Jordan Reynolds elevates game

Tennessee is undefeated in the SEC, while Kentucky will be seeking revenge Sunday. Sophomore guard Jordan Reynolds said the Lady Vols have to “keep our eyes on the prize.” Go inside for the latest on the team.

Head Coach Holly Warlick met with the media Saturday, the day before Tennessee (21-3, 11-0) hosts Kentucky (19-5, 8-3) at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tipoff Sunday is 3 p.m. (TV: ESPN2), and Warlick is hoping for a huge crowd for the “Live Pink, Bleed Orange” game.

The head coach did her part. Warlick said she passed out every available ticket that she had.

The Lady Vols were a tad banged up – yet again – in Thursday’s game, with Jaime Nared getting tripped and landing hard on her right shoulder and Jordan Reynolds absorbing a blow to her face, but both were at practice Saturday.

Isabelle Harrison, who has a history of knee injuries, was granted a rest day Saturday, but she is expected to be play Sunday. Warlick said all three players were fine.

Bashaara Graves, who came off the bench against Ole Miss, is expected to be back in the starting lineup. Graves was less than a minute late – Warlick estimated 30 seconds – for the team meal on the road.

Reynolds is now the only Lady Vol to start all 24 games this season.

The “Live Pink, Bleed Orange” game is a significant one for Reynolds and her teammates.

“It does hit home with this pink game,” said Reynolds, whose grandmother’s sister died of breast cancer. “All of us know somebody or have known somebody who has either died or is battling breast cancer. It is an awareness game. We’re always playing for somebody out there, for those battling this. We’re playing for those people.”

Reynolds also is playing with a heavy heart and recently wrote “PLAY 4” on one shoe and “UNC THAD” on another. The words are for her great-uncle, who collapsed this month in Los Angeles and was taken to the hospital. He has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer with a grim prognosis.

“It was so tough. I am not really a crier,” Reynolds said. “I am emotional but not to that extent, but when I heard that, I did cry. I called my coaches. I was so upset. I had to make sure my mom was OK before I am over here worrying about myself. I had to call home and make sure everyone was OK.”

Reynolds wants to keep her focus on the court, where she has been playing well of late on both ends of the court.

“Going into the game my mindset is to always be aggressive just because it opens up the floor for all of my teammates,” Reynolds said. “If I am passive and I am standing around the arc, then it’s easy for the defense to stand there and guard me.

“If I am putting pressure on the defense and attacking the basket, then the lane will open up and the zone will open up and they won’t (suffocate) Izzy and Bashaara and everybody on the inside and they have to come guard the perimeter.

“I think it is important that we keep attacking the defense and knock down shots so it opens the game up for Izzy and Bashaara.”

Speaking of standing at the arc, that is precisely what Jamie Nared didn’t do against Florida. While Cierra Burdick’s blind, over-the-shoulder pass to Graves made the highlight reels, Nared can be seen sprinting to the paint from the arc when she realized a shot was going up to get in rebounding position.

“She has really noticed everything that she needs to do to stay in the game,” Reynolds said. “The coaches have been harping that guards need to rebound more, and we need to push the ball, and she has really been paying attention to that.”

Reynolds and Nared both are from the state of Oregon and have a built-in connection on the court. Reynolds, a sophomore, can relate to how Nared, a freshman, has worked to get up to speed at the college level. Reynolds had to undergo the same process a year

“I have been playing with Jaime for seven to eight years now,” Reynolds said. “She has always had this killer instinct that if anyone needs anything from her that she will go out there and do it. She has really been stepping up, and the coaches and everyone realize that. She has been so consistent.

“I see confidence in all of our freshmen because they’re getting a sense of what it’s like to be in the SEC. We’re (11) games in. You’ve been through it. Now you know what to expect. You realize you have to play hard at all times, even in practice, to get into the game.”

Reynolds also is in sync with Andraya Carter, especially on defense. With Jasmine Jones out under the program’s concussion protocol – and she remained sidelined Saturday – Carter and Reynolds had to elevate their defensive play on the perimeter.

“I think we are very in sync,” Reynolds said. “I had to step up. Andraya and I try to get in sync so we can get more steals, get more assists, be more consistent and take care of the ball.”

Speaking of steals, Carter is good for at least one wow moment a game on defense. Against Florida, she drove to the paint, missed the shot, sprinted back like a defensive back and picked off the Gators’ pass, setting up a score for Tennessee on the other end.

Against Ole Miss, Carter blocked a shot from behind, a play that set up Reynolds on the other end for an early 10-point lead.

“Draya does that in practice all the time,” Reynolds said. “For us, it’s like, ‘Good, Draya got another steal.’ She does that all the time. When it comes in the game, everyone is all excited. I am just used to it.”

Tennessee will need that defense against Kentucky. The last two games against the Wildcats were decided by one point – both wins for Tennessee, one in the 2014 SEC tourney, another at Lexington this season.

A year ago, Kentucky came to Knoxville and left with a four-point win. A photo of Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell dancing on a Lady Vol chair in the visitor’s locker room at Thompson-Boling Arena was taped to a whiteboard in Tennessee’s locker room in Duluth, Ga., at the league tournament.

“I think it’s very important that we just keep our eyes on the prize and go after this regular season championship,” Reynolds said. “We are focused on winning, and our defense and rebounding are getting us there.

“We are taking it one game at a time.”

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