Lady Vols return to SEC play

The Lady Vols get back to SEC play tonight when they take on Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Go inside with Inside Tennessee for the game story, player and coach interviews and video coverage with Pat Summitt.

Ariel Massengale's parents shared a Bible verse with their daughter this week – to whom much is given, much is expected.

Massengale knew it from the book of Luke. She also knows that it adorns the wrist of former Lady Vol Candace Parker as a tattoo. And she understands that her athletic gifts come with orange-and-white expectations.

She may just be a freshman, but if Massengale struggles, so do the Lady Vols. As the point guard, she sets the tone on both ends of the court. Fair or not for a first-year player at the toughest spot on the court, it is the reality for Tennessee.

"My parents tell me to whom much is given, much is required," Massengale said. "My mom told me that after the Notre Dame game. It really has stuck with me."

No. 7/9 Tennessee (14-5, 5-1) next plays Alabama (10-10, 0-6) at 9 p.m. Eastern (Fox Sports Net) at Foster Auditorium in Tuscaloosa.

"This is the ability and the talent that God has given me, and he's given me the opportunity to play at my dream school, to play for one of the best coaches in the country and one of the top teams in the country," Massengale said.

"My coaches trust me. They have my back. My teammates trust me. They encourage me every day. I just have to go out there and do what I can do to help this team win."

Massengale and fellow freshman Cierra Burdick were bothered by the outcome a Notre Dame, a 72-44 decimation that was the lowest point total by Tennessee since a game against Belmont in 1976.

"Of course we're upset," Massengale said. "We want to go out there and give it our all for the veterans and for this program. It was tough. I feel like it was an eye-opener for this team.

"I thought Kentucky was one for us, but I guess sometimes you've got to get knocked down to really learn what you need to do to get yourself back right."

"I was upset," Burdick said. "We got embarrassed in front of national TV. Even if it wasn't national TV I still would have been embarrassed."

Massengale played the worst game of her young career against Notre Dame in the estimation of Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick, but the former Lady Vol point guard also recognized the circumstances.

"That was a big task for her to play against (Skylar) Diggins," Warlick said. "That was a tough assignment, and I think she will learn from it. I don't think she had the energy (in that game) as much as she had in the past. I think it was the challenge of guarding Diggins in that environment, but that kid is going to get better."

Warlick's faith in Massengale is unshakable.

"I have a lot of trust in her," Warlick said.

Taber Spani was sidelined again Wednesday at practice and is not expected to play against Alabama. She logged nine minutes against Notre Dame after missing eight games to rest a left knee bone bruise.

Spani's three-point accuracy has been missed, especially with Meighan Simmons and Shekinna Stricklen not finding any consistency from long range.

Spani's off-the-practice-court presence also has been missed as the coaches never had to remind her to get in the gym on her own to get in extra shots.

"The coaches told us we have to get extra shots up," Massengale said. "We have to get in the gym. This team hasn't been shooting well, and I think shooting comes down to confidence."

Massengale will have to become a bigger three-point threat for Tennessee. She only took three shots in 35 minutes of play against Notre Dame and was 1-2 from the arc.

"I think all of us have to be a threat on the offensive end," said Massengale, who noted she would get in the gym.

"Got to," Massengale said. "Yes, I came here to get an education, but I came here to play basketball, too. You've got to use your time wisely. Plan it out for study hall hours, going to class and then getting in the gym and getting work done."

Burdick thinks Massengale can shoulder the burden of setting the tone for Tennessee.

"I do, definitely" Burdick said. "I have been saying it since I first started playing with Rel. I think Rel is one of the best point guards I have ever played with, and I think she can handle any load we put on her.

"It's going to take some time to get used to. She's been put in a big spot, a big position, but she is going to keep working hard, and I think she will be ready to handle it. Definitely."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5'6 freshman guard, No. 5 (7.9 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game, 5.2 assists per game); Meighan Simmons, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 10 (10.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 senior guard/forward, No. 40 (14.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 senior forward, No. 25 (14.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg); and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 redshirt senior forward, No. 21 (9.1 points, 7.6 rpg).

Holly Warlick said Wednesday right before the team departed for Tuscaloosa that the coaches were still in discussions about the starters. Johnson was definitely a probable, but the other four slots were under review, so the above lineup is definitely subject to change.

Alabama Coach Wendell Hudson is expected to start: Khristin Lee, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 22 (4.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg), hails from Birmingham, Ala., tied a career-high with six assists against Mississippi State; Jasmine Robinson, 5'7 sophomore guard, No. 3 (11.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg), hails from Memphis, Tenn., tallied a career-high 24 points against Kansas this season; Meghan Perkins, 5'11 junior guard, No. 10 (9.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg), hails from Montgomery, Ala., tallied double-double against Air Force with 19 points, 10 boards, first season at Alabama, played at Pensacola State College; Celiscia Farmer, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (3.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg), hails from Madison, Wisc., tallied season-high 15 points against Mississippi State, scored a career-high 21 points against Tennessee in 2010; and Kyra Crosby, 6'1 junior forward, No. 21 (8.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg), hails from Powder Springs, Ga., tallied a career-high 14 points against Florida, first year with Alabama, played at Gulf Coast Community College, named to juco All-American team.

"I think that playing Tennessee at any time is a challenge," Hudson said. "I think the big thing is that we should be ready to play and match their intensity level.

"I think that one of the biggest hurdles playing Tennessee is that the intensity level will be as high as it could be, especially coming off of a loss."

SCOUTING REPORT: Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Alabama game. Here is her assessment.

Offensively, "I think Alabama is very athletic," Warlick said. "They like to score in transition, score off their steals. It will be a challenge for us defending their transition offense."

Warlick doesn't think Alabama's SEC record has any bearing on this game.

"They push the ball," Warlick said. "They run hard. Their record isn't any indication of how they play. They play hard. Give them credit for that."

Defensively, Warlick expects a mix of zone and man.

"They will do a little man to man and 3-2 (zone)," she said. "No matter what the score is they play hard all the time on defense. They are not winning games, but their effort is going to be there, and it's going to stay there.

"I assume they'll do that against us. They will probably knock it up an extra level."

The Crimson Tide now plays in the 3,800-seat Foster Auditorium, a cozy venue intended to give Alabama a home court advantage as opposed to playing in Coleman Coliseum.

"We've never played there," Warlick said. "It will be interesting."

LATE TIP: The Lady Vols used Wednesday's practice session to focus solely on Tennessee and what the team needed to address and then they left for Tuscaloosa.

Warlick summed up the keys for Tennessee in this game in one word: Effort.

"We worked on us (Wednesday)," Warlick said. "We didn't work on Alabama. That is the first time, maybe since I've been here, that we did that."

With a tipoff of 8 p.m. local time (9 p.m. Eastern), the Lady Vols will have plenty of time Thursday to watch film and go over the scouting report for the Crimson Tide. They also will have a shoot-around/scouting session on the court earlier in the day.

Wednesday's session in Knoxville wasn't typical of a day-before-a-game practice because of the up-tempo pace.

"We went extremely hard before a game, and we usually don't do that," Warlick said. "Ours is just playing with a lot of heart and effort. Ours is executing and having discipline. They know what they should be doing on offense and defense. It's a matter of doing it and being disciplined enough to do it.

"Outside of the Ball State game I don't think we've had a more disappointing loss than we did the other day (against Notre Dame). If we can learn from it, and it has an effect on us in a positive way …. . The season is not over for us. We're disappointed, but our expectations are high."

SEC PLAY: Eight other SEC teams are in action this evening in the following matchups: Arkansas at Mississippi State; Kentucky at Auburn; Georgia at Vanderbilt; and Ole Miss at South Carolina.

Florida and LSU are idle Thursday.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Alabama, 44-2. The Lady Vols record on the road is 16-0. The Crimson Tide's last win, 85-66, in 1984 at a neutral site in the SEC tourney. The first win for Alabama in the series also was at a neutral site, this time in 1981, a 77-71 victory, also in the conference tournament. The Lady Vols have won the last 37 matchups. The last game in Tuscaloosa was a slim 74-67 win for the Lady Vols in 2010. … Tennessee is 7-3 in games played on January 26. The last win on this date came against Mississippi State, 82-68, in 2003. The first win on January 26 was against North Carolina, 76-72, in 1981. The three losses on this date were to Chattanooga, 58-55, in 1973; Old Dominion, 61-54, in 1980; and Kentucky, 66-63, in 2006.

VIDEO COVERAGE

Pat Summitt

Wednesday practice clips

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 Alabama's Ericka Russell. She is not playing for medical reasons because of previous knee injuries. Her last game was against Ole Miss on Jan. 15 and she has now taken a medical disqualification. Russell joined the 1,000-point career club in the season opener last November.


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