Isabelle Harrison, Lady Vols back in action

When Isabelle Harrison was asked a week ago about Tennessee’s bye in the league schedule, relief washed over the senior’s face. The rest was much needed, but it’s time to get back in the SEC saddle with two road games. Go inside with InsideTennessee for the latest on the Lady Vols.

Tennessee (19-3, 9-0) will take on Florida (11-11, 3-6) at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sunday (TV: ESPNU) at the O’Connell Center. The Lady Vols have a 10-game winning streak against the Gators, but it took double overtime to defeat them the last time Tennessee was in Gainesville in 2013.

Senior Isabelle Harrison has played in plenty of SEC battles, and she knows the road can be an unfriendly place, especially when the orange-and-white arrives.

“You’re not playing in TBA,” Harrison said. “You’re going to have fans there, but it’s not the same. Florida always has a great crowd, very active and very vocal.”

Two local Lady Vol fans will be in attendance with a countdown sign for Ariel Massengale, who is nine points away from a career 1,000. While a game plan isn’t structured for a player to hit a milestone, the Lady Vols are aware that Massengale could reach it in the Florida game.

“I would love it,” Harrison said. “I am excited for Rel, especially since she didn’t get to play that much last year. She can show people what she has been working on through her four years at Tennessee.”

Massengale was injured a year ago against Florida in Knoxville when she took a blow to the head in a loose-ball scramble. Massengale, who had a concussion history, entered the program’s protocol for head injuries, and missed the rest of the 2013-14 season. She also had cleanup knee surgery during the down time.

Harrison has missed time in her career because of injuries to both knees, and several Lady Vol players have knee, back, ankle and shoulder issues because of assorted past injuries. Holly Warlick has been cognizant all season of finding in-game rest breaks to preserve her team for the long haul. Add to that a flu-like virus that made its way through the team, and the bye this week was well-timed.

“Our bodies have been through it,” Harrison said. “We’ve been playing a tough schedule, and I feel like our bodies, it finally took a toll. We used this week to be on Ashley’s side, if that makes sense.”

Ashley is Ashley Wilson, the associate director of sports medicine.

“She has put us through treatment plans and rehab plans and getting our bodies most rest,” Harrison said. “We’re going to need it.”

The Lady Vols’ next two tilts are on the road with a trip to Oxford next Thursday. Harrison specifically mentioned the challenge of post player and Tia Faleru and a rejuvenated Ole Miss team.

Ole Miss is coming into their own with the great coach that they have,” Harrison said. “She is a great post player. I am looking forward to playing there.”

The Gators are the first challenge, and Tennessee will get a visit from Lady Vol post royalty in Nicky Anosike.

“She is coming to the Florida game,” Harrison said. “She will be down early in the locker room talking to us. We’ve been in contact. I love Nicky. I reached out to Big Nick because she has been everywhere lately. I reached her through email. I can’t wait to see her. I have been missing her.”

Harrison and Anosike can talk about the one-foul rule, which Harrison is now on by the coaching staff.

“I am. I hate it. I hate it so much,” Harrison said.

When Harrison picks up an early foul in the first half, she immediately heads to the bench, because, just as was the case with Anosike, the second one often comes quickly, and then the player is hindered for the rest of the first half – either on the bench or playing cautiously so as not to pick up the third. Under the one-foul rule, Harrison sits for a few minutes and then reenters.

“Dean gave her the same talk he gives me,” Harrison said. “Two totally different players, and we are getting the same talk from Dean. It’s kind of cool to think about that. Dean, you can’t do anything but trust him and the system of why they’re doing this to me.”

Harrison let loose a huge smile after that last statement. She understands the rule – it also has worked – but she doesn’t have to like it. Anosike was in beast mode on defense and could guard on the perimeter. Harrison’s blocks are emphatic – and sometimes works of art, especially when she smoothly snatches the ball out of the air – and she has a smooth midrange game. Both players are tenacious on the glass.

“I hear all these stories from Dean, and Vicki (Baugh) talks about her,” Harrison said. “I miss her, and I love when old Tennessee players come back because it gives us energy, and we’re going to need that. I am excited for her to come.”

An energetic Harrison is a good thing for Tennessee. When Harrison is clicking inside, it opens up the perimeter and driving lanes for the Lady Vols. When Harrison struggles, the paint gets clogged. The senior, who can sometimes be guarded because of her knee injuries – and understandably so – said the struggles are mental, not physical.

“I want to say mental, because even when I am having a good game, I am hurting sometimes, too,” Harrison said. “I think it is more frustrating if I am not knocking down shots or getting rebounds or stopping my opponent. That is where the frustration lies. I try not to focus on those things because I know it will bring down my mood. I am a senior, and I have to bring leadership.”

Harrison has just seven regular season games left in her career, and she hears the ticking of the orange clock.

“Even crazier than that, we only have three home games left,” Harrison said. “Where does the time go? Every year has gone fast, but this is super-fast. It’s like fast-forward times 60.

“It is crazy to think I am going through the end of my Tennessee career, so I want to make it the best I possibly can and give it everything I’ve got.”

The next home game is Sunday, Feb. 15, against Kentucky, which will also be Tennessee’s Live Pink game. Some of the pink gear already has arrived, including pink basketball shoes, so players can break them at practice before the game.

“We’ve been getting some gear to wear but obviously it’s a bigger picture than that and bringing awareness to breast cancer,” Harrison said. “Everybody needs to know about it. I am glad that they can do it on this stage.

“A lot of us have family members and friends who have been going through it. We can support them.”


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