It will be the last road game for the Lady Vols in the 2011-12 season as they finish at home against Arkansas and Florida. It is also the last road game in the SEC for five seniors on Tennessee's roster.
One of those is Briana Bass, a point guard from Indianapolis, Ind., whose arrival in Knoxville coincided with what could be called the Big Experiment at Tennessee with size at all positions and a need to play a lot of zone on defense.
The 5'2 Bass saw her playing time diminish as her career unfolded, but she stuck it out and has become an integral piece of this year's team, as Bass brings energy on defense, pushes the ball in transition, spells freshman point guard Ariel Massengale and serves as a leader from the bench.
"She is playing the best basketball she's played since she's been at Tennessee, and she is playing with a lot of confidence," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said.
"She is playing with a lot of energy and a lot of times that is what we need when we put her in, and the team has responded well to her."
Bass always follow the scouting report on defense – Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick has praised the point guard for this attention to detail – and has held her own when she is on the court.
"Exactly, exactly, exactly, said Bass' father, Tim Bass. "Give Ariel a break, go in and do what she needs to do. She's ready. She's prepared herself. She has worked hard in practice. She is staying ready for an opportunity.
"When I have watched her on TV or in person I am very proud whether she is in there for two minutes or 10 minutes. She goes in there and brings energy to the team."
That Briana Bass has been able to carve a spot for herself is a credit to herself, the staff and her parents, Tim and Gina Bass.
"We're looking at the big picture," Tim Bass said. "If I had to do it all over again, we would have done it the same way.
"Because Bree left Indianapolis as a young lady. Right now with this experience, going through this, she is leaving Tennessee as a young woman."
Tim Bass said the four-year journey for his daughter was beneficial for the entire family.
"I think this experience has really helped Bree and me and my wife," he said. "Bree has developed a good attitude overall. It wasn't just about basketball. Tennessee is an excellent program and Coach Summitt is an excellent coach.
"But I feel like all three of us got through this together, and I feel like it made all of us better when it's all said and done. I watched my daughter grow and develop and that is what I am most proud of."
It wasn't an easy process for Briana Bass. She would get frustrated and seek counsel from family.
"It was tough, but there were four things I always tell her," her father said. "Stay ready, stay hungry, keep working hard and keep a good attitude. Your team is going to need you."
Briana Bass has acknowledged how much she leaned on her parents. She also relies on her faith.
"My dad and my family have always been there for me and told me the right words to get me going," Briana Bass said. "Having God in my life has really helped me a lot, so I appreciate both God and my family."
Bass has also been there for her team. She is effective with her minutes and is in a teammate's ear with advice or a confidence boost, if needed.
"We've got to stay mentally and physically prepared," Bass said of the final week of the regular season. "Communication is key to everything."
His daughter's willingness to put her needs second to those of the team is what really fills Tim Bass with pride.
"Oh my goodness, my wife and I are so proud," Tim Bass said. "Bree has really put her team before herself. When they are down she is there to pick them up.
"We were always there to pick her up and get her to look at the big picture, but to watch her grow into a leader on this team, even though she doesn't get a lot of minutes, at the end of the day that is what means the most."
Briana Bass has expressed interest in becoming a coach, but she also could decide to enroll in graduate school or perhaps seek employment with the NCAA, which is headquartered in her hometown of Indianapolis.
"I thought she would be a great coach," Tim Bass said. "We'll have to wait and see."
One thing that he is certain about is that his daughter's four years at Tennessee prepared her for whatever lies ahead in her life.
"Oh my goodness, yes," Tim Bass said. "This experience truly has prepared Bree to move on to the next chapter in her life. Whenever you have dreams or you have goals, you are going to have adversity. That is part of the package.
"The adversity that she has gone through has made her the person she is today."
The fans who attend games at Thompson-Boling Arena definitely appreciate Briana Bass. They start cheering when they see her walk to the scorer's table.
"I love it," Briana Bass said. "I love the support, and I've had the support for four years. I really appreciate all that the fans do for me."
When Bass gets up in the grill of an opponent with sticky defense or swishes a three, the roar in the arena is nearly as loud as if someone in orange-and-white had just hit a buzzer-beater for the win.
"I think when they see Bree's attitude and her smile, I think it's contagious," Tim Bass said. "I think that is what people appreciate about her the most.
"So many players have come and gone for lack of playing time, but Bree was able to stick it out and it has really worked out well for her. If I had to do it all over again – and I am not saying that just to say it – this experience was the right one."
Tim and Gina Bass will be in Knoxville in a week when five seniors are honored at their final home game.
"I just can't believe four years have gone by this fast," Tim Bass said. "It is kind of emotional. What the people in Tennessee have meant to us, second to none. Everybody has been first class.
"If I could move to Knoxville, I would. That is the type of treatment that we have gotten ever since we've been coming down there. That is what we are going to miss the most – the people, the coaching staff. That is hard to replace. That is probably the biggest emotion I am going to feel that day.
"I saw my daughter be able to live her dream. That was always Bree's dream was to play at Tennessee and to see that dream fulfilled … that is what I tell any kid that is Bree's size or smaller, when you believe in a dream, anything is possible. Dream big."
Briana Bass may have been tempted to seek more playing time at another school, but Tim Bass reminded his daughter that the power of sticking with a commitment will pay dividends that may not be readily apparent at first.
"Bree has grown by staying," Tim Bass said. "I tell people all the time that is how a seed grows. It grows when you keep it in place, and it will produce. It will bring forth.
"There is something to staying. Things are not always going to go your way. Life is not like that. It is better to stay and stick it out.
"This tree has produced fruit. This experience has definitely produced fruit."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5'6 freshman guard, No. 5 (7.7 points per game, 2.6 rebounds per game, 5.2 assists per game); Meighan Simmons, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 10 (11.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Taber Spani, 6'1 junior guard/forward, No. 13 (8.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 senior guard/forward, No. 40 (15.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg); and Glory Johnson, 6'3 senior forward, No. 25 (13.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg).
Ole Miss Coach Renee Ladner is expected to start: Valencia McFarland, 5'4 sophomore guard, No. 3 (13.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.9 apg), hails from Edwards, Miss., leads team with 127 assists, set the 3A state record in the high jump (5'7) in high school; Amber Singletary, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 20 (3.7 ppg, 1.1 rpg), hails from Baltimore, Md., scored 15 points in first career start against Murray State, four-year letterwinner in track and field in high school; Tia Faleru, 6'0 freshman guard/forward, No. 32 (4.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg), hails from Ozark, Ala., logged all 45 minutes in the overtime game against Mississippi State, competed in 100m and 200m in high school; Danielle McCray, 6'1 freshman forward, No. 21 (4.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg), hails from West Palm Beach, Fla., grabbed career-high 12 boards against MSU, cousin Gene Atkins played for Miami Dolphins; and Monique Jackson, 6'1 freshman forward, No. 42 (1.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg), hails from Phenix City, Ala., also tallied career-high 12 boards against MSU, four-year starter in volleyball in high school.
A key player for the Rebels is Nikki Byrd, a 6'4 senior from Brookhaven, Miss., who has started 22 games this season and could very well be on the court for the opening tip Sunday. Byrd averages 12.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
Byrd, along with seniors Whitney Hamath, a 5'10 guard from Dumas, Ark., and LaTosha Laws, a 5'10 guard from Memphis, Tenn., will be recognized in a pre-game ceremony because Sunday is their last home game.
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Ole Miss game. Here is her assessment.
Offensively, guard Valencia McFarland is the motor for the Rebels.
"They will push tempo when they can," DeMoss said. "Valencia McFarland is a lot of their offense so we've got to surely have good defense on her.
"She can create shots for herself and create shots for other people. That makes her pretty dangerous. Our one-on-one defense has got to be good."
Nikki Byrd came off the bench in Ole Miss' last game, so the Lady Vols are prepared for variation in the lineup.
"She is kind of starting different lineups," DeMoss said of Renee Ladner.
Defensively, the Rebels are showing more man looks than usual.
"They are playing a little bit more man this year than they've played in the past," DeMoss said. "They used to play a lot of zone, a lot of 1-2-2, matchup, but from the tapes I've seen they're playing a little bit more man than normal.
"Man and zone with a little bit of pressing."
SEC PLAY: Eight other SEC teams are in action Sunday in the following matchups: South Carolina at Alabama; Mississippi State at Arkansas; Auburn at LSU; and Georgia at Florida.
Vanderbilt plays at Kentucky on Monday at 9 p.m. (TV: ESPN2).
ODDS AND ENDS
Tennessee leads the series with Ole Miss, 38-7. The Lady Vols' record against Ole Miss on the road is 16-3. The last time the Rebels defeated Tennessee in Oxford was a 78-72 win in 1996. … Tennessee is 10-3 in games played on February 19. The last win on this date came against LSU, 56-51, in 2007. The first win on February 19 was against Western Carolina, 48-44, in 1972. The three losses on this date were to UNC-Greensboro, 54-43, also in 1972; Georgia, 84-65, in 1984; and Kentucky, 66-56, in 2009. Several Lady Vols have hit some milestones recently. Senior Vicki Baugh grabbed six rebounds at Mississippi State and is now a member of the 500-point, 500-rebound club. Baugh has 572 points and 501 rebounds in a career truncated by injuries. Senior Glory Johnson has 1,107 career boards after tallying 15 at Mississippi State. She also is closing in on 1,500 career points with 1,479 entering Sunday's game. Meighan Simmons has nearly hit the 800-point mark for her career. The sophomore currently has 794. Senior Shekinna Stricklen eclipsed 1,700 career points versus Kentucky and tallied 22 at Mississippi State to give her 1,726 points for her career. Stricklen's 12 rebounds in Starkville also boosted her career boards to 839.
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 Ole Miss' Nikki Byrd.