Lady Vols to face Auburn on road today

A smile came across the face of Shekinna Stricklen when she was asked if Mickie DeMoss is basically a mini-me of Pat Summitt. The head coach and former head coach have raised the volume at practice – and the expectations team-wide – and it was sealed at a December dinner chat between DeMoss and Holly Warlick.

The dinner took place near the Christmas break when the two longtime friends had a spirited conversation about the Lady Vols.

"She thought we were letting them get by with some stuff and I agreed," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "We got into some heated argument and then we came together. We disagreed on some things. We agreed on some things. That's what friends do."

"Holly and I are like sisters when we're together and I love her like a sister," Mickie DeMoss said. "I just said we've got to do a better job in practice, meaning us. We've really got to do a better job of holding them accountable. We've got to be consistent. We can't one day hold them accountable and then the next day it's OK if they miss layups but the next day we get mad about it. That is kind of what we talked about.

"She said, ‘Am I not doing that?' And I said none of us are doing it consistently. This is a time for us to take a look at what we're doing as assistant coaches and up the bar for us as well."

No. 5/6 Tennessee (18-2, 6-0) next faces Auburn (12-7, 5-1) on Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern (CSS, Lady Vols Radio Network) at the new Auburn Arena.

Pat Summitt's volume at practice spiked after the Dec. 14 loss at Baylor – that was followed by an overtime win against Stanford – and the dinner between the two assistants led to a pact to change every coach's practice habits. DeMoss knew Summitt's voice could not be the only one the players heard so often.

"They'll tune it out," DeMoss said. "I think Pat has gotten more selective when she does get on kids."

DeMoss joined the Lady Vols staff last spring after stints at Kentucky as a head coach and Texas as an assistant. Prior to that DeMoss had been on Summitt's staff for 18 years, and Summitt cited that overall experience as the primary factor that would benefit the team when she selected DeMoss for the opening.

"I think it's been really good," Summitt said. "It was instant respect just because of the background that she's had and the places that she's been and being a head coach at Kentucky. She's had so much experience and I think they respect her resume and know that she knows what she's talking about.

"And Holly and Dean, they're kind of like me, they've been fixtures here for awhile, particularly Holly and I. I think it's good when you have fresh blood, and we've got different voices. Every now and then they can all be on high volume, but there are times I want somebody else to go over (and call out a player)."

There are also times that Summitt knows it has to be her voice. She didn't intend to go into the season elevating her volume but it became apparent to her that a team prone to backslide would need daily motivation.

"I didn't make that conscious decision (before the season) but once I saw what I needed to do I just knew I had to do it and sustain it," Summitt said. "Mickie being back has been really good. She has said to me, ‘You need to talk to so and so. Your voice is the one that counts the most.'

"And I know that and sometimes I pick and choose because how much can you hear Pat Summitt's voice and not tune it out eventually. I may turn around and say to one of my staff members you need to tell her (the intended message)."

The assistants sometimes are the liaisons between the players and the head coach so they serve as both taskmasters and listeners.

Last season, Dean Lockwood and Warlick were stretched thin. They handled every scouting report – a time-consuming endeavor to break down hours of film and submit a written report on the opponent and individual players on both sides of the ball – on top of recruiting duties and practice.

Daedra Charles-Furlow was undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer and while Stephanie Glance – since departed to be the head coach at Illinois State – was activated at midseason to help with recruiting and on-floor practice, she had only been on campus for a few months after being hired as Summitt's administrative assistant.

"I needed help," Warlick said. "Dean and I were doing a lot of the practice and you just can't see everything. Now, you've got six eyes, plus Pat, you've got eight eyes watching and now we're all four on the same page."

Summitt added, "This is better. I think we're in a good place. I think we've got a team that's starting to get it. We've just got to keep our thumb on them."

"We're trying to get back to a little bit more discipline and a little bit more accountability," Warlick said. "It took us getting at each other."

That happened at the December dinner during which two longtime friends talked openly and candidly with each other. DeMoss had the vantage point of having been away from the Tennessee program for seven years.

"My philosophy and I learned it from Pat for 18 years when I was here, once you step on the floor now it's time to take care of business," DeMoss said. "We can be silly while they're getting ready but once we step on this floor now it's time to get serious. So I think provide a culture that has more of a sense of urgency and then holding them to a standard in practice.

"Just trying to get that standard up here in practice and keep it there and then it becomes a habit we hope. We hope it carries over to the games."

DeMoss emphasized attention to details, the necessity of which were underscored while she was at Kentucky.

"Details, no doubt," DeMoss said. "Being at Kentucky, first of all, when you don't have as much talent you have to do the little things right. You have to do them right to even have a chance to win a game. Things like rebounding and defense and transition defense those are things that if my players at Kentucky didn't do those things we would get blown out. If we did them we had a chance to win the game.

"Now when you've got talent and you do those things right, then you're going to go into every game with a chance to dominate the game."

DeMoss also has the dual experiences of coaching a team full of high school All-Americans and ones of lesser pedigree. She said the commonality is a Summitt truism – a coach will get what she demands, not what she expects.

"I think if you set the tone right off the bat and you've got upperclassmen that have bought into it – I've seen Tennessee teams of the past; you've had the Catchings and the Randalls and then these freshman would come in, they were like, ‘No, ma'am' – that with holding them accountable every day," DeMoss said.

That is also what has been missing for the Lady Vols since the 2007-08 season when five starters graduated. The next season saw a fifth-year redshirt senior with brittle knees and 11 underclassmen, including six freshmen, try to carry on the Tennessee tradition. The lack of veteran leadership hurt and the aftereffects still exist.

DeMoss said most teams – elite to lesser talented ones – will use as much rope as the coaches allow.

"Most teams do. They're kids," DeMoss said." I dealt with it as Texas. You've got to make them do the hard things (defensive stance) that could make a difference in a ball game. It's making them do what you demand and what your core beliefs are and hold them to it."

In hindsight, Warlick said the 2008-09 team was overloaded with info and expectations.

"With freshmen we coached them like we still had (Candace) Parker and (Alexis) Hornbuckle and those guys and we just kept adding on layers and they weren't ready for layers to be added," Warlick said. "We didn't take care of the basics. After Ball State we went back to the basics. Last year we won the SEC and we won the SEC Tournament and we as coaches, our fans, our standard is we're not going to settle for not going to the Final Four, but we made tremendous leaps. This year we've got to continue.

"We're juniors now. We should know what it takes. We should know how hard to work. We should be a lot better skilled. We should be prepared for anything that's thrown at us, any crowd, any hostile environment that's thrown at us, we should totally be prepared for.

"I think we have gotten there and we're getting almost past our injuries. We've dealt with some pretty bad injuries the last two years. Now, hopefully we're getting back into we're going to have a full roster."

The crippling injuries that Tennessee has sustained since 2008 can't be overlooked. Vicki Baugh looked like an All-American in the making and tore her ACL in the national title game. She re-tore it less than a year later and is still making her way back. Cait McMahan was the heir apparent at point guard – this would have been her redshirt senior year – but balky knees ended her career.

Kelley Cain, a 6'6 center, has dealt with knee and hip issues that have limited her for three seasons. Alyssia Brewer, the SEC Sixth Woman of the Year a season ago, has just been cleared to travel with the team after undergoing Achilles tendon surgery last September and using the past month to accelerate her conditioning.

Tennessee had planned to get Lauren Avant meaningful minutes at point guard by now, but the freshman missed the summer and most of the first half of the season with shoulder, hand and ankle injuries.

Still, the Lady Vols are stacked with talent, the majority of which has been on campus three to four years. The coaches' expectations coincide with that level of experience.

"The clock is ticking," Summitt said. "If you think about this junior class … what happens when Angie's not here? So just trying to rev it up a little bit, hold people accountable, have a sense of urgency every day in everything we do, sprinting to drills and getting the volume up. I think that starts with me.

"I let my coaches do a lot of teaching but it's become very clear to me they're going to hear my voice every time I say something. I have got to stay on them."

Summitt's voice, needless to say, has been noticed. Her sense of urgency is readily apparent to the players.

"A little bit louder," Angie Bjorklund said with a smile. "At practice, absolutely, the expectations are the highest they've been, but at the same time they know that's what it's going to take.

"A difference is how the group is responding a little bit better than they have in the past. I think the coaches see the potential in us and they're going to pull it out of us."

The senior guard has the best vantage point as she has been on board through a national title, first round NCAA tourney loss, SEC championship and three new assistants after Nikki Caldwell left for UCLA – Charles-Furlow, Glance and DeMoss.

"We're juniors, we're seniors, it's coming down to the end and they're pushing," Bjorklund said. "They're pushing us to the max, which is great."

The change wasn't lost on the junior class, either.

"The coaches have been really consistent with demanding a lot from us at practice," Alicia Manning said. "It really has paid off. Mickie coming in she's bring a whole other element to our coaching staff. It's really helped throughout the year. She's so smart when it comes to the game and she has so much knowledge.

"They've been real consistent. Before we might have some hard practices but this year it's steady. Every practice we're going to have to come in and work hard and play up to par. I think a lot of it is the little things they're really stressing. Not walking to a drill, if we miss a layup we're running for it. Just the little things they're really taking a lot of pride in stressing.

"As far as the maturity level, a lot of us have been here three or four years now and we know what practice demands, what is unacceptable and what is acceptable and what the bar is supposed to be every day in practice. We're sticking with that mindset and coming out here every practice and knowing that we have a goal we're working towards and everyone is focused."

The changes may seem minor, but they can have major effects on the culture around a team. Warlick credited DeMoss with bringing an outsider's eye to what had been an insider situation for her, too.

"I think it's been tremendous," Warlick said. "She's been great for me as far as she said some things that I was doing and I was like, ‘You know what? I've got to change.' The conversation wasn't just about the team. It was about myself as well. I took it and part of being a good coach is being willing to learn and accept things you're doing and change, and I did.

"It was a good conversation Mickie and I had. It was good for me, as well as the team. She gave me the perspective. She's been away. What she thought we needed to change."

DeMoss saw a team that had to get mentally tougher and needed the coaches to ride herd on the players.

"Our kids were walking to different drills and somehow we came to the conclusion that we've got to change the demeanor of practice, because we need a little bit higher energy, and we've got to hold them more accountable," Warlick said. "Basically, we came up with miss a layup, we run. If we have two turnovers in a row, we run. If we don't talk, we run.

"I said we may not be the best offensive team in the league but we're going to be the best in shape. And now our running is cutting down. We had a heart-to-heart talk. We disagreed on some things and then we agreed and we basically said, ‘How can we get this better?' "

The team doesn't have a strong vocal leader in the mold of 2008 NCAA Woman of the Year Nicky Anosike and has mostly made its own way the past three years without veterans to keep order. That meant the coaches had to adopt those roles, too.

"You do have to dial them up," Warlick said. "And they do respond."

DeMoss fit seamlessly with the team and immediately had the players' attention. Although small in stature and lighthearted off the court, DeMoss can be a drill sergeant on it and won't mince words at times. In that way she is a version of Summitt.

"Yes, she is," Stricklen said with a grin. "She's real with us. She tells us straightforward what we're doing wrong, and that's what we need.

"Oh, yes, the volume and everything in practice it's at a different level. They are just trying to get things in our head that defense and boards are the main thing. Practice, we miss a box-out and don't get a rebound, we miss a layup, turn over the ball, and we go to the line and we run.

"They are just drilling things in our head and it's things that we need."

DeMoss also is an excellent teacher of the game of basketball and has drawn on her experiences in the SEC and Big 12.

"She is very knowledgeable," Bjorklund said. "She knows the game inside and out. That's one thing I noticed right up front. She really knows the game, and she's a great coach.

"She's great at explaining things clearly. She'll explain a play to me or a situation, and I'll understand perfectly. She's a great coach. She's been doing it for years, and you can tell."

The approach was needed for a team that has shown a propensity for slippage, as was evident in the second half against Vanderbilt and the first half against South Carolina.

"They have brought out the worst in me," said a smiling Summitt, who has been hoarse after several practice sessions in the past month. "It could get worse than this but they have brought out, thus far, the worst ever."

The bottom line that emerged from the dinner chat between DeMoss and Warlick was that the assistants had to be more demanding, and Summitt had to be the enforcer.

"I have no problem doing it," Summitt said. "It's like I told them, ‘Y'all have never won anything of significance and you may never but one thing I can tell you is we're going to drag you as far as we can drag you and challenge you.' "

The next challenge is at Auburn, which righted its ship after a shaky start to the season, has won 11 of its last 13 games and is 5-1 in SEC play with the lone loss at Vanderbilt.

"I think just believing in themselves and really finding that team chemistry that's so important to the success of a team," Auburn Coach Nell Fortner said. "We went through some tough times and we pulled ourselves out of it, and it just tends to make you strong and brings your team closer together. I think that's something that happened for us."

Fortner indicated Sunday's game would be a "measuring stick" for her team's progress.

"I think Tennessee is the measuring stick for the conference," Fortner said. "Eight national championships, year-in and year-out just an incredibly strong team. The amount of respect you have for Pat Summit and just the great job she's done for her program and women's basketball in general makes it a little different."

With five league wins, Auburn has already matched its SEC total of a year ago. Auburn is a host site for the early rounds of the NCAA tourney. A strong showing in league play would ensure the Tigers a spot on their home floor in postseason.

"Ball security is going to be really big against Auburn," Summitt said. "They are playing great right now, probably playing as well as anybody in the league, them and Georgia. I think that we understand what we have to do, but we've got to do it, and we've got to be persistent about getting the job done.

"They really do a good job of pushing tempo and they get the ball inside, great ball movement, great player movement, well coached and obviously they're at home, and there's always an advantage when you're at home.

"Going on the road is going to be interesting to see because our last game out was not very pretty, so we've got to be much more efficient and effective and a lot more competitive."

Tennessee recovered from a poor start at South Carolina to take the lead by halftime and hold onto it.

"We're going to have to have a different mindset than what we went into at South Carolina," Stricklen said. "Auburn is a better team and if we start the Auburn game like we did South Carolina, we will lose.

"Auburn has been playing great at home, and we know they're going to be after us. We're going to have to limit our turnovers. That's going to be the main key."

Kelley Cain wasn't impressed with the Lady Vols 6-0 start to open the SEC.

"I don't think it means too much, because we're not undefeated on the season, but we've just got to build off each game and learn what we did wrong and keep moving forward," Cain said.

"We need to make a statement. They've been doing well these past few games. We need to make a statement that they have some competition."

The work order for the Lady Vols this season is that the mindset starts in practice.

"We have to keep the heat on in practice," Lockwood said. "Every day has got to be like a day where we make them feel like they are playing for a championship. We don't look at our opponents and say, ‘Well, this one is easier, we're going to go lighter.'

"No, we've got to make them feel like every day is preparing for the week of the Final Four."


Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (16.2 points per game overall/14.8 SEC, 2.9 rebounds per game/2.3, 2.6 assists per game/3.8); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 senior guard, No. 5 (11.5 ppg/10.0, 3.2 rpg/2.7, 2.4 apg/1.4); Taber Spani, 6'1 sophomore guard/forward, No. 13 (8.5 ppg/6.6, 4.5 rpg/3.7, 1.5 apg/2.0); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (10.7 ppg/11.0, 7.6 rpg/9.2, 1.9 apg/1.3); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt junior center, No. 52 (8.3 ppg/9.2, 6.5 rpg/9.3, 2.3 blocks per game/3.7).

Auburn Coach Nell Fortner is expected to start: Morgan Toles, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 1 (8.2 ppg/8.3, 3.4 rpg/5.0, 5.7 apg/6.0 apg), hails from Fayetteville, Ga., tied a career high with seven rebounds against Florida, tallied 10 points, 10 assists against Jacksonville State, named to the All SEC Freshman Team, had 128 assists as a freshman, third all-time for first-year players at Auburn, played two seasons at St. Pius X in Atlanta with Lady Vol Kelley Cain, father Alvin played inside linebacker at Tennessee from 1981-84, uncle Johnnie Jones also played football at Tennessee at running back from 1982-84; Alli Smalley, 5'8 senior guard, No. 5 (11.7 ppg/9.8, 3.0 rpg/3.8, 2.1 apg/2.5), hails from Arab, Ala., has started 103 consecutive games going back to her freshman year, has scored 1,430 points for Auburn and has 203 career treys to lead the Tigers all-time, preseason All-SEC First Team selection by coaches, scored 21 points in last matchup with Tennessee; Parrisha Simmons, 6'0 junior guard, No. 4 (2.9 ppg/2.5, 3.4 rpg/3.5), hails from Macon, Ga., has started the last 11 games, including all six SEC contests and started 22 games last season, defensive and rebounding specialist for the Tigers, career high is nine points against Vandy, had seven rebounds this season against Ole Miss, region champion in 100m and qualified for state championship in the long jump and 100m in high school; Blanche Alverson6'3 sophomore forward, No. 14 (11.9 ppg/13.3, 4.2 rpg/4.7), hails from Andalusia, Ala., reigning SEC player of the week, hit five treys against Ole Miss and scored career-high 27 points, scored Auburn's first field goal in Auburn Arena, a 3-pointer that came 56 seconds into the game against Mercer, attended high school at Buford (Ga.) and won a state title as a senior, named Georgia AA Player of the Year, merit scholar majoring in pre-med, fourth-generation Auburn student, great-grandfather, Rube Alverson, played baseball at Auburn; and Jordan Greenleaf, 6'1 redshirt senior forward, No. 21 (9.7 ppg/11.5, 7.7 rpg/6.8, 1.6 apg/2.3), hails from Rex, Ga., scored career-high 19 points against Alabama, put up double-double with 13 points, 10 boards against South Carolina, missed all but five games of the 2008-09 season with an ACL injury, graduated last May with a degree in mass communications, three-time Gatorade player of the year in state of Georgia.

A key player off the bench for Auburn has been Chantel Hilliard, a 6'2 junior forward/center from Biloxi, Miss., who had seven points in the last game when the Tigers were struggling to score against Mississippi State. Hilliard had a career-high 17 points this season against Florida.

Tyrese Tanner, a 6'2 freshman forward from Birmingham, Ala., scored a career-high 18 points against Alabama, has three starts on the season and has seen action in all 19 games, including all six SEC contests. Tanner was the Alabama 6A Player of the Year as a senior at Hoover High School and selected to play in the McDonald's All-American game but sat out because of injury.

Jassany Williams, a 6'2 freshman forward from Davie, Fla., is often the first player off the bench and has logged minutes in all 19 games. She scored a career-high 13 points against South Alabama and recorded three steals against Ole Miss. Williams averages 2.5 rebounds a game in SEC play.

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Auburn game. Here is his assessment.

When Auburn has the ball: Lockwood said the Lady Vols will have to identify and cover the Tigers' three-point shooters.

"They've got two of the premier three-point shooters in the conference, maybe in the country, in Blanche Alverson and Alli Smalley. Pure shooters," Lockwood said. "Jordan Greenleaf is playing the best basketball that I've ever seen her play since she played in the league. So they are a team that's got a pretty good balance. They can beat you with threes. They've got some midrange shooters.

"I wouldn't call them the traditional low post back-to-the-basket play, but Greenleaf can play in the mid-post, short corner, face up and make a shot or take you off the dribble. She is also very good at the high post. So, they've got a post game, but it's a nontraditional type of post game.

"You've got to stay in front of them. We can't let them get to the paint, and we can't let them have open threes."

Defensively, the Tigers lead the SEC in league play with 55 steals – the Lady Vols are in last place with 26 thefts – and tend to mix up their schemes.

"They're mixing their defenses up real well," Lockwood said. "They're playing a 3-2 zone. I expect to see that. They also are going man. They go back and forth. They have even had possessions where they show zone and go man.

"They're playing multiple defenses. They're really mixing their defense up sometimes picking up three-quarter court and then they'll go back into a zone. Then on makes they'll go straight man to man. Sometimes they alternate on makes and misses. So it varies a little bit."

Auburn has used its defense to create its offense this season, having scored a total of 385 points off of turnovers, including a season-high 39 against Alabama A&M. The Tigers have scored 20 or more points off turnovers in eight games this season.

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols, as always, strive for a balance between the inside and perimeter attack. When the ball gets to the paint, either through entry passes to the posts or dribble penetration, Tennessee is very effective, as it opens up the outside game, too.

"We want to do that even if it's not a score or a shot you're establishing that you can do that to somebody," Lockwood said. "For us against Auburn where they don't have tremendous size we want to do that. We want to get touches and play through our middle but at the same time we've got to have balance in our game."

That means the outside shooters have to get in position to fire.

"Rare is going to be a night where it's going to be like an LSU where it's just the posts and rare is the night where (like at Florida) we shot the ball so well," Lockwood said. "We've got to achieve some balance. That's our game plan. There's not one specific thing we're trying to do to them that we don't do against most other folks."

Defensively, the Lady Vols are likely to follow a familiar pattern – open in man and make adjustments as needed.

"We've got to do a number of looks," Lockwood said. "We'll see how our man goes. I can see us using zone depending on our lineup and theirs. They run a number of actions. They do a lot of ball screening, and they do some handoff action so I think we have to handle those actions whether we're in man or zone. I think a lot of it is going to depend on how we handle those actions and what's working."

ON TAP: All 12 SEC teams are in action today. The other matchups are: Alabama at South Carolina, Ole Miss at Arkansas; Florida at LSU; Mississippi State at Georgia; and Vanderbilt at Kentucky.


Tennessee leads the series with Auburn, 33-10. The Lady Vols are 9-4 at Auburn with the last loss, 82-68, coming Jan. 25, 2009. Tennessee also lost to Auburn that 2008-09 season in the SEC tourney, 78-58, before winning last year, 85-56, in Knoxville. Auburn is one of only three SEC schools to claim double digits in wins over the Lady Vols. The other two are Georgia (15-40) and LSU (12-40). … Tennessee is 11-4 in games played on January 23. The last win on this date was against Kentucky, 67-49, in 2005. The first win on January 23 was against Maryville, 41-19, in 1925. The four defeats on this date were to South Carolina, 56-52, in 1980; Rutgers, 68-57, in 1982; Kentucky, 76-72 in overtime; and Duke, 75-53, in 2006. … Both coaches on the sideline Sunday were successful USA basketball coaches. Pat Summitt helmed the 1984 team that won Olympic gold – the first for the United States – in Los Angeles. Nell Fortner was in charge of the 2000 team, which won Olympic gold in Sydney. The sideline will have another familiar face in Carla McGhee, a former Lady Vol player (1986-90) and now an assistant at Auburn. Additionally, Daedra Charles-Furlow, the Lady Vols director of character, was on Auburn's staff before coming to Tennessee after the 2007-08 season. … The first 500 fans will receive an Alli Smalley bobble head. Sunday is also Auburn's first "Green Game" of the season with fans encouraged to bring old cell phones for donation. The phones will be recycled with the proceeds going to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

BY THE NUMBERS: Overall stats with SEC figures in parentheses.

Tennessee is averaging 80.9 points a game (81.8 in the SEC) while allowing opponents to score 55.5 (51.3). Auburn averages 66.1 points a game (65.5) while allowing 60.6 (57.5).

The Lady Vols are shooting 46.1 percent overall (48.3), 36.1 percent behind the arc (36.1) and 66.9 percent from the free throw line (75.0). The Tigers are shooting 40.2 percent overall (43.6), 32.5 percent from long range (35.4) and 64.5 percent from the line (68.6).

Tennessee makes an average of 7.0 three-pointers a game (6.5) while allowing 5.0 (4.7). Auburn makes 4.0 threes a game (3.8) while allowing 5.2 (3.7).

Tennessee averages 47.0 rebounds a game (51.5) for a +12.1 margin (+15.2). Auburn averages 38.2 boards (36.5) for a +1.3 margin (+1.5).

The Lady Vols average 14.2 assists (12.8) and 15.7 turnovers (15.2) a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 18.2 times a game (12.8). The Tigers average 13.7 assists (14.5) and 14.9 turnovers (15.7) with foes losing the ball 19.5 times a game (18.2).

Tennessee averages 8.2 steals (4.3) and 5.5 blocks a game (8.2). Auburn averages 9.8 steals (9.2) and 4.2 blocks (4.0).


Auburn Coach Nell Fortner talks about the new arena

Nell Fortner has five freshman on campus this season and said the new $86 million Auburn Arena has boosted recruiting.

"It helped us with our last two classes," Fortner said during SEC Media Days last October. "They went through it as it was going up. It definitely impacted both of those classes. They had their hard hats on. We showed them, ‘This is your locker.' It created a buzz."

The project included dorms located next door to the arena and practice facility so the student-athletes have easy access to the building.

"I am actually jealous," said senior Alli Smalley, who lives at an off-campus apartment, especially in preseason when the team had 5:30 a.m. sessions. "They just roll out of bed and get over there."

The arena was part of Smalley's recruiting pitch, too.

"When they recruited me, by my senior year I was going to be able to play in a new arena," Smalley said.

The arena is a host site for the early rounds of the NCAA tourney and if the Tigers get an invite they are guaranteed to be assigned to their home court.

"We're extremely hungry to make sure we're playing in that thing," Fortner said.


Glory Johnson talks about the team and life on the road

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