Lady Vols get back to practice

The Lady Vols returned to practice Tuesday after a day off the court. Go inside with Inside Tennessee for the latest on the Lady Vols.

Tennessee has not been at full strength all season with Ariel Massengale, Kamiko Williams and Taber Spani all out at various and sometimes overlapping times. Massengale and Williams are back, but Spani now has company on the sideline with Shekinna Stricklen, who was held out of practice after spraining her knee in Sunday's 87-64 win over Vanderbilt.

Spani, the team's most accurate three-point shooter, has been out since right after the Christmas break to rest a bone bruise that she sustained in late November. Stricklen, another long-range threat – and the team leader with 29 made treys – is listed as day to day and her playing status for this week remains an unknown.

It could have been worse with Stricklen, who collided with a Vandy player while both went for a rebound near the baseline in the second half. Their knees knocked together and when Stricklen landed, her right knee buckled backwards.

An MRI exam on Monday confirmed the diagnosis of a sprain and not a torn ACL, which is always the initial fear.

"Obviously, that's the big fear," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "Again, you realize there are so many things that you don't actually control. After the game we huddled in the coaches' locker room for a few minutes and just were kind of looking at each other.

"We quickly realized we have no power over this thing. Let's just wait it out, hear what the results are and then we'll move from there. But when Jenny sent the text, I had a little extra air that came out of me."

Jenny Moshak, the program's chief of sports medicine, alerted the coaches Monday to the diagnosis after Stricklen underwent the MRI. There are limited physical exams that Moshak can perform after an injury, including talking to the athlete about what she felt or heard, but a definitive diagnosis is not known until after specific diagnostic tests are performed in a clinical setting.

The coaches used Tuesday's practice to zero in on what Tennessee needed to improve.

"A lot of us," Lockwood said. "We did some LSU prep as well, but a lot of us as well to tighten some things up that we need to tighten up, get ready to play against a zone, break down some defensive things.

"Those are probably the three main things that we did today."

Tennessee next takes on LSU on Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern (TV: CSS) at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Lady Tigers are coached by former Lady Vol Nikki Caldwell, and a matchup zone has been their primary defense. On Tuesday, two of Tennessee's best long ball shooters were rehabbing their knees – the left one for Spani, the right one for Stricklen.

"Against any zone eventually you've got to make some shots," Lockwood said. "However you slice and dice it you're going to be able to get some shots, and you've got to be able to stick some outside jump shots.

"It's a concern. Other people are going to have to step up and make some plays. It's an opportunity. Kamiko Williams has got to really step up. Meighan Simmons, it's time for her to assert herself in a positive way. It's an opportunity for some other players."

The coaches will await additional information from the medical staff about Stricklen's day-to-day condition. But they have long since learned to prepare with the players available that day, thus Lockwood specifically mentioned Williams and Simmons as two players who need to elevate their game in the event that Stricklen is out.

The team will return to practice Wednesday to finish preparations for LSU.

"It will be a lot more LSU-specific prep," Lockwood said. "We'll do more against zone, more against their full court action. It will be more LSU specific, but always, always, always part of our template will still be us.

"We want to clean up defensively. We want to sharpen up our offensive execution. No matter who we play, the day before a game that is a big part of what we're doing."

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