Lady Vols to take on Razorbacks

Tennessee is back on the road in SEC play and will take on Arkansas on Sunday afternoon in Fayetteville. Go inside with Inside Tennessee to get ready for the game with player and coach interviews and a scouting report.

Cierra Burdick only needs to look down for two reminders about her priorities. On her left shoe are the words: Stay Low. On her right shoe: Next Play.

The large black lettering reminds the freshman forward of her defensive positioning and the need to forget a bad play.

"She is almost a perfectionist," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "She wants to do so well, and she is so motivated to help the team that when things don't go well, she dwells as opposed to moving on.

"You know what? Good or bad, it's now over. Cut it loose, hit the delete button, next play."

The Lady Vols are taking the same approach with the schedule this season as their motto has been to flush the last game, win or lose, and move to the next. Tennessee has won 35 consecutive games in SEC play, and the intended message is that what just happened means nothing to the next opponent.

No. 6/7 Tennessee (11-3, 2-0) next faces Arkansas (11-3, 0-2) on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern (ESPNU) at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

The Lady Vols have opened conference play with wins over Auburn and Georgia. The Razorbacks started with two losses but had a difficult draw with road games against Georgia and Kentucky.

"We're excited to get back on the court and test ourselves against one of the best teams in the country," Arkansas Coach Tom Collen said. "We started out with arguably the toughest part of the SEC schedule, and we knew we might get knocked down. We talked about that.

"The key for our success is to get back up. We've had some really good practices, and I think we are ready to go."

Sunday will be Arkansas' debut in the SEC at home. It also will be a homecoming game for Lady Vol Shekinna Stricklen, who is from Morrilton, a small town in Arkansas that considers the senior the community's daughter.

"I'm excited going back home," Stricklen said. "They're going to be ready to play us. Like everybody else they always have their best games against us.

"If we just stick to what we've been working on the last couple of weeks – defense and rebounding – we'll be all right."

Stricklen is likely to have her own cheering section as the community has been planning the 140-mile northwest trek for several weeks.

"A lot of people from my community will be there," Stricklen said. "It's going to be a lot more (than past years). It's my senior year. I am happy about it."

The guest lists includes family, friends and former teammates, classmates and teachers from high school.

"I think that's a tribute to her and the closeness in the community and in her family," Lockwood said. "Morrilton is obviously a smaller place, and I think there is a connection.

"Here is Stick, somebody that has made good at a pretty high level, and I think there is a connection that a lot of people feel. So it's really neat to see that support."

A larger gathering can lead to a case of nerves for some players, but Stricklen has typically played well in front of familiar faces.

"I am not nervous, but it's not about me," Stricklen said. "I am not going to go up there and try to force shots. Keep playing team ball. It's about this team and getting better as a team."

Stricklen has been home twice recently – for the Christmas holidays and earlier in the season after the death of her maternal grandfather, James Moore.

"He made us laugh," Stricklen said. "He could never say my name right so he always called me Tina. He could never say Kinna. He always said Tina.

"It's going to be great to see all of my family that can't travel all the way to Tennessee or other places we go to play. I think it will be a lot more special this year."

Stricklen's teammates have sometimes teased her about the influx of family and friends – they tend to arrive en masse – "but my teammates love my family," she said. "Half of my teammates call my mom their mom."

Perhaps a game in her home state will help Stricklen get her outside shot back on track. In the meantime, she has put the ball on the floor more and used her size and handle to get to the rim.

"That was my New Year's thing to attack the basket a lot more this year," Stricklen said. "That is something I feel like I haven't done a lot."

That is also part of the coaching staff's plan for the reigning SEC Player of the Year.

"We just want her to be consistently more assertive and aggressive, because she is a good player," Lockwood said. "It would be like telling a power hitter that we want you to drag bunt two out of every seven times. We don't need that from her. We need her to be assertive.

"For her it's just putting together for 40 minutes an attacking mind-set mentality. As a senior we want her to be at a point where she embraces that."

Stricklen had looked tired in the first three games after the Christmas break – Tennessee also held several up-tempo and difficult practices during the school break – but she seemed back to normal against Georgia. Her outside shot didn't fall, but the ball looked good leaving her hand.

"I think it's more mental," Stricklen said. "I've been thinking too much. It happens. Everyone has their slumps, but the good thing about it is you've got teammates stepping up, especially Ariel. She is shooting the ball really well and Glory inside is dominating so I am now happy."

Ariel Massengale had 19 points in back-to-back games this week, and Glory Johnson had had four consecutive double-doubles. Their performances have eased Stricklen's burden.

"A lot," Stricklen said. "And that's a good thing. People really don't know who on our team is going to have a (good game). They can't prepare for one or two people. They've got to prepare for all of us."

Stricklen also had logged considerable minutes this season because the primary candidates to relieve her on the perimeter have been Taber Spani, who is now out with a bone bruise suffered Nov. 20; Burdick, a freshman learning a new position at small forward; and Kamiko Williams, who was just fully released Jan. 3 after recovering from ACL surgery last July.

Stricklen's minutes were limited against Old Dominion and Chattanooga, but she has frequently logged 36 to 40 minutes in other games. She also is durable. The senior has started 118 consecutive games.

"We would like to balance those a little bit," Lockwood said of Stricklen's game minutes. "Honestly, I would say maybe 30 to 32, 33. That would be a plus."

Williams will need time to get up to game speed, and Burdick is getting better.

"She is evolving," Lockwood said of Burdick. "She is better than she was back in November, but she is still not where she needs to be and where we want her to be. She is certainly on a track where we can see the growth and improvement of where she can get.

"Staying low pertains to especially to defense, her one-on-one ability, a lot of time she raises up or lunges. Her ability to stay low and maintain a low stance … again, she's not Ariel or Glory where she can go 50 feet on the floor and zigzag somebody, but if she can get to the point where she can contain a good driver, that's huge for her.

"That has definitely gotten better."

Burdick is a polished offensive player with excellent court vision and a steady midrange shot. She has logged time in all 14 games this season and had nine assists against Old Dominion.

Defensively, Burdick is focusing on stance and footwork and also learning where to be in Tennessee's assorted schemes that range from full court zones to man traps.

"I am just trying to get better every day," Burdick said. "I am trying to focus on defense and really sliding my feet and locking up one-on-one. Our one-on-one defense is going to be key.

"The stay low part is that on the defensive end I am always high and they give me ball fakes and stuff, so really staying low and sliding my feet."

She is also learning on the go on the perimeter – she played in the paint mostly in high school and USA ball – and while it will make her a more complete basketball player, Burdick has to fight frustration.

"Next play I have always written – in high school I wrote next play on my hands – and it's just because I kind of get down on myself if I miss a shot or miss a defensive assignment," Burdick said.

"I just have to get to the next play and focus on making up for my mistake on that next play."

The freshman will play in just her second road game in the SEC and will make her first trip to Arkansas. The senior Stricklen will say farewell to Bud Walton Arena.

"It's my last chance there," Stricklen said. "I had a great game last year."

Indeed she did. Stricklen ended up playing all five positions – the Razorbacks would leave the court for a timeout with Stricklen at power forward and break the huddle to find her on the perimeter – and tallied 26 points on 10-15 shooting, including 6-9 marksmanship from the arc.

"I hope I can have another one there because I have a lot of fan support there, and my family is going to be there," Stricklen said. "It's just great that we get to go there my last year."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5'6 freshman guard, No. 5 (8.7 points per game, 2.6 rebounds per game, 4.9 assists per game); Meighan Simmons, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 10 (11.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 senior guard/forward, No. 40 (15.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg); Alicia Manning, 6'1 senior guard/forward, No. 15 (4.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg); and Glory Johnson, 6'3 senior forward, No. 25 (14.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg).

Arkansas Coach Tom Collen is expected to start: C'eira Ricketts, 5'9 senior guard, No. 22 (11.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg), hails from Louisville, Ky., leads the team with 59 assists and 41 steals, has 268 career steals, program record is 293 held by Tracy Webb (1983-87), preseason First Team All-SEC selection, started for her high school team while in middle school, tallied 3,113 points for Fairdale High, first player from the state of Kentucky for the Arkansas women's basketball program; Calli Berna, 5'10 freshman guard, No. 11 (4.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg), hails from Fayetteville, Ark., tallied career-high 13 points against Minnesota, has 39 assists this season, 2011 Gatorade basketball player of the year for state of Arkansas, brother Colby plays football for the Razorbacks; Dominique Robinson, 6'0 redshirt sophomore forward, No. 21 (9.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg), hails from Baton Rouge, La., scored career-high 26 points this season against Texas Southern, grabbed 13 boards against Texas-Arlington; Ashley Daniels, 6'2 senior forward, No. 12 (6.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg), hails from Coldwater, Miss., tied a career best with 22 points against Kentucky while logging 36 minutes, also grabbed five offensive boards against Wildcats, standout track athlete in high school in the 4x400 relay, 400m and triple jump, also played softball; and Sarah Watkins, 6'3 junior post, No. 4 (10.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg), hails from Germantown, Tenn., tallied 15 points against Tennessee, preseason Second Team All-SEC selection, tallied season-high 18 points against Minnesota.

Key players off the bench for the Razorbacks are Lyndsay Harris, a 5'9 senior guard from Hoover, Ala., who leads the team with 25 made three-pointers and averages 19.4 minutes per game; and Quistelle Williams, a 6'0 junior forward from Grand Rapids, Mich., who has 60 rebounds on the season and averages 16.3 minutes per game.

Harris has made the comeback from ACL surgery. She injured her knee last March in the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

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

Offensively, the Lady Vols need to adhere to the scouting report in terms of personnel.

"They drive the ball so well," Lockwood said. "They're so athletic. They've got their share of shooters, so you don't want to categorize them as one-dimensional.

"C'eira Ricketts is one of the best all-around players in the conference. She is Stricklen-like in the sense that she can play multiple positions – she is not as big as Strick, and she is probably not as pure a shooter as Strick – but her ability to get to the paint, to get rebounds, to get assists, to create turnovers, is tremendous. Led by her, they've got a quick, dribble drive team.

"They've got enough shooters. (Lyndsay) Harris can really shoot the ball. (Sarah) Watkins can shoot the ball. You've got to guard their midrange game, as well. They create points off their defense. They set a lot of ball screens, especially in the middle of the floor. We have to really do a good job on those or else they will get to the paint on you."

Defensively, Lockwood expects the Razorbacks to be aggressive.

"A lot of man. A little bit of 2-3 mixed in. A lot of full court," Lockwood said. "After makes they are going to pick up man to man, man to man trapping or a little bit of zone trapping, but I've seen a lot more man."

Keys for Tennessee: "Control the paint," Lockwood said. "Everything in the paint has to be highly contested and they're can't be many of them. We've got to keep them on the outer thirds of the floor. The middle of the floor is so important to them.

"And also their transition – we've got to get back. They love to create. They love open floor. The more floor, the better. Their percentages are better in the open floor. And we have to limit the second shot. They can't have many of them."

SEC PLAY: All 12 SEC schools are in action today. The other matchups are: Alabama at LSU; Georgia at Auburn; Ole Miss at Vanderbilt; South Carolina at Florida; and Mississippi State at Kentucky.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Arkansas, 22-1.The Lady Vols record on the road is 10-1. The Razorbacks lone win, 77-75, came Dec. 29, 1996. There have been some close games in Fayetteville, including a 76-67 Tennessee win Jan. 22, 2009, and an escape in overtime, 75-68, on Feb. 22, 2007. … Tennessee is 9-2 in games played on January 8. The last win on this date was against Kentucky, 69-64, in 2009. The first win on January came against Ole Miss, 69-67, in 1983. The two losses on this date were to Georgia, 77-71, in 1996, and Connecticut, 74-67, in 2000. … Tennessee has hosted more than 100,000 fans at home in just eight contests. The Lady Vols have welcomed 107,131 fans, an average of 13,391 per game, to Thompson-Boling Arena. The next two games are on the road against Arkansas and Kentucky. The Lady Vols next play at home Jan. 15 against Vanderbilt.

VIDEO COVERAGE

Inside Tennessee was at SEC Media Day last October and asked player representatives from the other 11 SEC schools some offbeat questions.

Here are the responses of Arkansas' Ashley Daniels.


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