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The coaches and players will welcome the week between games, as several players need healing time.
Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, has lately logged a lot of minutes in the training room with forward Cierra Burdick (broken right hand, working way back to full recovery); guard Kamiko Williams (sprained right ankle, already back, still being treated); forward Isabelle Harrison (left knee surgery, hopes to return at some point this season, is no longer on crutches); and guard Taber Spani (lower back), who hasn't missed a game this season and receives extensive treatment.
Andraya Carter also has spent considerable time with Moshak and her training staff, but she won't be back this season. The freshman guard had surgery in December to repair her right shoulder and just recently was released from having to wear her sling.
Head coach Holly Warlick and her staff, Dean Lockwood, Jolette Law and Kyra Elzy, never expected Carter to have so much company on the sideline this season. Still, the Lady Vols have exceeded expectations – at least those of the prognosticators among media and coaches – and remain in first place in the SEC and top 15 nationally.
Carter, meanwhile, is using her time to immerse herself in the game from the point of view of the staff, so much so that officials have had to remind her to sit down. When Burdick was out with her injury, both of the players were like the childhood jack-in-the-box toy as they repeatedly popped off the bench.
"The refs got on to us a lot," Carter said. "She was like, ‘You have to sit down 14. You have to sit down.' I don't know how she knew my number, but she did."
There are rules limiting who can stand during a game – typically only the head coach for any sustained amount of time – and Burdick and Carter finally managed to settle down.
One photo showed Carter standing with Lockwood – she was nearly blocking him – with both pointing to the same thing on the court.
"I have seen a few pictures and in some of them I look like a lunatic on the sidelines," Carter said. "But it's a good thing. I love supporting my teammates. I get really into it. When a good play happens I am going to jump in the air."
Carter didn't enter college with the notion of becoming a coach, but she is showing early signs of getting hooked by a clipboard and whistle.
"I do want to get into something with basketball, journalism, media," Carter said. "Coaching, I had never thought about it before until you and a few other people mentioned seeing me on the bench."
With Warlick walking the sidelines – she spends most of the game on her feet – Carter has taken a seat among the assistants to absorb all they say during a game.
"I am really learning from coach Elzy and coach Law and Dean just listening," Carter said. "I pay attention to the game, but my ears are always open to everything that they are saying.
"When they point stuff out that they see I notice it. I am learning so many different things that I don't see as a player."
Warlick welcomes the insight of the youngster.
"I love her energy," Warlick said. "If she sees something, tell us or our players."
Carter, a combo guard with the basketball IQ of a coach, also is learning from the bench, a situation that can make her a better player when she does get back on the court.
"I definitely think so," Carter said. "When you're out there on the court, for example, you think you're in help-side but from the sidelines you can clearly see that they're not there.
"When I get back to playing I am just going to be more aware of the things that I thought I was doing before that I probably wasn't doing."
Warlick sounds as if she can't wait for that day to arrive. When asked about missing Carter because of her ability to pressure the ball, Warlick noted that she was the best on-ball defender on the team.
While Carter was conducting a media interview, Pat Summitt arrived for practice and gave a shoutout to the freshman.
"I can't wait for her to get back on the court," Summitt said.
That won't be until next season in terms of joining practice and playing in games, but Carter took a big step this month with the removal of her sling.
"As soon as they told me I did this dance," Carter said. "I was so excited to get it off. It was uncomfortable and attracted attention."
Even before the sling came off the righty Carter got to work on her left hand with short shots and dribbling drills.
"Coach Law has me doing a lot of left-handed ball-handling drills," Carter said. "Now, as a part of rehab I can actually shoot left-handed and use my right hand as a guide hand.
"It will definitely help me as a player. It's not good that I hurt my shoulder, but it's better that I hurt the right one."
That is Carter's approach to the setback in a nutshell. If she had to endure shoulder surgery and rehab, she wanted it to be her right one so that she could develop her left hand better for basketball.
Carter has watched teammates join her on Rehab Row, and has dealt with the agony of not being able to help a shorthanded team on the court.
"It is so frustrating," Carter said. "That is probably the thing that gets me the most. I just want to be out there with them. I want to be out there fighting and playing with them.
"I love playing so much and I love playing with this team so much, so that is probably what is the most frustrating."
Sidelined players struggle to stay completely connected with the team, but Carter has a support system in place.
"I rely on my teammates and my coaches and the athletic training staff," she said. "Everyone in the program is telling me, ‘We still need you. You are still a part of this team.' And my support back home, my family, my best friends. Praying about it. Trying to stay involved and to not get too frustrated.
"It is OK to get frustrated but when you let it affect the program and let it show all the time, I think that's pretty selfish. I try to be positive."
Carter also uses Twitter to project a positive attitude, as does Burdick, and the two use social media to interact with Lady Vol fans.
"As a Lady Vol it definitely is a way to interact with people," Carter said. "I know fans appreciate the little things, and it goes a long way."
Although Carter wants to be on the court – her rehab is a four- to six-month process so she will have the off-season to fully recover and work on basketball skills – she knows the surgery was medically necessary. The shoulder was initially injured a year ago in high school and had become so unstable that even minimal contact was causing it to pop out.
"I don't have any regrets," Carter said. "This is also giving my knee and my ankle a chance to rest and get my body healthy."
Carter missed most of her senior year in high school to recover from ACL surgery and then injured an ankle in preseason conditioning at Tennessee. She recovered quickly from the ankle mishap and had no issues with the knee, either. Carter quickly established, with her lateral speed and active hands, that she was the team's best on-ball defender, something Warlick still needs in order to play traditional Tennessee defense.
"I will hopefully go right back at it next season," Carter said. "I think there are many positives. You can't be too mad about the fact that your coaches at the University of Tennessee wanted your shoulder to be healthy.
"The way it was coming out in games … it was kind of like a dead weight. I helped the team but when it came out, you stopped the whole game. And it would have kept happening."
The shoulder was repaired arthroscopically, and that was good news for the patient.
"They didn't have to cut me open and I know from my knee the difference and the way it moves, the way it feels, it's just much better when it's done arthroscopically," Carter said.
Carter will spend this season soaking up knowledge from the staff, and that includes Summitt, the head coach emeritus. Carter, when not doing sideline rehab, is likely to be close to Summitt at practice.
"I think she is amazing," Carter said. "I enjoy being next to her, talking to her, getting all I can from her. I just feel very connected to coach Summitt.
"We talked a lot while I was in high school. We had a lot of good conversations. I think we have a really strong relationship. We are really close."
Warlick welcomes the freshman's attitude and said Carter has found a way to contribute even though she can't take the court.
"She is really, really positive on the bench," Warlick said. "She is just being a leader. She is a natural born leader."
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5-6 sophomore guard, No. 5, hails from Bolingbrook, Ill. (8.3 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game, 4.4 assists per game); Meighan Simmons, 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas (17.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg); Taber Spani, 6-1 senior forward, No. 13, hails from Lee's Summit, Mo. (9.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Cierra Burdick 6-2 sophomore forward, hails from Charlotte, N.C. (8.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg); and Bashaara Graves, 6-2 freshman forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (14.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg).
Ole Miss coach Brett Frank is expected to start: Valencia McFarland, 5-4 junior guard, No. 3 (11.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.1 apg), hails from Edwards, Miss., leads Ole Miss with 113 assists, scored 1,000th career point Jan. 24 with a 24-point effort at Florida, has reached double figures 13 times this season, has 57 steals, Second Team All-SEC last season; Gracie Frizzell, 5-10 redshirt freshman guard, No. 12 (7.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg), hails from Little Rock, Ark., has connected on 36 threes this season; Diara Moore, 5-7 junior guard, No. 10 (11.3 ppg, 3.9 ppg), hails from Cedar Hill, Texas, 75-100 from the free throw line, has reached double figures 16 times this season, played at Kansas as a freshman and then Independence Community College before transferring to Ole Miss; Danielle McCray, 6-1 sophomore forward, No. 22 (6.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg), hails from West Palm Beach, Fla., tallied 16 points against UMass; and Courtney Marbra, 6-1 senior forward, No. 25 (5.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg), hails from Jackson, Miss., tied for team lead with 11 blocks this season.
Tia Faleru, a 6-0 sophomore from Ozark, Ark., leads the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game. She averages 15.6 points in SEC games and paced Ole Miss with 15 points against Vanderbilt last Sunday. Faleru has started two games this season and has come off the bench in all SEC games.
DEFENSIVE ADJUSTMENTS: Holly Warlick knew that Nikki Caldwell would know every nuance of Tennessee's defense, so she tried to mix up schemes against the Lady Tigers.
One particularly effective ploy was when the Lady Vols dropped into a zone and then after the first pass, the players scattered into man coverage.
"We showed it and went man," Warlick said.
The key, of course, is not to get too cute and confuse a young team, but Warlick was able to play mostly returning players at Baton Rouge with the early return of Kamiko Williams from an ankle sprain.
Warlick also knew LSU expected traps so they didn't show it early and then would spring them after timeouts.
"We changed up quite a bit," Warlick said.
BOUNCE BACK: The Lady Vols 64-62 win against LSU boosted the morale of a young team that was reeling after the 80-63 loss at Missouri a week ago that wrecked the perfect SEC slate.
"It was almost like we were just in a funk, and we couldn't get out of it," Carter said. "I know we're a better team. Missouri just outplayed us. They wanted it so badly.
"We're an amazing team when we're playing hard and playing defense and having energy and when it's fun. And when it's not like that, that is when we lose games."
The Lady Vols had romped 84-39 over Mizzou a month earlier. The rematch was a reminder to a young team that college can be a grind every game.
"That's the thing about it," Carter said. "In high school if you beat a team by 50, you are going to beat them by 50 the next time. I think all of us have realized just so many different things about the game of basketball at this level of Division I and SEC play."
The players and coaches met before the next practice session and then began preparations for LSU.
"We had a team meeting and sorted a lot of things out," Carter said.
Kyra Elzy noted that the Lady Vols were still in control of where they finished in the SEC standings.
"Coach Elzy actually pointed that out," Carter said. "We can still get a championship. We can still win. We still have an opportunity to make a statement and leave our mark."
ON TAP: All 14 SEC teams are in action Sunday. The other matchups are: Arkansas at Alabama; Florida at Auburn; Georgia at LSU; Kentucky at Vanderbilt; Mississippi State at Missouri; and Texas A&M at South Carolina.
Tennessee leads the series with Ole Miss, 39-7. The Lady Vols record at home against the Rebels is 17-2. Ole Miss won in Knoxville in 1984 and 1987. … The Lady Vols keep an assortment of stats including these interesting ones: Jasmine Jones has been the first off the bench 11 times followed by Kamiko Williams at five. A jump shot led to Tennessee's first points 10 times with a trey ball or layup at five times each. Meighan Simmons has scored Tennessee's first points eight times, followed by Isabelle Harrison at five and Bashaara Graves at four. Simmons has led the team in scoring 12 times followed by Graves at seven. Simmons has exceeded 15 points 10 times this season, followed by Graves at 12 times. Ariel Massengale has drawn nine charges followed by Jones at four. Kamiko Williams has had five-plus steals twice. Williams and Simmons have both led the team in steals seven times. Simmons is 8-8 from the free throw line in the game's final four minutes. Tennessee has controlled the jump ball 19 times this season.
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE