The Lady Vols practiced at home Sunday before departing for Lexington and a Monday matchup with Kentucky. Go inside with InsideTennessee for the latest on the team.
Tennessee (12-6, 3-2) will take on Kentucky (14-3, 3-3) at Memorial Coliseum. Tipoff is set for 7:01 p.m. (TV: ESPN2).
Head coach Holly Warlick chatted with the media right before practice ended Sunday and emphasized a familiar refrain – the Lady Vols have to take care of the ball against the Wildcats.
Tennessee’s guard depth could be a factor in the Lady Vols’ favor. Kentucky guard Janee Thompson injured her ankle Thursday and is listed as day to day. But Warlick noted the Lady Vols have their hands full no matter what, especially with the ability of Kentucky’s Makayla Epps to get to the paint and the free throw line.
“She is outstanding,” Warlick said. “If we kind of control her and keep her in front of us, make her make plays over us, that will help tremendously. We worked a lot on that today. She is really good at drawing the foul. She is excellent at getting to the free throw line.”
The Lady Vols are likely to stick with starting guards Andraya Carter and Diamond DeShields, but freshman Te’a Cooper and junior Jordan Reynolds usually get to the scorer’s table pretty soon. Cooper had an outstanding game against Vanderbilt, while Reynolds was particularly effective against Notre Dame.
After a slow start, Reynolds seems to have turned a corner with more evidence of “postseason Jordan,” as she has been a gamer in March. Jordan said she has gotten more comfortable with playing both the one and two spots.
With the steady play of Carter at the point – she secured the spot by earning the trust of the coaches and calming the team on both ends of the court – and the arrival of Cooper, Reynolds had to carve out a role.
“I am finding my role playing the one and two position, kind of what Ariel (Massengale) did her senior year,” said, Reynolds, who got to the paint against Notre Dame and dished out seven assists. “I did some of the things where I am most comfortable. It is coming along. I am playing more of the two now, and I am getting used to it.”
Reynolds is 5-11 and can get on the glass – another reason she can be a plus on the perimeter for Tennessee. A guard can crash the offensive boards more often from the wing spot because typically the point guard will be the one to get back on defense. Mercedes Russell and Bashaara Graves will welcome the assistance.
“I am a big guard so I am able to get in and get rebounds,” Reynolds said. “I need to help out on defense and boxing out to help Bashaara and Mercedes, because they are getting beat up down in the post.”
If Reynolds can keep surging, Tennessee has a better chance of successfully navigating the SEC because of its guard depth and ability to press. Reynolds always has had a good rapport with Warlick, and the coaching staff has made it clear that Tennessee needs her, especially Dean Lockwood, who was the assistant coach that recruited Reynolds and fellow Oregonians Jamie Nared and Russell.
“Dean is probably my biggest fan,” Reynolds said. “He tells me to have confidence at all times and that they recruited me for a reason. Holly always has these little chats with me before and after practice telling me what I can bring to the table, what I can do for this team.
“They have been in my ear the most. They have been telling me to get comfortable and get in the gym a lot so I can play this role better. It really is confidence.”
Warlick met with the media as practice was winding down Sunday. Highlights from the head coach:
The Lady Vols have practiced well this week.
When the players “stay in the moment,” the turnovers decrease. The attack mode means some turnovers will occur, but coaches also noted that players need to not pass up open shots.
Kentucky will get on the glass and wants to get second-chance points. The Wildcats also want to run, so turnovers will play into the Wildcats’ style of play. Ball security has to be paramount, especially unforced turnovers.
Tennessee wants to press – of course, that means making shots to set it up – and be able to use its guard depth.
This is a team of visual learners who learn by being shown a lot of film. Thus, film sessions have been longer this season.
The Lady Vols need to cut down on fouls – in other words, the opposite of the fourth quarter against Vanderbilt.
The defense overall is much improved.
Despite all of the snow and ice, Warlick has managed to not fall and break any bones this season.
“I didn’t stray from my house or the sidewalk,” Warlick said.
The SEC has been pretty much unpredictable in January in terms of outcomes and how games will unfold. The Lady Vols will play their next two matchups on the road with Kentucky on Monday and then a quick turnaround to get ready for Mississippi State in Starkville on Thursday.
“Kentucky has always been a big game for us no matter where we are playing,” Reynolds said. “They are a scrappy team, and they get up and down. They play the transition game for 40 minutes straight. Right now, for this season, we have got to take care of business because of the dips we’ve been in, a couple of losses we’ve taken.
“We’re looking to get the W, come back and get ready for Mississippi State.”