Media Day in Oklahoma City

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Lady Vols met with the media and practiced Saturday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in preparation for the Sweet 16 matchup with Oklahoma. Go inside for story and video coverage.

Tennessee (26-7) takes on Oklahoma (24-10) on Sunday at 3:35 p.m. (TV: ESPN2) in the first game of the Oklahoma City Regional.

The second matchup features Baylor (34-1) and Louisville (26-8) with the winners to square off Tuesday evening for a Final Four berth in New Orleans.

Assistant coach Kyra Elzy handled the scout for the Sooner matchup and her assessment was concise and direct.

"We are going to have to pressure the ball for 40 minutes," Elzy said. "Make them play fast, take them out of rhythm offensively.

"For us, push the ball in transition, get back on the offensive glass and four to the boards. Pound the ball inside."

Both Tennessee and Oklahoma expect an up-tempo pace. The Lady Vols pour in 77.7 points per game, while the Sooners tally 73.0.

The difference is how they arrive at those points.

The Lady Vols have connected on 169 threes in 463 attempts. Meighan Simmons leads Tennessee with 64 makes.

The Sooners have connected on 267 threes in 714 attempts. Aaryn Ellenburg leads Oklahoma with 113 makes.

Tennessee can expect Simmons and Taber Spani to launch from long range. But a key shooter will be Ariel Massengale.

The sophomore point guard was 5-8 from the arc in the first two NCAA tourney games. She entered the postseason tourney with 28 makes over 31 games so five in two games was a significant increase in offensive production via the long ball.

"Ariel can score at will when she wants to," Elzy said. "I think right now she is playing extremely confident. It does help our offense. It spreads you out. People have to play us honest."

If Massengale presents herself as a long range threat - because she already will put the ball on the floor - it forces a defender out on her and opens up the court for those drives, where she can go to the rim or find a teammate.

Massengale's ability to manage a game and score when needed was part of the reason that Tennessee wanted her in orange. Then head coach Pat Summitt and then assistant coach Mickie DeMoss were watching a USA basketball game in France in the summer of 2010 and marveled at the way Massengale shifted from distributor to scorer.

That scoring mentality - or at least the threat of it - is what Tennessee needs in the Oklahoma City Regional from Massengale.

"I think it is definitely a different mindset," Massengale said. "They have been telling me all season long that you have to shoot the ball for us to be successful.

"I think I am finally starting to realize and understand that I can definitely be a passing point guard and get my teammates involved, but there are also times when I have to take shots."

Elzy has been one of the coaches in Massengale's ear that has encouraged her to shoot. But the assistant coach also knows that defense will be the difference maker on Sunday.

"From this point forward you are going to have to play defense," Elzy said. "You are going to have to stop somebody. Every team has a star. They have people that can score.

"It is going to be a matter of pride and getting out there and getting stops."

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, 2.6 rebounds per game, 4.5 assists per game); Kamiko Williams 5-11 senior guard, No. 4, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (7.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Meighan Simmons, 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas (17.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Taber Spani, 6-1 senior forward, No. 13, hails from Lee's Summit, Mo. (10.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg); and Bashaara Graves, 6-2 freshman forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (13.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg).

Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale is expected to start: Morgan Hook, 5-10 junior guard, No. 10 (10.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 5.4 apg), hails from Lowell, Ark., averaged 6.1 assists in Big 12 play, connects on 82.4 percent of free throws, her jersey was retired by Rogers High School, two-time Gatorade state player of year for Arkansas; Aaryn Ellenburg, 5-7 junior guard, No. 3 (18.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg), hails from Las Vegas, Nev., holds Oklahoma records for threes in a season with 113 and career at 282, ranks fourth in NCAA with 3.2 made treys per game, high school McDonald's All-American, also played softball; Sharane Campbell, 5-10 sophomore guard, No. 24 (9.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg), hails from Spencer, Okla., has averaged 14.9 points in Big 12 and NCAA postseason, has 25 steals in 24 games as a starter, played volleyball in high school and trombone in school band; Joanna McFarland, 6-3 senior forward, No. 53 (9.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg), hails from Derby, Kan., 10 double-doubles in Big 12 play second to Brittney Griner's 11, youngest of three sisters to play Big 12 basketball as Jackie played at Colorado, Jessica at Kansas State; and Nicole Griffin, 6-6 junior center, No. 4 (11.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg), hails from Milwaukee, Wis., tallest player in Sooner history, has 140 career blocks and 16 swats in last five games.

CLOSE TO HOME: By heading west, the Lady Vols got closer to Meighan Simmons' home state of Texas. The junior should have enough experience by now to balance basketball and family.

"We get our phones taken up the night before anyway," Simmons said. "I am not on social media. My family knows. They will wait until after the game to say something to me.

"I am out there to play basketball. I am not going out to impress anybody. Wave to my family in the beginning but when that final buzzer goes off, it's basketball."

It is not just family that can be in a player's ear during the game. At the Knoxville sub-regional a fan sitting behind press row kept yelling instructions to Simmons. The junior could hear the fan but had no idea who the person was.

"I hear a lot of things out there on the floor," Simmons said. "I don't focus on it. I just smile and keep going."

SOCIAL MEDIA: Twitter has changed sports, and Baylor coach Kim Mulkey mentioned the shifting landscape during her time with media Saturday.

Brittney Griner went to Twitter at halftime of Baylor's resounding win over Florida State to tweet about dunking in the second half. The tweet made ESPN's SportsCenter.

"The thing that happened with Brittney the other day, I now had to address that," Mulkey said. "But you address it, you teach 'em, you move on."

Mulkey had been talking in the broader context of how different it is than when she played at Louisiana Tech.

"Back in the day, I hate to say it, it sounds like years ago, but I guess it is years ago, you don't have social media, the cell phones," she said. "You don't even have TV in the locker room, the computer stuff in the locker rooms.

"I'm not even sure we had a stereo system in the locker room. You went in, got dressed, got taped, sat around, then you played."

The key for coaches is adapting to the distractions - a lot of teams, like Tennessee, take up the phones at night and return them at breakfast - and adjusting to the changes.

"It's not that they're not focused, it's just away from the court they're college kids," Mulkey said. "Sometimes we forger that."

BEST APPROACH: Louisville coach Jeff Walz was asked during his press conference if there was anything "crazy, strange" he could do in the game against Baylor and Brittney Griner.

"I'm trying to put six," Walz said. "I'm hoping our officials are bad at math tomorrow night, and we just get 'em real confused."

Joking aside, Walz also was realistic. He knows that any talk about stopping Baylor is foolish. No team in women's basketball has a weapon to counter the 6-8 Griner. He just wants his team to score.

"Instead of getting all concerned about how are you going to stop Brittney Griner from scoring 30, forget it, she's going to," Walz said. "Figure out a way we can score 70. If we can figure that out, then you might have a chance to get the last five minutes of the ballgame where shots start to matter.

"With the success they have had, it's been a while since a shot's mattered in the last four or five minutes of the game."

ETERNAL SECONDS: When the moderator for Kim Mulkey's press conference asked for a final question, a writer asked about the 0.2-second game against Tennessee in 2004 when a foul was called on Baylor, and the Lady Vols won the game at the line.

"I won't ever forget it as long as I live," Mulkey said. "I do feel like it cost us our first opportunity to have a chance to go to the Final Four."

It was a Sweet 16 game in nearby Norman, Okla. - the Elite Eight matchup would come against Stanford for a Final Four berth in, ironically, New Orleans in that 2004 regional - and while Mulkey remembers it, she knows her current team doesn't.

"They don't have a clue," Mulkey said. "They would go, ‘Huh?' They don't know that. They don't remember it. For me, I'll never forget it."

HOLLY'S TIME: With Holly Warlick leading Tennessee as a head coach for the first time this season, she was a topic of conversation among media in Oklahoma City.

Warlick has a lot of experience with the question about succeeding Pat Summitt and talked again about how much she still wants her input.

"I think if you think about it, it's difficult to follow a legend," Warlick said. "I just don't let myself go there. Pat was my coach. She was a mentor for me. Now she's a great friend of mine.

"So I see Pat in a different light than probably everybody else, which is a great thing for me. She's still around. I still love her around. I want her at every practice. I talk to her daily."

Oklahoma Coach Sherri Coale said Warlick was the perfect successor to Summitt.

"I think it takes somebody who really gets that program to be able to follow coach Summitt, to be able to bridge that, share all those lessons and that tradition with them," Coale said. "I think it was a natural choice, a great choice.

"I think she's done an amazing job. In many ways, it is vintage Tennessee."

CHAT TIME: Tennessee's defense has been a work in progress all season. In fact, it's been due for an upgrade for several seasons, and the players have noted they were so offensively minded that defense could get neglected.

"We're just starting to kind of finally buy in completely," senior Taber Spani said. "I think during the SEC, we would have some really great spurts of defense, but we just wouldn't be consistent.

"I think with a young team, consistency, being able to sustain that for 40 minutes was something we had to struggle with."

When the defense would falter this season, the Lady Vols could often compensate with an explosion of offense, but Spani knows that a dangerous course in postseason.

"It's the fact when we could turn it on, we could turn it on," Spani said. "With a Sweet 16 appearance like this, you can't do that. I think we're finally buying into that."

Spani is one of the players who will chat on defense. So is Ariel Massengale. Isabelle Harrison, who missed most of nearly six weeks late in the season to recover from two knee injuries, also will help to direct defensive traffic.

It helped against Creighton, a team that made nine three-pointers a game, but connected on just four of 22 against Tennessee.

"I definitely was proud of our effort," assistant coach Kyra Elzy said. "I thought they took pride in defending the three-point line, not giving them open shots. We made them play fast and we forced them into turnovers. That was a huge step for us."

When the defense broke down against both Oral Roberts and Creighton in the early rounds, it was because of confusion on who to cover. That comes from lack of talking. Massengale knows it has to be a team-wide effort.

"It is something we all have to make a pact to each other that this is what we are going to do," Massengale said. "A few times against Creighton when we didn't talk they got layups or open shots."

Freshmen often don't talk because they don't know what to say. They are too preoccupied with where they are supposed to be on the court, much less being able to point out screens and cutters. But Massengale said it has to come from all five players on the court for the defense to succeed.

"It is very important," Massengale said. "Ninety percent of it is mental. When we're not, we are not in sync."

The lack of defensive chatter does lead to confusion, especially for the guards, who rely on the players behind them to tell them what is happening behind them.

"It really does," Simmons said. "Especially when we play zone. The back of the zone has to remember to remind the guards up top there are people behind you, there are people coming up the middle. Communication is always the key. It eliminates all confusion."

Kamiko Williams is gregarious off the court but rather quiet on it. She will be vital Sunday, as she is likely to draw the defensive assignment on Oklahoma sharpshooter Aaryn Ellenburg.

"The team was just talking in the locker room about how on the court I am completely different," Williams said. "If somebody were to just meet me they would probably think I was shy, reserved individual.

"I have always been that way. My dad always wondered why I was that way. I am more of a doer. Tell me what I need to do so I can just do it."

Williams appreciates the steady input from Spani and Massengale.

"I listen to them," Williams said. "I don't yell. With my strong personality people think I am fussing at them. I am not. I would rather pull you aside, tell you what I need to tell you and keep it moving."

Williams then smiled and remembered another reason why she doesn't speak much on the court.

"Sometimes I am just trying to breathe," she said.

SMACK TALK: Kyra Elzy hasn't suited up for the Lady Vols in more than a decade, but the assistant coach may still have some game in her. Ariel Massengale apparently wants to find out.

"She was trying to steal the ball from me the other day," Elzy said. "We were playing around. She said, ‘I think I can take you.'

"So I said, ‘I think if you let me get in basketball shape I won't let you score.' "

Massengale and her teammates might want to find some old scouting film and watch Elzy first.

"We haven't, but we talk about it a lot," Massengale said. She's got those long arms. And I am sure she was quick.

"We were talking and she said, ‘Ariel, wait until I get back in basketball shape, we are going to play one-on-one. I am too tall for you.' "

"She was talking stuff. We will see what happens when she gets back in basketball shape."

MEDIA LINKS

The transcript of Tennessee's press conference on Saturday can be read by CLICKING HERE.

The transcript of Oklahoma's press conference on Saturday can be read by CLICKING HERE.

INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE

Lady Vols practice

Ariel Massengale

Isabelle Harrison

Cierra Burdick

Kamiko Williams

Nia Moore, Bashaara Graves

Jasmine Phillips, Jasmine Jones

Kyra Elzy


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