right hand.

Burdick can play inside or on the perimeter, but her return to game action is more likely to be Sunday when Tennessee plays at Missouri.

Freshman forward Jasmine Jones is likely to move into the starting lineup, and freshman center Nia Moore, who has logged minutes in 12 games this season, will have to back up both post spots.

"She's going to be thrown in the fire early," Coach Holly Warlick said. "I think Nia is very capable. The more practice time she has, the more game experience she has will help her.

"But when you've been playing behind Bashaara and you've been playing behind Izzy, your playing time has been limited. But I think Nia is very capable of stepping up and helping us."

Moore will have to do so, because Bashaara Graves will need some help. The precocious freshman is the team's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, and she logged 40 minutes against Notre Dame. With a month left in the regular season and the SEC title in the balance, Graves will need some relief.

Moore and Jones, though newcomers like Graves, are the top candidates to provide it. Both have started one game this season when Warlick shook up the starting lineup for the Davidson game after a desultory effort against Stanford.

Graves was one of the few regulars left in the lineup for that game, and she endorsed her fellow freshmen Wednesday in what also sounded like a pep talk.

"Nia has been getting stronger," Graves said. "A couple of times when I guarded her, she knocked me (back) a couple of times. She is getting ready to get those minutes. She deserves it.

"Jasmine, she has been playing awesome defense. If she has to move to the post position more, she'll tackle that."

Graves is uncommonly mature for a freshman and has been consistent all season with eight double-doubles. Like Massengale she averages 30.0 minutes a game, a heavy workload for a freshman post.

Graves was very aware of the number of missed layups against Notre Dame. Her shooting line of 5-17 remained on her mind Wednesday.

"Last game, even though I had 19 points, I felt nothing because I missed a lot of easy shots," Graves said. "I just look at myself as being more of a leader now, especially with people going down. Even though I am freshman I know I have to still be out there and play like I'm an upperclassman, especially in the post game.

"Izzy is a great player, so if Izzy goes down I know I need to take over the post, keep working inside and keep adjusting to how people play us."

Graves' remarks came before practice when Harrison's status wasn't yet known. Harrison arrived on crutches after practice had started and got sideline rehab with her knee encased in ice. The announcement that she needed surgery came Wednesday evening.

Massengale can relate to a freshman shouldering a lot of responsibility. She did the same thing a season ago.

"I wasn't looked at as a freshman," Massengale said. "This year I haven't been looked at as a sophomore at all. When you have such high expectations you kind of forget about it."

Massengale's voice is the one heard most on the court whether she is imploring a teammate to get her the outlet pass so she can scoot down court or she is quietly talking to a teammate. During stoppages in play Monday, Massengale would lean in to chat with Meighan Simmons, who was struggling offensively.

"I just keep talking to her," Massengale said. "You've got to keep talking to her. As a point guard and her teammate, you've got to help her, set screens for her, run plays for her and help her get easy and open shots."

Besides the mixed shots in the paint, another thing stood out during the team's film study of Monday's loss.

"Sometimes it's not going to fall for you," Massengale said. "But that is when you've got to dig down even deeper on defense and play that much harder. We had some lapses on that end of the floor a few times when we needed some key stops Monday night.

"You learn from it, and we're focusing now on the SEC and trying to go undefeated in that."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5-6 sophomore guard, No. 5, hails from Bolingbrook, Ill. (8.3 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game, 4.5 assists per game); Meighan Simmons, 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas (17.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Taber Spani, 6-1 senior forward, No. 13, hails from Lee's Summit, Mo. (9.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg); Jasmine Jones, 6-2 freshman forward, No. 2, hails from Madison, Ala. (5.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg); and Bashaara Graves, 6-2 freshman forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (14.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg).

Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer is expected to start: Katia May, 5-2 junior guard, No. 11 (5.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.5 apg), hails from York, Ala., tallied six assists in the win over Ole Miss, won a 3A state title in high school; Kendra Grant, 5-11 sophomore guard, No. 14 (12.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg), hails from Richland, Miss., tallied 20 points against Ole Miss, started all 30 games as a freshman last season, also ran track and cross country in high school; Darriel Gaynor, 5-6 senior guard, No. 2 (4.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg), hails from Las Vegas, Nev., grabbed two boards and recorded a steal vs. Ole Miss, played at Oregon and Trinity Valley Community College before heading to Starkville; Carnecia Williams, 6-3 redshirt sophomore forward, No. 23 (8.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), hails from Memphis, Tenn., tallied 11 points against Ole Miss, played for White Station High School; and Martha Alwal, 6-4 sophomore center, No. 10 (12.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg), hails from Worthington, Minn., put up double-double vs. Ole Miss with 23 points, 12 boards, tied for league lead in rebounds at 9.7 per game and averages 2.3 blocks, named to the SEC All-Freshman Team last season, swatted 82 shots as a freshman, was standout volleyball player in high school.

"You're going to play a Top 10 team on the road," said Schaefer, a longtime assistant under Gary Blair, the architect of his defenses and now in his first season at Mississippi State. "Holly and her staff are doing a great job coaching that team and getting them to play hard. You don't see any drop off from them.

"You have to go in there with the mindset that you have to cut down turnovers, get a good shot and keep them from getting second and third shots. We are going to have to take care of the ball and be the aggressor, attacking pressure with pressure."

LADY VOL LEGENDS: When Tamika Catchings walked into shoot-around on Monday, Bashaara Graves didn't hold back her reaction.

"I cried," Graves said. "It's Tamika Catchings. I wasn't expecting her to just walk into the gym. I was shooting free throws and I turned around and she was there.

"I didn't think I was going to cry, but I did. It was crazy."

Freshman Andraya Carter has a similar reaction and joked via social media that she and Graves had lost "our thug status a little bit" with the waterworks.

Catchings and fellow All-Americans Chamique Holdsclaw and Candace Parker sat on sideline seats near center court and became enthusiastic fans.

"It was hard not to notice them. I am in the place they were in when they played here," Graves said, sounding two days later as if she were still in awe. "It was amazing for them to be here. They gave us a lot of advice before the game, after the game.

"It was great for us to have them him. Candace practiced with us the day before. It was nice."

Ariel Massengale wanted to know exactly where the former players would be during the game.

"I asked them before the game where they were sitting and they were encouraging us and coaching us up all throughout the game," Massengale said.

It underscored the long orange line and how a current Lady Vol sophomore connects to a legendary past.

"It is definitely a family here," Massengale said. "It is great when they come back. They tell us stories about what they went through while they went here, the things coach Summitt did for them and how she impacted their lives.

"It's just a great opportunity and a blessing to be here and to be able to wear orange."

ON TAP: Ten other SEC teams are in action tonight. The other matchups are LSU at Auburn, Alabama at Georgia; Arkansas at Ole Miss; Florida at Missouri; and Vanderbilt at Texas A&M. Kentucky and South Carolina are idle.

GAME NOTES

Tennessee leads the series with Mississippi State, 33-0. The Lady Vols are 14-0 in Knoxville. … The city of Clarksville, Tenn., will be well represented tonight. Bashaara Graves, who played for Clarksville High School, and Kamiko Williams, who played for Northeast High School, suit up for Tennessee. Jessy Ward, a freshman guard who played with Bashaara in high school, suits up for Mississippi State.

INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE

Wednesday practice clips

Holly Warlick

Ariel Massengale

Taber Spani

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