Spani missed practice sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday and was on crutches earlier this week. She underwent four days of rehab with sports medicine chief Jenny Moshak and was cleared to return to the court on Friday. Spani was able to participate in the entire session and hopes to be able to play this Sunday.
"I am ready to go," Spani said after Friday's practice. "Right now it probably will be a game-time decision, but I fully expect to play."
When asked if she had any discomfort, Spani paused and then smiled.
"I can't look at you with a straight face and (say no)," Spani said to laughter. "It's fine. We're going to do everything we can to be as close to 100 percent as possible by game time."
It is the third football-type injury for Spani, whose father Gary Spani was an All-American linebacker at Kansas State and played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs. Spani suffered from a serious condition of turf toe on her left foot as a freshman and then injured the bursa sac of her left elbow as a sophomore. She will use a brace to protect her left knee.
The junior was hurt when an exuberant Cavalier backed into her while celebrating a basket and a foul. The collision sent Spani to the floor, and she had to be helped off the court.
"It hyperextended my knee," Spani said.
Spani didn't openly express frustration with the series of injuries.
"Everything happens for a reason," Spani said. "You've just got to go with it and get better from it. JMo and I are working as hard as we can to get back as close to 100 percent as possible."
Spani will be evaluated daily in terms of her playing status for this Sunday's game against No. 1 Baylor at 2 p.m. Eastern (ESPN). Ticket sales have exceeded 14,000, so the gates will open at 12:30 p.m.
The game is part of the "We Back Pat," campaign and fans are encouraged to wear the special T-shirts that were sold to raise money for Alzheimer's awareness. The T-shirts are $10 and are available at Food City grocery stores, Walgreens drugstores and the Tennessee store on campus at Stokely Athletics Center, which will open Sunday at noon.
At halftime the $150,000 raised in T-shirt sales will be presented to representatives of Alzheimer's Tennessee Inc. and the University of Tennessee Medical Center, with the groups getting $75,000 each.
That means some 36,000 shirts were sold since the promotion began in September. Production cost for each shirt was $5 with the vendor getting 75 cents, so $4.25 per sale went to the research and awareness campaign.
After a day off for Thanksgiving, the Lady Vols were back on the practice court Friday afternoon at the arena, and the coaching staff was relieved to have Spani back on the floor.
"To have your best all-around shooter back, yes, that's an amazing relief," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said.
Redshirt senior post Vicki Baugh has been full go at practice this week and is expected to be able to play against Baylor after missing the road game at Virginia.
In the days leading up to that game, Baugh had issues with a tight hamstring and iliotibial band.
"I am feeling better," Baugh said. "I have got to keep it loose. It's an IT band problem so it tightens up on me, and it's hard to straighten my leg and that transfers to my knee.
"Once I keep it loose I feel fine, and once it tightens back up it's kind of stiff and hard to move."
Baugh's rehab regimen includes a lot of stretching and a change in how she sleeps.
"That's all I've been doing is stretching and a bunch of treatment just to keep it loose and from stiffening back up," Baugh said. "I have to change the way I sleep because that might be the cause of the problem. I curl up when I sleep.
"I am sleeping in a splint, and it keeps my leg straight all night. It's uncomfortable, but it's been working."
Baugh, who has recovered from two ACL surgeries, was frustrated by not being able to play – her presence on both ends would have been beneficial for the Lady Vols against Virginia – but she was relieved that the issue was not her left knee.
"I was frustrated. I wanted to be there for my team," Baugh said. "I didn't want to miss any games this year, but I am just glad it's not my knee. I came in as a freshman with IT problems so I knew I had to keep stretching."
Spani said the team looks forward to Sunday's challenge.
"We're not nervous. We're excited," Spani said. "We feel prepared. We feel like the coaches have got a good game plan. It is all about us executing.
"At Virginia we did not do that. It's about us coming on the floor and putting our minds to what we want to do."