No. 9 Tennessee (13-4, 4-1) tips off against LSU (13-4, 4-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday (TV: CSS) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"From a competitive side, I never would have played and been successful at Tennessee if you didn't look at every opponent like you wanted to beat them," LSU Coach Nikki Caldwell said.
"I contribute that competitive spirit to Coach Summitt and her staff. The first thing I learned was to respect everybody and that there is a loyalty to your staff, team and yourself.
"When we played at Tennessee at UCLA, I remember telling our team what a great opportunity this was. If you can play there in that hostile environment, it will only help you down the road. We were young and weren't as big, but we came in there ready to win a basketball game. That's the attitude that you have to have."
This will be Caldwell's second time to come to Knoxville as the head coach on the opponent's bench. She brought her UCLA team to Tennessee during the 2009-10 season. This is Caldwell's first year at LSU, a longtime rival of the Lady Vols.
Rivalries were set aside Wednesday when Caldwell arrived at the arena as both staffs greeted each other with hugs and smiles. They will socialize on Wednesday and then tune out the friendships on Thursday when both benches want to win a basketball game.
It is a key SEC game, even in mid-January. The Lady Vols and Lady Tigers are in a three-way tie with Georgia for second place in the league.
The Lady Vols enter the game without significant firepower in Shekinna Stricklen, who sprained her knee in Sunday's win over Vanderbilt, and Taber Spani, who has been out since after the Christmas break to recover from a bone bruise.
Stricklen, who shot some free throws during Wednesday's practice, said she would be a game-day decision. Pat Summitt said the approach to Stricklen's return would be one of caution, and it would not be pushed.
"I feel much better," Stricklen said. "Still a little soreness. I am still not sure yet about (Thursday). I am going to try to do shoot-around. Truly day to day."
The sense of relief was etched all over Stricklen's face when she was asked about how gratifying it was to learn Monday afternoon that the ACL was intact.
"Oh, a lot," Stricklen said. "I didn't get to have the MRI until the next day. I am thinking I am going to do it that morning, and I texted Jenny (Moshak), and she was like, ‘3:20.' I was like, ‘Are you serious?'
"So, I do it and then went an hour, and I am sitting by my phone constantly (checking) and like, ‘When is she going to call? When is she going to call?' Finally she called and she said, ‘It's not your ACL.' And I said, ‘That's all I need to hear.' "
All athletes are aware that their playing days can end in an instant, but a close call really enforces the realization and increases the sense of urgency, especially for a senior.
"I just sat there and thanked God so many times," Stricklen said. "It clearly opened my eyes not to take a game for granted. It's the game you love. I have kind of been in a slump and not fully going to my potential.
"God makes things happen for a reason, and it clearly opened my eyes."
"We really just have to be confident," Simmons said. "It's a time for both of us as young players to be able to step up in the position that these other two girls have been playing so I feel like we have to be confident.
"We have to do this for the team. We just have to make shots."
Massengale has been told to hunt shots – she is shooting 42.1 percent from long range, second on the team to Spani's 48.0 percent – from the point guard spot. She leads the team with 76 assists to just 28 turnovers.
"Just gotta play the game," Massengale said. "We know Strick was a big scorer for us. So was Taber. Now, we just need someone else to step up."
"We may have to shift some people around," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "Maybe A-Town has to play some three. There will have to be some shuffling of the deck and shifting around.
"We have to have people recognize the opportunity and recognize the responsibility to say, ‘I have to stand in the gap here.' "
It also means that freshman forward Cierra Burdick, who has been learning the three spot, could log minutes inside to help provide depth there. That also would play to her strengths, something the staff had discussed before Stricklen's injury.
"We've talked about doing that with her more anyway," Lockwood said. "Right now all options are on the board."
The 6'4 Baugh will present a nice target for Massengale, who has a knack for getting the ball inside.
"That's great," Massengale said. "Vicki Baugh, ever since the Stanford game she was really upset about that and she said she would never let it happen again."
Baugh struggled against Stanford with three boards, two points and four fouls. She has been coming off the bench since that game and averaged 10.3 points and 8.6 boards while averaging 21.1 minutes per game.
"She has kept her word," Massengale said. "She has come in, she has rebounded, she has put the ball in the basket for us, and she's been that leader that we are looking for for this team. So just hope that she continues to keep it up."
Senior forward Glory Johnson will also be in the paint, and she expects to need to follow her post-game routine of going home, taking some anti-inflammatory medication, getting some food, propping her feet on a pillow and resting her battered body.
"It's going to be a physical game I know," Johnson said. "I should be ready for that. Every game is going to be physical, and you've got to be mentally prepared and be ready for whatever LSU brings.
"Rebounding is always going to be key. We may not have the best offensive game, but we'd better make sure we have a great defensive game."
The Lady Vols should be used to having to shift the starting lineup as the team has dealt with injury losses throughout the last four seasons.
"People that go through hardships are tougher," Lockwood said. "You can fold your tents or your outer canvas gets that much more tougher. I am hoping that's what's happened to our team. They've had to support each other and they've had to incur some injuries and some changes in lineups. So I am hoping it does make us a little tougher.
"I am really hoping that is how our team responds – coming out fighting as opposed to getting into a semi-fetal position and saying, ‘I can't wait until Taber and Strick get back.'
"We've got players that have played and can play. There is opportunity now. I think there is always a danger after things happen repeatedly, hands, concussions, knees and feet, there is a danger to say woe is me.
"But I always think there is that dimension where it can make you a little more resilient and a little tougher, because you have to gut it out."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5'6 freshman guard, No. 5 (8.2 points per game, 2.6 rebounds per game, 5.4 assists per game); Meighan Simmons, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 10 (10.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg); Alicia Manning, 6'1 senior guard/forward, No. 15 (4.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 senior forward, No. 25 (14.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg); and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 redshirt senior forward/center, No. 21 (9.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg).
LSU Coach Nikki Caldwell is expected to start: Destini Hughes, 5'10 senior guard, No. 20 (7.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.7 apg), hails from Fort Worth, Texas, started all 17 games this season at the point position, graduated this December with a degree in pre-veterinary medicine; Jeanne Kenney, 5'8 sophomore guard, No. 5 (5.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.2 apg), hails from Baton Rouge, La., has also started all 17 games, tallied career-best 7 assists against Ole Miss; Adrienne Webb, 5'9 junior guard, No. 10 (8.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg), hails from Madison, Ala., tallied 15 points against Ohio State, career high is 26 points against Mississippi State last season, preseason Second Team All-SEC; Courtney Jones, 6'2 senior forward, No. 22 (8.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg), hails from Jackson, Miss., tallied 20 points against Louisiana Tech this season, started all 17 games, tallied career-best 12 boards against Tennessee last season and tied it this season against Ohio State; and LaSondra Barrett 6'2 senior forward, No. 55 (12.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg), hails from Jackson, Miss., tallied a double-double against Florida with 17 points, 11 boards to lead a second-half charge but LSU lost by two points, its first defeat in 10 games, First Team All-SEC selection, has 100 career starts, started all 17 games this season, has 1,330 career points, graduated in December with a degree in sports administration.
A key player for LSU is Krystal Forthan, a 6'4 freshman forward from Portland, Oregon, who averages 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds a game. Forthan leads the Lady Tigers with 19 blocks. She has appeared in all 17 games this season and started two.
Three other players also have appeared in every game this season – Bianca Lutley, a 5'11 junior guard from Pensacola, Fla.; Theresa Plaisance, a 6'5 sophomore forward from Houma, La.; and Taylor Turnbow, a 6'2 senior forward from Stone Mountain, Ga.
SCOUTING REPORT Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-LSU game. Here is his assessment.
Offensively, the Lady Vols expect a more deliberate pace.
"They will run selectively," Lockwood said. "They run very hard on turnovers, long rebound. They get an advantage, they get numbers, they will run. They've got a deliberate side to them to where they'll run some sets and they'll make you guard some set action.
"(LaSondra) Barrett is one of the best all-around offensive players in the league, maybe the country. I am very impressed with her. She is shooting threes better than she has in her previous couple of years. Her mid-range shot is very good. She puts it on the floor. She's playing two or three positions.
"They've got good quickness. They can get to the paint on you. They've been a little streakier than they probably really are shooting the ball, but they've got some shooters. Barrett is as good as any. (Jeanne) Kenney can really shoot. Her numbers don't reflect it now, but she is a very good shooter.
"Destini Hughes is shooting better than she has been. (Adrienne) Webb is a terrific midrange shooter who has made some threes. So they've got a good balanced attacked to them."
Defensively, the Lady Vols expect zone.
"A lot of zone," Lockwood said. "They play a lot of 2-3 matchup zone. They are showing some man. They'll do an occasional stunting where they'll show man and go zone and vice versa, but 2-3 matchup has really been their core defense and pressing a little."
The pressure also takes the look of a zone.
"They'll play 2-2-1 up and back (full and half-court) and then they also do their 12 (1-2-1-1) up and back so a little bit of zone press."
Keys for Tennessee: "We have to not give them easy transition points because I think they need some of those," Lockwood said. "I think we can't give up the paint and the middle of the floor easily. We've got to do a good job there.
"Rebounding the ball is very big for us, because they are very good on some second and third shots. They scored some on people off of that.
"And for us, we're going to have to function against a zone. We've got to operate against a zone and get good shots and make good shots."
SEC PLAY: All 12 SEC teams are in action Thursday. The other matchups are: South Carolina at Auburn; Vanderbilt at Arkansas; Mississippi State at Ole Miss; Alabama at Florida; and Kentucky at Georgia.
ODDS AND ENDS
Tennessee leads the series with LSU, 41-12. The Lady Vols record at home is 18-2. The Lady Tigers last won in Knoxville, 78-62, on Feb. 14, 2008. Tennessee has won four straight games against LSU since that loss. … Tennessee is 9-1 in games played on January 19. The last win on this date was against Vanderbilt, 80-68, in 2006. The first win on January 19 came against Knoxville, score unrecorded, in 1971. The lone loss on January 19 was to Auburn, 70-65, in 1991. ... LSU Coach Nikki Caldwell, who is from nearby Oak Ridge, Tenn., is in her first year with the Lady Tigers. She was a Lady Vol player from 1990-1994 and played on the 1991 national title team. She also won rings as an assistant coach in 2007 and 2008. Caldwell is expecting her first child this coming March with Justin Fargas, a former NFL running back who works in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. Fargas has since relocated to Baton Rouge, and he was with Caldwell and the LSU team in Knoxville. … Tasha Butts will be another familiar face on the sideline. The former Lady Vol (2000-04) was on Caldwell's staff at UCLA and joined her at LSU, along with Tony Perotti, a former Lady Vol practice player (1997-99), and former Lady Vol Video Director Angel Elderkin (2005-07), who serves in the same capacity at LSU. … Nikki Caldwell is one of 10 former Lady Vol players who is now a collegiate head coach. The others are: Jody Adams (1989-93) at Wichita State; Niya Butts (1996-2000) at Arizona; Tonya Edwards (1986-90) at Alcorn State; Teresa Geter (1997-99) at Denark (S.C.); Tanya Haave (1980-84) at Metro State (Colo.); Gwen Jackson (1999-2003) at St. Paul's College (Va.); Kellie Jolly Harper (1995- 99) at N.C. State; Lea Henry Manning (1979-83) at Darton College (Ga.); and Semeka Randall (UT 1997-2001) at Ohio University. A former player has yet to beat Pat Summitt as a head coach. … This will be Tennessee's last home game in the month of January. This game will be a continuation of the "We Back Pat" promotion across the league this week, and Commissioner Mike Slive is expected to be at the arena. The Lady Vols play their next three games on the road against Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia. Tennessee will return home Feb. 2 to face South Carolina.
Daedra Charles-Furlow talks about Nikki Caldwell
LSU Coach Nikki Caldwell
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt
Lady Vol practice clips
LSU's Courtney Jones answers offbeat questions and talks about playing for Coach Caldwell