Five seniors to be honored Sunday

The Lady Vols will recognize Senior Day with five players on "The Summitt" court for the final time. Go inside to read the remarks of all five seniors as they prepare for their good-bye at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The way Shekinna Stricklen sees it, if Alicia Manning and Briana Bass don't start crying, she can hold back the tears, too.

The way all of them see it, if their family members get emotional, they all likely to join them in needing some tissues before tipoff.

No. 10/9 Tennessee (20-8, 11-4) takes on Florida (18-10, 8-7) on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPNU). Gates open at 2 p.m., and the ticket office opens at 12:30 p.m. More than 17,000 tickets have already been sold for the final home game of the season.

It will really be the final game of the 2011-12 season at the arena because Tennessee isn't a host site for the NCAA tourney this year.

"It will be a pretty emotional day because we all worked our whole lives to play here," Manning said. "My personal goal is to play as hard as I can for my fans to give them something to cheer about and leave here on a good note."

It will also be a longer ceremony than in recent years. Three years ago, only one senior departed; two years ago there was none; and last year, there were two.

"This is the first big class that we've had since we've been here," Manning said.

That class arrived as a crew of six but two members departed – Amber Gray transferred to Xavier to be closer to her physicians after suffering a stroke from a brain aneurysm – she was able to recover and return to basketball – and Alyssia Brewer transferred to UCLA before this season began.

The class added one member in Vicki Baugh, who is a fifth-year redshirt after undergoing two ACL surgeries on her left knee.

"I am kind of like the mom to them but at the same time those are my girls because we're all seniors together," Baugh said. "But I call myself the super senior just because I've got that extra little bit of knowledge that they missed that first year and I am grateful to be part of a championship.

"I am going to be losing my sisters but the beauty of Tennessee is that we will remain family off the court and past this."

It is a class that has endured to say the least. Off the court, they survived the near-death of Gray, staff member Daedra Charles-Furlow's battle with breast cancer, the exit of teammates to transfer and major injury and the thunderbolt before the season began that Pat Summitt had early onset dementia.

On the court, they are still seeking their first Final Four, the NCAA resume includes the program's first-ever first round loss and they lost more games at home this season than any team ever had.

"Our class has been through a lot with the four years that we have been here and then what happened this summer with Pat, but I feel we all came closer," Stricklen said. "It brought everyone close, the team and coaches.

"The five seniors have a very close relationship. We are going to miss each other a lot but we are going to try and stay in touch."

Bass noted, "These five seniors have been through a lot of ups and down and lost a few teammates along the way. It will be really emotional.

"No matter what we go through, no matter where everybody ends up I think we are definitely going to stay close."

Stricklen still has steady contact with Gray. Bass has maintained a close relationship with Brewer.

Bass also has been the epitome of perseverance. She stuck it out despite dwindling playing time and then carved out a role as a senior.

The Tennessee coaches hope the seniors savor Sunday's ceremony.

"I hope they have a moment of thankfulness and gratitude," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "I hope they can enjoy the fact of playing at a place this special and this unique."

"The other side of the coin is part of your spirit of thankfulness will be reflected in how you do things. We're hoping we see a tremendous effort because of the gratitude and thankfulness of having this opportunity."

Sunday's matchup with Florida is an important one. The Gators are playing to boost their NCAA resume, as Arkansas was, and have five seniors of their own.

The Gators' largest margin of defeat this season was just 14 points against Rutgers. The other nine losses all have been by six points or less.

Tennessee has to somehow set aside the emotion of senior day – and the uncertainty of Summitt's health going forward means it is possible Sunday is Summitt's final home game as head coach – and get ready for tipoff.

"I can't believe it's our senior day," Glory Johnson said. "It came so fast. It's going to be sad to see all of us leave.

"Give them something to remember. They won't get to see us again on that home floor. I have to play the game like it will be their last time to see me play."

The seniors were asked about how they were going to sort out their emotions on Sunday.

"I won't know until it happens," Baugh said. "I don't know if I might cry or not. I don't know what my emotions will be. I just know that this program has truly been a huge piece of my heart.

"I am going to miss the girls and definitely the coaches, but I know I am always going to have Knoxville to come back to. Tennessee is a great place and a great condition. I am just glad that I could have been a part of it."

Stricklen has taken the approach of not even thinking about it yet.

"It still hasn't hit me yet," Stricklen said. "It probably won't hit me until that Sunday. Tears? Only if I see the rest of them crying. I am going to try not to look at Bree or A-Town because I know those two will."

"I'm determined not to cry," Bass said. "After the game I am probably going to have some boohoo moments. If my mom cries then it might get me. As long as I don't look at anybody crying I will be fine.

"It's crazy. We just got here four years ago and it went by so fast. We learned a lot. We had some good games and bad games, good times and bad times.

"But I don't regret anything for the world. I appreciate this experience. We don't talk about it being over. We don't want to look at it as being over.

"There will be a lot of thoughts," Baugh said. "Sad, happy. I am going to be thankful. Making it to this program was always a goal of my life.

"I get to be a part of all of the Lady Vols in history and become part of the family. I am just appreciative of everything."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Briana Bass, 5'2 senior guard, No. 1 (2.3 points per game, 0.6 rebounds per game); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 senior guard/forward, No. 40 (15.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg); Alicia Manning, 6'1 senior forward, No. 15 (3.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 senior forward, No. 25 (13.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg); and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 senior forward, No. 21 (7.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

With five seniors for Senior Day it provides a ready-made lineup to honor the veterans. Stricklen and Johnson are regular starters, Manning has 10 nods this season, and Baugh has 11. It will be Bass' second start of the season, but she has held her own with her minutes off the bench.

Bass logged 11 minutes in Thursday's game against Arkansas and graded out very high on the game film.

"She did exactly what she was asked to do and the way she was asked to do it," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "She was getting to (C'eria Ricketts). I get fired up by that stuff. You annoy. You disrupt. You bother."

The coaches have sought a starting five this season that consistently got the team off to a high-energy start, and they thought they had finally turned the corner in the rout over Kentucky.

But, with the same opening players, both road games started slowly – and the coaches had to go to the bench early – and then the sputtering continued this week at home against Arkansas.

"We're looking for a mode of a play," Lockwood said. "This is what you're going to get when you hit the court.

"It's competing and a focus and an awareness level. Those two things merge and if they're not together, you won't beat good teams."

This means regular starters freshman Ariel Massengale, sophomore Meighan Simmons and junior Taber Spani will come off the bench on Senior Day, though all three will log minutes.

The five seniors will likely shed some tears and then focus in the way Lockwood mentioned.

"We have been searching for a unit," he said.

Perhaps an all-senior one will be the answer Sunday.

Florida Coach Amanda Butler is expected to start: Lanita Bartley, 5'6 senior guard, No. 3 (9.0 ppg,. 5.2 rpg), hails from Jacksonville, Fla., averaged 15.3 points in recent three-game win streak; Jaterra Bonds, 5'7 sophomore guard, No. 10 (8.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg), hails from Gainesville, Fla., second on team with 71 assists ; Jordan Jones, 5'9 redshirt senior guard, No. 33 (11.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg), hails from Suwanee, Ga., nailed six treys in last game; Jennifer George, 6'0 junior forward, No. 32 (12.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg), hails from Orlando, Fla., has tallied 20 double-figure scoring games; and Azania Stewart, 6'4 senior center, No. 13 (5.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg), hails from Wood Green, England, tallied 13 points, 11 boards in last game.

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

Offensively, "They're very balanced," Lockwood said. "They run a lot of ball screens. They run some sets and entries to get the ball in the hands of specific players. They've got good balance.

"They've got a perimeter that's quick and athletic," Lockwood said. "(Lanita) Bartley and (Jaterra) Bonds come to mind first and foremost as two very good drivers that can get in the paint, both good in the open floor.

"Jordan Jones is a terrific shooter. Jennifer George inside has really emerged. She is a solid, reliable post who can score in the midrange and in the low post. (Azania) Stewart is big, 6'4 kid who can score.

"Deana Allen can hit threes, she can pull up, she can finish."

Defensively, the Gators are likely to show man and 2-3 zone.

"They mix it up depending on who they're playing and who their lineup is," Lockwood said. "They do a little bit of trapping. Multiple defenses that we've seen so much of here."

Keys for Tennessee: "Taking care of the ball is going to be important," Lockwood said. "Florida is going to try to get some turnovers and get some open floor stuff.

"We have to be able to defend the dribble drive. You have to be able to keep people out of the paint."

SEC PLAY: All 12 SEC teams are in action Sunday to close the regular season. The other matchups are: Alabama at Vanderbilt; Arkansas at South Carolina; Ole Miss at Auburn; LSU at Georgia; and Kentucky at Mississippi State.

Nell Fortner and Sharon Fanning-Otis are coaching their last homes games at Auburn and Mississippi State, respectively. Both announced their retirements earlier this month.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Florida, 43-3. The Lady Vols are 19-1 in Knoxville. The Gators last won in 2006 on Senior Day at Thompson-Boling Arena in overtime, 95-93. … Tennessee is 8-7 in games played on February 26. The last win on this date came against Arkansas, 93-71, in 2004. The first win on February 26 was against Tennessee-Martin, 71-41, in 1981. The seven losses on this date were to Carson-Newman, 14-13, in 1920; Cincinnati, 54-23, in 1924; Maryville, 28-27, in 1926; Chattanooga, 53-47, in 1971; Chattanooga,50-49, in 1972; Florida, 95-93 in overtime; and LSU, 63-61, in 2009. … The pre-game ceremony to honor the seniors will begin at 3:15 p.m., 15 minutes before tipoff. Five Lady Vol basketball managers and two student athletic trainers will be honored, followed by the five Tennessee seniors. Tennessee also will recognize Florida's five seniors – Deana Allen, Lanita Bartley, Jordan Jones, Ndidi Madu and Azania Stewart. … Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt will receive a national "Inspire Award" from the AARP at halftime and the presentation will be shown on the overhead scoreboard screen. Summitt was recognized with the 10th annual award in the December/January issue of the magazine. The awards honor individuals who inspire others to action through innovative thinking, passion and perseverance. Summitt received her recognition as an Alzheimer's advocate.

VIDEO COVERAGE

Pat Summitt

Holly Warlick

Alicia Manning

Glory Johnson

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 Florida's Azania Stewart.


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