Holly Warlick, Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared met with the media Monday after the Christmas break. The Lady Vols are back on the court Wednesday against Stetson.
Here are the highlights from Holly Warlick:
Alexa Middleton, who missed most of the month because of an ailing ankle bone, has been released to play.
Jasmine Jones won’t play this week. She is doing some individual, non-contact work, and her status will be evaluated. Jones, who is under the program’s concussion protocol, will have to be medically cleared. Warlick said she expected Jones to play at some point this season.
Nia Moore is “getting there,” Warlick said. A redshirt season hasn’t been discussed yet, but Moore won’t be cleared to play if she’s still sore.
“She’s not comfortable, and I am not comfortable doing that,” Warlick said.
Moore has dealt with a lingering rib injury and has been held out of some practices and all contact drills for several weeks.
Andraya Carter and Bashaara Graves have stepped up as leaders, not just by example but also by being vocal.
“We are still doing team-building things,” Warlick said. “They don’t have to be great friends off the court, but they have to respect each other.”
While the players haven’t made a storyline about team closeness, they do spend time together off the court. The chemistry on the court remains a work in progress, and the win over Oregon State was a major improvement on both ends.
The staff has been seeking player leadership all season so the emergence of Carter and Graves is a good sign. Both play with full effort, a characteristic that has been missing at times among some of their teammates. Lapses in effort and execution can lead to lazy fouls and giveaway turnovers.
Warlick said the change in lineup against Oregon State was intended to get the team off to a better start. Diamond DeShields and Jordan Reynolds came off the bench.
“I wanted to bring Diamond off the bench, because I wanted a punch off the bench,” Warlick said.
The head coach indicated Carter, Graves and Mercedes Russell were solid choices as starters with the other two slots to be determined for Wednesday’s game against Stetson. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Eastern (online broadcast) on Wednesday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Stetson is led by junior guard Brianti Saunders, who set a single-game school record that had stood for nearly three decades with 40 points in a 79-57 win over Georgia Southern before Christmas. She was 12-for-16 from the field, 4-for-6 from the arc and 12-for-13 from the foul line. Carter is likely to draw that defensive assignment.
Here are the highlights from Mercedes Russell:
The best Christmas gift for the 6-6 redshirt sophomore was a week at home in Oregon with her family. The best pre-holiday present was the win over previously undefeated Oregon State.
“You don’t want to go into a break with a loss,” Russell said. “The way we played made a statement. Our defense in the first half was amazing.”
Tennessee withstood Oregon State’s run in the second half and never lost its lead.
“We just had to make sure that we fought back,” Russell said.
The test will be maintaining the momentum against Stetson and when SEC play opens on Monday at undefeated Missouri.
“We’ve got to keep that energy and that level of effort,” Russell said.
Russell was effective against the Beavers with her midrange shot, and she nailed several jumpers from the elbows after setting screens at the high post.
“Me moving more and setting good screens is either going to get me or the other person open,” Russell said. “We have stressed getting in the paint and getting that midrange jump shot or layups more often than threes just because those are more high percentage shots than our threes have been lately.
“I think getting that shot first will open up more shots for us. I think we can be a great three-point shooting team. I think that comes with practice and more shots and more game-like shots.”
Here are the highlights from Jaime Nared:
Nared debuted this season on the West Coast after suffering a broken hand in October.
“I was just happy to be on the court again,” said Nared, who participated in one practice and then started against Stanford.
That Stanford loss was followed by an epic film session that lasted over three hours.
“Film sessions really help us in learning what we need to get better at,” Nared said. “It was very eye-opening. We have two of the best bigs in the country, and we realized they need more touches.”
With school out, the team is spending a lot of time together on and off the court.
“We are a very close group,” Nared said. “We love spending time together.”
The Oregon State win showed how the Lady Vols should play, according to Nared.
“That should be our expectation to come into every game and be prepared and play Tennessee basketball,” Nared said. “That is what we have to do more of. We’re getting better.”
Nared noticed the lapses in effort from her perch on the bench while she healed.
“That’s what a lot of former Lady Vols that came and talked to us, that’s what they were saying, ‘You guys have to play hard all the time. That’s not Tennessee Lady Vol basketball,’ ” Nared said. “That is one thing we can do, and we will do.
“It’s a new group. We haven’t played together. It’s still early in the season. It’s December, thankfully. We have made mistakes, and we haven’t played as hard as we can. We are still learning how to play with each other, and we will figure it out.”