Lady Vols reporter's notebook

Tennessee has two home games – including hosting Troy on Saturday – before heading west for a matchup with Stanford before the Christmas break. Go inside for a Lady Vols notebook.

No. 3/3 Tennessee (8-0) will tip off Saturday afternoon at 2:04 p.m. Eastern against Troy (4-4), a team whose connection to the Lady Vols goes through twins. The game will be broadcast by SportSouth.

Nia Moore, a sophomore center for Tennessee, is the twin sister of Annaya Moore, who was on Troy's basketball team last season. Foot issues ended her playing career, and Annaya relocated from the Alabama school to Knoxville to work as an equipment manager for the Lady Vols. She can be seen rebounding for the players in pre-game warmups and looks as if she could still drain some baskets herself.

An "Inside the Paint" episode by Tennessee featured the Moore twins and can be viewed by clicking here.

Tennessee's next two games are against the Trojans of Troy and the Lady Tigers of Tennessee State.

It should be an opportunity for coach Holly Warlick to spread minutes throughout the 10-player roster and arrive in Palo Alto, Calif., with a 10-0 record and a top 10 contest with Stanford currently ranked No. 6 in the country. Stanford won the last two matchups, and Tennessee hasn't won on the Cardinal's home court since 2005. The Lady Vols lost at Maples Pavilion in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

The players will be relieved to take the court Saturday. Fall semester exams have been completed, and they have a month before spring semester classes begin. The coaches, on the other hand, enjoyed a week between games, because it meant more time on the practice court.

"They always like the games and coaches like practice," Warlick said. "It's been good and a good learning experience, and I think we're getting better."

MASS PASS: There is no doubt that Ariel Massengale is better this season. The junior point guard is finally healthy and playing with a lot of confidence.

Massengale is both distributing the ball – her Mass Pass assist total is already at 53 this season – and scoring, as she leads the team at 13.9 points per game.

That has taken scoring pressure off Meighan Simmons, and the senior guard is averaging 13.4 ppg. Simmons also has 19 assists to 17 turnovers, the first time those numbers have shown more helpers than miscues since she evened out at 104 each as a freshman. That indicates that Massengale is handling the ball more, which allows Simmons to stay on the wing.

Massengale is a primary reason that the Lady Vols have started 8-0. She is shooting 44.7 percent from the arc and has forced defenses to account for her on the perimeter. Massengale also will get to the rim, and, if fouled, connect from the stripe. She is shooting 80 percent from the line.

"I would say confidence," Massengale said. "I worked on it a lot over the summer and just making shots. Repetition, repetition, repetition, definitely helped with my confidence. I'm not afraid to just knock down the open shot."

Massengale also has been helped by the presence of Amber Smith, a former Kentucky point guard who is now a graduate assistant for Tennessee. She played for now-Tennessee assistant coach Kyra Elzy while in Lexington.

"Now, she's wearing orange with us," Massengale said. "With her being a point guard and playing for five years, she knows what it takes. I have somebody to talk to when I need advice.

"She played for coach Elzy for five years and this is only my second year playing for her, so I am still trying to understand her, so she definitely helps in that aspect."

TROY SHARPSHOOTER: While the Lady Vols should handle the Trojans on paper, they will need to account for Joanna Harden on the court. The senior guard is ranked No. 3 in the country in scoring at 26.6 points per game for a team that averages 85.2 ppg, which leads the Sun Belt Conference and is No. 15 on the NCAA list.

Harden poured in 43 points against Evansville – she was 4-7 from the arc, 16-27 overall and 7-8 from the line – in a 94-86 win last Sunday.

"Anytime somebody leads (a conference in scoring), they're doing something good," Holly Warlick said. "I think that she needs to become a no-touch player for us and just limit her touches.

"We have a tendency if someone is good offensively, they tend to go off. We need to make sure she doesn't reach her average. We're going to defend her by committee."

That would be the cue for redshirt freshman Andraya Carter and sophomore Jasmine Jones. They are Tennessee's best perimeter defenders and are likely to draw the assignment on Harden.

SPEAKING OF CARTER … : Andraya Carter played in just seven games last season before shoulder surgery forced her to the sidelines. She has logged time in all eight games this season, with one start against SMU for defensive reasons.

Carter also can hit shots and connect from the stripe. She is shooting 54.2 percent overall, 61.5 percent from the arc and 84.6 percent from the line. She is second on the team with steals at 10 while averaging 19.6 minutes per game. Carter should see her minutes and shot attempts go up as the season progresses.

For now, Carter is relieved to be on the court after a season of watching from the bench.

"It was frustrating," Carter said. "I really tried my best to stay as positive as possible, but I think I definitely had moments of frustration. I love this team, I love this program, and I wanted to be out there fighting.

"It was just hard watching my teammates. It is a helpless feeling. You're cheering, and you're there for them, but I wanted to be out there fighting with them. I wanted to be supportive of my teammates and that helped me get through it."

RAREFIED AIR: Tamika Catchings is Lady Vol royalty because of her talent, character and work ethic. It's early in Andraya Carter's career, but assistant coach Dean Lockwood compared the two.

"She brings it," Lockwood said. "Here is a player you can say she does not take a play off. I can honestly say that I have yet to see that kid take a play off. And if she starts doing it, she is going to make a liar out of me because I don't see her doing it ever.

"She has just got that special wiring. She competes. She is going to compete at everything she does. She is going full throttle. She loves competing, and it shows.

"You can tell me anything but what you show me, that's what I know, that's when I really see it. I think of Andraya a lot when I hear stuff like that. You watch her. There is a kid who loves to compete, and she loves to be on that floor making things happen. She loves it."

Lockwood's remarks were unsolicited – he wasn't asked about Carter and Catchings. He made the comparison on his own, and he knows the significance. Invoking the name of Catchings – her work ethic was spoken about in reverential tone by Pat Summitt – is serious in Knoxville, and Carter was suitably subdued.

"It's surreal," Carter said. "She has always been my favorite player. It's a blessing. It is something I have to take not too seriously because she is one of the greatest in the game, but she has so much passion and she has so much heart.

"If I am going to be compared to any player in any aspect, that is who I want to be compared to. If I could grow up and be like Tamika Catchings, it would be a blessing."

Carter does take the comparison seriously. Her answer indicated that she knows she doesn't have the resume of Catchings, especially as a redshirt freshman. But she does have the attitude.

"When I hear Dean say that, it just makes me excited, because I have been working hard, and I just love this team so much," she said. "I don't want to take a play off for any of them. It's for the coaches. It's for the team. It's for Lady Vol Nation."

Catchings maintained that approach to the game – through four years of college, the Olympics and professional basketball.

"Obviously, she's got a long way to go to finish out her four years like that, like Catch did, but right now, the games and practices that we have had, that has been the case," Lockwood said.

So how does Carter sustain that level of play?

"Stay motivated. Stay hungry. Never, ever get comfortable," Carter said. "I won't be satisfied until we get a national championship. I will continue to work.

"I don't care about personal achievements. None of that stuff matters to me unless we win a national championship."


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