Lady Vols to host Vandy this weekend

The Lady Vols will host Vanderbilt on Sunday as part of "Rivalry Week." Go inside with InsideTennessee to get ready for the game.

No. 12/10 Tennessee (19-5, 10-1) takes on Vanderbilt (16-8, 6-5) at 5 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPN2) at Thompson-Boling Arena as part of the network's "Rivalry Week" promotion.

The Lady Vols and the Commodores certainly qualify as the two Tennessee schools share a state, a conference and a bitter rivalry.

Both teams have personnel changes since Tennessee's 83-75 win in Nashville on Jan. 24.

Post Isabelle Harrison, who had nine boards in the first game, is out for the rematch to recover from a torn meniscus in her left knee. Forward Cierra Burdick missed that game with a broken hand but has since returned for Tennessee.

Guard Christina Foggie, who scored 22 points for Vanderbilt against Tennessee, injured her knee last Sunday and will be out seven to 10 days and then will be reevaluated to see if she can return this season. That announcement was made Wednesday by Vanderbilt.

In addition, guard Kady Schrann, who scored 14 points for Vandy in the first game, is day to day with an ankle injury. She didn't play Thursday in Vanderbilt's 62-46 win over Missouri.

Tennessee's Kamiko Williams is recovering from a severe right ankle sprain of nearly two weeks ago that hasn't caused the senior guard to miss any games. She isn't 100 percent yet, but she has been able to take the court. Williams was 3-4 in the first game against Vandy for six points and also grabbed three boards.

Williams, in the absence of Harrison, has made a concerted effort to get on the glass. She had six boards against Missouri in the first half before leaving with the injury, six against LSU on a tender ankle and four against Ole Miss.

With her leaping ability, the Lady Vols also can post up the 5-11 Williams inside, which she did against Ole Miss, alongside fellow senior Taber Spani, whose 6-1 frame allows her to challenge forwards in the paint.

The two seniors have synergy on the court and are enjoying their time together.

In the past two home games, Williams delivered a perfect bounce bass to Spani in transition and when she converted the layup, Spani looked at her classmate and smiled and while Williams did a little shimmy at center court. A pass and converted three from Spani brought smiles to both of their faces in another game.

"We are just enjoying it," Williams said. "On the floor it's flowing and it's nice to see the only two seniors having moments like that. I am going to cherish it."

Spani has said that Williams, whose junior season was truncated by recovery from an ACL injury, still has time to make an impact at Tennessee, and the guard's play of late certainly underscores that sentiment.

Williams smiled when the question was put to her.

"I do and I try to every game," Williams said. "Hopefully, I can continue on the path that I'm going. I am going to go out there and just play. Just let it flow."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5-6 sophomore guard, No. 5, hails from Bolingbrook, Ill. (8.2 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game, 4.6 assists per game); Meighan Simmons, 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas (17.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Taber Spani, 6-1 senior forward, No. 13, hails from Lee's Summit, Mo. (9.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg); Cierra Burdick 6-2 sophomore forward, hails from Charlotte, N.C. (7.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg); and Bashaara Graves, 6-2 freshman forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (14.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg).

Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb is expected to start: Jasmine Lister, 5-4 junior guard, No. 11, hails from Corona, Calif. (11.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.7 apg ); Elan Brown 6-0 senior guard, No. 30, hails from Atlanta, Ga. (6.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Gabby Smith, 5-10 senior guard, No. 32, hails from Cincinnati, Ohio (2.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg); Heather Bowe, 6-0 freshman forward, No. 3, hails from Eau Claire, Wisc. (6.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg); and Tiffany Clarke, 6-0 senior forward, No. 34, hails from Duluth, Ga. (15.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg).

ON POINT: Ariel Massengale knows what she is looking for on film – miscues.

"I always look at my turnovers to see what I did and what I could have done better," the sophomore point guard said.

Massengale leads the team with 110 assists. The next closest is Kamiko Williams with 65 helpers. Massengale averages 30.4 minutes a game and is second on the team with 62 turnovers – Meighan Simmons leads at 66 miscues and leads in minutes played at 31.8 per game – and she goes to the film to determine what went wrong.

Typically, Massengale will see an errant pass where a shot would have been a better decision.

"I have to stop predetermining things," Massengale said. "I know a lot of teams are playing me for the pass. Coach (Kyra) Elzy and Coach (Jolette) Law are constantly reminding me that I have to be aggressive and if I go and get one or two layups, then that opens up the passing lanes for me.

"Being a point guard your main thing is you want to get your teammates involved and put them in the best position to score."

Both of those scenarios played out against LSU in a game in which the Lady Vols had to come from behind in the game's final minutes.

LSU blanketed Simmons and was not allowing her to touch the ball in the closing minutes. Massengale drove and when her defender dropped back, anticipating a foray to the rim, Massengale stepped back and drained the wing jumper to pull the Lady Vols within one point.

"Just being aggressive and knowing so many teams are used to me passing the ball," Massengale said. "Shots like that are going to be open for me and I have to take advantage of them."

On Tennessee's second possession after that play, with LSU still clinging to a lead and Simmons still suffocated by the defense, Massengale had the ball in her hand on the wing. This time, her defender came out on her. Massengale responded with a drive.

She headed to the rim and was met by two post players on the left side of the paint That left Bashaara Graves open on the right side. So Massengale delivered a bounce pass around the posts, and Graves' layup pulled the Lady Vols to within one again in a game they went on to win by two points on another Graves layup.

"I know they stopped me and it was both of their post players," said Massengale, who was dwarfed by the pair as they converged on her. "I bounced it because I knew Bashaara was open.

"I hit the jump shot first and now they're playing me to score and that possession I was able to beat my defender and find an open teammate so finding that balance is what I am working on now."

Massengale slid to the floor after the pass – she looked like a quarterback getting down to avoid being hit – but that wasn't by design.

Massengale had been called for a charge on an earlier possession – it was a very questionable whistle – but being whistled again wasn't on her mind.

"Post players don't usually take charges. I knew they weren't going to do that," Massengale said.

In this case, it just happened. And Massengale has noted it happens too much to her. She would prefer to stay on her feet.

"I am always on the ground and I might as well be on the janitorial service because I just fall so much during the game," she said, referring to her uniform cleaning the court.

"I think that is just a habit. I try my best to stay on my feet, but sometimes it doesn't always work that way."

Massengale is steady with the ball in her hand – her ability to both run and settle down the team have been critical at times this season – and she turned a corner after Christmas when Holly Warlick told the sophomore that she couldn't rely on her. Massengale had come off two tough games against Baylor and Stanford, when Warlick delivered her assessment.

"I tried to look at it as motivation," Massengale said. "I didn't play up to my potential and I didn't lead this team the way I am capable of doing.

"Having coach say that it just makes you want to go out there and work that much harder and in a sense, not prove her wrong, but prove her wrong to let her know you are capable of doing what she needs me to do."

Warlick has been effusive in her praise of Massengale in 2013, and the former Lady Vol point guard can appreciate the challenges of the position. She is also allowing Massengale to make her own calls based on what she sees on the court.

"I feel like I have stepped up to the plate," Massengale said. "We've had a lot of conversations, and she is letting me be a little more in control of the offense.

"If I see something I think may be open she is willing to let me make that play call that possession on the court. She says, ‘Rel, you're the point guard. Call it.' "

ON TAP: Ten other SEC teams are in action Sunday in the following matchups: Alabama at Auburn; Missouri at Arkansas; Georgia at Florida; LSU at Mississippi State; and South Carolina at Ole Miss.

Kentucky plays at Texas A&M on Monday.

Tennessee and Texas A&M are in a tie for first place in the SEC at 10-1. Kentucky is in second place at 10-2.

The Lady Vols still have to play both teams with Texas A&M coming to Knoxville on Feb. 28 and Tennessee traveling to Kentucky to end the regular season on March 3.


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