Lady Vols earn Thanksgiving break

The Lady Vols met with the media Tuesday to talk about the latest win and the upcoming game with Alcorn State. Go inside with InsideTennessee for a practice report and video coverage.

The Lady Vols opened practice Tuesday with one-on-one defensive drills – a point of emphasis all season – as the youngsters aren't being allowed to learn any bad habits.

The good news for Tennessee is that all 11 players were on the court at Pratt Pavilion – Monday was an off day after the 79-67 win at Miami on Sunday – after a physical game in Coral Gables, Fla.

Sophomore Ariel Massengale, who is nursing an Achilles injury, tallied 33 minutes in the win. She looked no worse for the wear Tuesday as she zipped around the court at Pratt, and coach Holly Warlick lauded her toughness Tuesday in a media interview.

Freshman Andraya Carter, who re-aggravated a right shoulder injury, wasn't in a brace Tuesday and showed no ill effects from a spill that sidelined her for the final two minutes of the game.

Juco sophomore Jasmine Phillips, who just returned last week after missing three weeks with a quad injury, is getting back to court speed and was active on defense at practice.

Phillips injured her left quad while running outside of basketball commitments and failing to stretch properly beforehand.

"I kind of pulled it," Phillips said. "I paid for it. But it is getting back together. It was very frustrating being on the bench and not being out there to help my teammates."

Phillips made her debut for the Lady Vols in the Nov. 15 game against Rice. Warlick indicated that Phillips was still somewhat limited – she wasn't full go in last Friday's practice because of soreness – but was getting better. Phillips looked the part Tuesday as she participated in full court defensive drills.

"There is still a little pain, but I am getting through it and getting better," Phillips said Tuesday. "Defense and playing my role and helping with whatever they need.

"I will be able to push through it."

Phillips used the time on the sideline to listen to the coaches and study what the team was doing on the court.

"I was able to look at some things and see what we needed to do," Phillips said. "It was kind of helpful. I feel like I did learn from the sidelines."

The players will practice early Wednesday morning and then be released until Friday afternoon.

It is a rare break at Thanksgiving made possible by a week between games – Alcorn State comes to Knoxville this Sunday, a stretch of three consecutive games at home before the fall semester exam break – and a standout performance in the last three games.

After losing the opener at Chattanooga – sophomore Cierra Burdick calls it "the best thing that could've happened to us" – Tennessee, now ranked No. 20 in AP poll and No. 15 in coaches' one, won three straight games, including two on the road against top 25 ACC teams Georgia Tech and Miami.

"I think we weren't ready and weren't ready to defend a veteran and well-coached team," Warlick said of the season-opening loss at Chattanooga. "We weren't as focused as we should be, and I think we went back and clarified things, simplified things for each game plan.

"I thought they came back and Georgia Tech was a huge game for us after we lost that one. And to go down to Miami and beat them as well. I thought our preparation was good, I thought their intensity has been really good since the Chattanooga game. The coaches have been focused, but the players have jumped on board as well."

Warlick had intended to let the players go home for Thanksgiving anyway, but she didn't tell them that. Instead, she asked them to earn it at Miami, and the players did.

"We have a week off," Warlick said. "We have been putting them to the test a lot. I thought if we could come back and give them Thanksgiving off that was a natural thing to do and wanted to give them the opportunity to spend it with their family, and it just worked out.

"I am excited, and they are all excited."

Burdick was especially excited and is flying home to Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday after practice.

"It's big time," Burdick said. "She made a deal with us the practice before the Miami game. As soon as practice is over (Wednesday), if you have class you have to wait that out, but most of us are leaving right after practice, because we had some classes canceled.

"We were all ecstatic, and that was some of the motivation at the Miami game. We wanted to go home. We wanted to see our family. People don't realize the time that we are away from our family, and it's tough.

"It kind of gave us a boost of fire to go out there and play hard just so we can go and spend Thanksgiving with our families."


Practice clips

The group along the wall is a coaching contingent from Poland, invited to the session by Dean Lockwood, who is known as the United Nations of the coaching community because of his extensive international contacts.

Cierra Burdick

Holly Warlick

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