It is rare appearance for the Lady Vols in Knoxville as they will be back on the road this Thursday against Vanderbilt, but they have managed to stay unscathed in SEC play so far.
Both Tennessee and Alabama will show their support for Pat Summitt with the players in "We Back Pat" shooting shirts. The Crimson Tide staff will wear the shirts throughout the game.
When Alabama coach Wendell Hudson was asked on an SEC coaches' teleconference last week if he was happy to be a part of the "We Back Pat" initiative in Knoxville, he jokingly replied, "No!"
Hudson knows the Tennessee fans will be abundant – the Lady Vols asked spectators to wear "We Back Pat" T-shirts or purple, the official color of support for Alzheimer's disease – and Alabama will play amid that outpouring and the usual turnout of orange fans.
One fan in the stands could be expected to have divided loyalties Sunday. LaTrish Jones played for now-retired Alabama coach Rick Moody, and her daughter Jasmine Jones will be in uniform for Tennessee.
"It's not going to be difficult," LaTrish Jones said Saturday in a phone interview with InsideTennessee. "I'm going to pull for her."
She raised Jasmine while finishing high school and completing college – Jasmine was a "Moody Munchkin" and once got banished to the locker room as a young child for collapsing a folding table at practice – and watched her daughter blossom into a basketball player and gravitate towards orange hues.
LaTrish Jones played for Alabama during a heyday period when the Crimson Tide, led by Dominique Canty, challenged a Tennessee team stacked with the Meeks – Semeka Randall, Tamika Catchings and Chamique Holdsclaw.
She is such a diehard Crimson Tide football fan – and was on hand earlier this month for Alabama's thrashing of Notre Dame in the BCS title game – that Jasmine Jones has said she doesn't watch Alabama football games with her mother because of her intense enthusiasm.
But on Sunday, LaTrish Jones will don her orange belt – the only orange she wears on game day – and black T-shirt and shake her orange pompom in support of her daughter and the Lady Vols.
"I'm going to pull for her," said LaTrish Jones, who laughed and said the situation would be difficult if Jasmine had been a boy and played for the Vols football team. "Now that Jasmine is a Lady Vol it's not a problem."
Jones was particularly proud of her daughter in last Thursday's game against Auburn, Alabama's in-state rival. Jones was en route from Toney, Ala., to Auburn Arena to watch her only child, but a winter storm that snarled traffic in Southern states not used to seeing snow on the roads, forced her to stop in Hoover, Ala., after five hours in the car – that leg of the trip should have taken a little over an hour – and find a Buffalo Wild Wings so she could watch the game on television.
"They were really, really nice," said Jones, who didn't mention her personal connection to the game. "I said, ‘I just need a television in the corner.' "
Jones watched her daughter's standout defense on Auburn's point guard – that combined with Meighan Simmons' offensive outpouring that included nine consecutive makes fueled the comeback – and felt tremendous pride.
Jones was a defensive stopper at Alabama, though she has pointed out Holdsclaw scored her 1,000th point against her. Since Holdsclaw went on to tally 3,025 career points against a multitude of opponents, there was no shame in that.
Jones watched the 6-2 Jasmine Jones hound the 5-1 Najat Ouardad, who had run roughshod over the Lady Vols when checked by the guards, and stall the Tigers' offense to set up Tennessee's second-half rally from 12 points down.
"That was remarkable," LaTrish Jones said. "I knew her defense was on point, but it was remarkable to see her jump out on the point guard. All she could see was the number two (Jasmine's jersey number) in her face. I was so proud."
LaTrish Jones guarded small forwards on the perimeter and post players inside, so she was particularly impressed that her daughter could stifle a point guard.
"It's God-given talent," Jones said. "I didn't teach her that."
She credited coach June Fields at Sparkman High School in Harvest, Ala., with teaching defensive principles to Jasmine Jones, who plays defense with her feet instead of reaching with her hands, an unusual feat for a freshman. She didn't just obstruct Ouardad's view but also didn't let the pint-sized point guard get around her.
"The fact she can guard a point guard? They can't see over her. She blinds them basically," LaTrish Jones said.
Jones has had some standout performances this season, none more so than her outing against Georgia with 12 points, seven boards and four assists. After the game, coach Holly Warlick mentioned some "tough love" by the coaches and Jasmine's mother.
LaTrish Jones, who said she wore a brick-orange jacket to Saturday's practice, has measured her words this season, but she pointed out to her daughter, who has been inconsistent offensively, that her shooting form was well off.
"Go back to the basics," LaTrish Jones advised. "Her and the ball are not one anymore."
Jasmine Jones' coach at Bob Jones High School noticed the same thing and told LaTrish Jones, "She'll get into it. It's going to come."
Jasmine Jones can play instinctively on the ball in a man defense – her instructions are basically to be aggressive without fouling and to aggravate the point guard. She is thinking too much in other basketball areas, a typical freshman response to being presented with multiple defensive and offensive principles in college.
LaTrish Jones understands that predicament better than most since she played at Alabama. She also respects the authority of the coaches for that same reason.
"I try not to say too much," LaTrish said. "She has to listen to her coaches 100 percent of the time."
Jasmine Jones is coachable. Warlick has lauded her attitude as much as her athleticism. She is very shy with the media but smiled when asked about Warlick's instructions to her in the Auburn game.
"Just play hard; that's about it," Jones said. "That's about all she could tell us to do, to go out and play defense like we know how."
The freshman responded and, in turn, helped to secure a road win for the Lady Vols and make her mama proud.
"I knew she could definitely defend on the Division I level on the perimeter," LaTrish Jones said. "I didn't realize she could have someone completely discombobulated."
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5-6 sophomore guard, No. 5, hails from Bolingbrook, Ill. (8.8 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game, 4.1 assists per game); Meighan Simmons, 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas (17.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Taber Spani, 6-1 senior forward, No. 13, hails from Lee's Summit, Mo. (8.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Bashaara Graves, 6-2 freshman forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (14.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg); and Isabelle Harrison, 6-3 sophomore forward, No. 20, hails from Nashville, Tenn. (10.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.3 blocks per game).
Alabama coach Wendell Hudson is expected to start: Daisha Simmons, 5-10 sophomore guard, No. 0 (12.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.4 apg), hails from Jersey City, N.J., tallied 19 points, eight assists, six rebounds against Georgia, transfer from Rutgers, Jasmine Robinson, 5-7 junior guard, No. 3 (10.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg), hails from Memphis, Tenn., tallied 26 points, 13 boards in triple overtime win over North Texas; Shafontaye Myers, 5-8 junior guard, No. 12 (11.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg), hails from Newbern, Ala., connected on four treys against Ole Miss, tallied 17 points against Kentucky; Meghan Perkins, 5-11 senior guard, No. 10 (9.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg), hails from Montgomery, Ala., career-high seven assists against Ole Miss; and Kaneisha Horn, 6-1 redshirt sophomore forward, No. 40 (8.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg), hails from Birmingham, Ala., scored 17 points against Ole Miss and Georgia.
SPEAK OF THE COACH: Holly Warlick was answering media questions about Pat Summitt on Saturday when the head coach emeritus walked by in the lobby of Pratt Pavilion, and Warlick paused to shout her hello.
Warlick was the perfect successor to Summitt because she welcomes her presence and seamlessly incorporated Summitt onto the staff. A coach without Warlick's connection to the program – she was at Summitt's side for 27 years – might have been leery of having a legend so close to the program on a nearly daily basis.
But Warlick has embraced Summitt's presence and welcomes her willingness to engage the players in the team huddle before and after practice and in one-on-one exchanges.
Freshman point guard Andraya Carter, who is out this season because of shoulder surgery, is easy to find at practice. Just look for Summitt. Carter is usually beside her and chatting with the coach. As it turned out, Carter was in the last signing class recruited by Summitt.
"I want her around," Warlick said. "I love her being around our players. Players love being around her. I think she is a reminder of where the program is and who built this program. … I absolutely love it. I love what Pat stands for, and I want our kids around Pat as much as possible."
Warlick seeks Summitt's counsel every day. She also appreciates Summitt speaking to the team.
"We want her opinion and value her opinion quite a bit," Warlick said. "When she is here at practice I think they get the chance to be around her in a casual atmosphere and just talk to her about anything.
"I think they enjoy that relaxed kind of conversation. I think they enjoy her presence."
Players used to seek Warlick for those conversations, because Summitt was the one delivering the thunder. Warlick restored the calm.
"We had to change roles, but I think both of us have handled it," Warlick said. "She is enjoying what she is doing. She is enjoying coming to practice and then going home and being retired. She's earned that right."
Summitt sits on the front row across from the bench at home games and has a standing invitation to accompany the team on any road trips. She did travel to Chattanooga but has opted to stay home since that game, though Warlick did expect Summitt to travel to Nashville this coming week for the Vanderbilt game.
"She has an open invitation to go on the road anytime she wants," Warlick said. "I want her around. I want her to travel with us. She can pick whatever road game she wants to go on."
Tennessee announced Friday at the Lady Vols' Salute to Excellence, the annual fund-raiser for women's sports, that a banner honoring Summitt would be raised in the arena before the Jan. 28 game against Notre Dame.
"I love it," Warlick said. "It's just a tribute to her legacy here and how the university feels about her. I love it. I love it. Her name on the court, and she's going to be below us and above us.
"We're surrounded by Pat Summitt."
ON TAP: Ten other SEC teams are in action Sunday. The other matchups are: Auburn at Kentucky; South Carolina at Florida; Texas A&M at Georgia; Vanderbilt at LSU; and Missouri at Ole Miss. Mississippi State and Arkansas have a bye.
Tennessee leads the series with Alabama, 45-2. The Lady Vols are 19-0 in Knoxville against the Crimson Tide. Alabama beat Tennessee in 1981 and 1984 at neutral sites. The Lady Vols' winning streak over Alabama is at 38 games. … Jasmine Jones will see a very familiar face on the Alabama bench – her high school coach. Tim Miller joined Wendell Hudson's staff this season after a successful coaching career at Bob Jones High School in Madison, Ala., where he won four state titles. Alabama recruited Jones, but she was all orange, despite her mother's connection to the school. Hudson joked at SEC Media Day last October that he should have hired Hudson a year sooner to help land Jones. … Taber Spani and Meighan Simmons have stepped up since teammate Cierra Burdick went down with a broken right hand right before the start of SEC play. Spani is averaging 12.2 points and 4.4 rebounds in league games, while Simmons is averaging 20 points per game in January and has connected at 51.7 percent from the arc.
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
Holly Warlick chats Saturday with the media