Seniors to be honored Sunday at UT-Vandy game

Coach Pat Summitt has changed her starting lineup only twice this season – once so a player could take a test and another time because a player was ill. She'll do it a third time Sunday when Tennessee takes the floor against Vanderbilt in the regular season finale.

Dominique Redding will join Sidney Spencer in the lineup, so the two senior forwards who came in together four years ago can start together in their final game at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Ironically, the last time the two started together was last season when Vanderbilt came to Knoxville. This year it's the final game that the seniors will play on "The Summitt" floor.

"Kind of sad," said Redding, a 6'1 forward from Clearwater, Florida, whose mother will be on the floor for the pre-game salute to the seniors. "I don't want to think about it too much because you get kind of choked up. It's coming to an end. I never thought I'd see this day, but here it is."

Redding, Spencer, a 6'3 forward from Hoover, Alabama, and Elizabeth Curry, a former manager from New Virginia, Iowa, who became a walk-on player this season, will be honored before the game. The families of those players also will be present at center court when the players are introduced before the game.

"It seems like it hasn't been that long since they arrived on campus and went to summer school," Pat Summitt said of Spencer and Redding. "The two of them started rooming together. I would have never picked the two of them to be roommates for four years, but it happened. Elizabeth Curry being a walk-on after being a manager. These are three very special young ladies. It's a great time to pay tribute to their commitment to come to Tennessee and stay at Tennessee."

No. 2 Tennessee (26-2, 13-0) does have a mission to finish after the senior festivities. The only team that now stands in the Lady Vols' way of an undefeated season in the SEC is in-state rival Vanderbilt (24-4, 10-3), which is ranked No. 12 in the country and hasn't lost a game – seven in a row – since losing to Tennessee in Nashville on Jan. 25.

Sunday's tippoff is 1 p.m. Eastern (Fox Sports Net, Lady Vol Radio Network).

"It's bragging rights in the state," Summitt said. "I think anytime we play Vanderbilt we know that we're going to play a great basketball team. They're right now, in my opinion, playing as well offensively as anyone in the country, other than maybe Duke. When you look at their numbers it's pretty amazing.

"In their last (seven) games since we played them in the first four minutes of play they've outscored their opponents, 69-11. So if we're not ready to play when they throw it up then we could be in trouble. We really tried to prepare our team for how Vanderbilt's playing right now. I have a lot of respect. Melanie Balcomb has done a great job there. I think this is one of her best teams, and the three seniors have had a great impact."

Summitt will tinker with her lineup for only the third time this season. Redding will replace 6'4 center Nicky Anosike as a starter so that will require a shuffle in the paint. Spencer will shift to the inside, and Redding will open on the perimeter. Summitt adjusted her lineup Nov. 28 at Louisiana Tech because Shannon Bobbitt needed to remain in Knoxville because of a test and other academic deadlines. She also made a lineup change Jan. 18 against Mississippi State when Candace Parker was ill.

Summitt starters' Sunday are expected to be: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 guard, No. 00 (8.5 points per game, 1.4 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 junior guard, No. 14 (9.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.1 apg, 3.4 steals per game); Dominique Redding, 6'1 senior forward, No. 13 (3.7 ppg, 1.4 rpg); Sidney Spencer 6'3 senior forward, No. 1 (11.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg); and Candace Parker, 6'5 sophomore forward, No. 3 (20.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg. 2.3 apg, 2.8 blocks per game).

Balcomb is expected to start: Dee Davis, 5'7 senior guard, No. 10 (7.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 6.0 apg), school's all-time leader in assists with 708, also topped 1,000 career points this season; Jennifer Risper, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 2 (5.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg), has started the last 10 games for Vandy; Caroline Williams, 5'10 senior forward, No. 33 (13.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), leads the nation in 3-point field goal percentage at 50.3 percent; Christina Wirth, 6'1 sophomore forward, No. 34 (11.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg), versatile player who can set up inside or out, hit 10-11 shots against Arkansas; and Carla Thomas, 6'3 senior center, No. 50 (16.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg), has 1,681 career points, sixth all-time for Vanderbilt.

"It's always difficult to beat a team two times in a season," Summitt said. "I think our players understand that. I know we're going to have a great crowd, hopefully give us a little edge, a little momentum, but we have a tough challenge. I think when you look at our league right now I think they've been playing as well as anyone in the league."

As of Friday, only 1,000 tickets remained for the game. Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, who played at Spring Arbor College in Michigan from 1978 to 1982, acknowledged that Tennessee and every other team in the country is battling through fatigue at this point. That is where a crowd can help the home team.

"I just hope for Sid and Dom and Elizabeth that our other people say we want to make it special for them, we want to make it memorable," Lockwood said. "The magnitude of the opponent only adds to that, and we really do hope our 22,000 plus get behind us like they normally do – and I know they will – and give us that extra little bit of energy. Our fans really make a difference to our players. I don't know if they often realize that, but they do."

The pre-game tribute to the seniors is emotional for the players, though they have to quickly get ready to play.

"It's been so long for me and I've never played in front of 22,000 people so I couldn't tell you, but you can't help but be caught in the swell of it initially," Lockwood said. "I can only imagine the rush of memories for Sid and Dom and Elizabeth that are going to come back. There's got to be a little bit of you're caught up in that but I think you also have to be very grounded into yourself and say, ‘That's nice and that's personal but now we've got a team job. We've got something that the team needs to accomplish' and get back into that mindset."

It's something the coaching staff has to remind itself of, too.

"I think we all look out there and you get a little misty-eyed because you realize the significance, how special this is," Lockwood said. "This is once-in-a-lifetime. It is a special thing to put on a school jersey and represent a university or a school and to be with another group of people and to have the bond and unity of purpose that you share with a team.

"And you only have four years. Your window is so short. And now the end of the road is in sight – obviously we hope we have nine more games after this one – but when you get to that point you can't help but be a little bit wistful. I think the people that are here with you do get a little bit emotional."

Spencer intends to keep her emotions in check. When asked what would go through her mind as she walked onto the arena floor for the final time in a game, Spencer smiled.

"Time to beat Vanderbilt? Play basketball?" Spencer offered. "I'm really bad at sentimental stuff when it comes for me. I'll probably be like, ‘OK.' It won't hit me until a little bit later. I know we have business to take care of, and I think my mind is really going to be set on that and not the fact that it's Senior Night."

That's likely the best approach since last year Tennessee lost on Senior Day to Florida for only the second time in program history. The first was in 1983 against Kentucky.

The team also is coming off of an overtime win, 75-68, to Arkansas that was way too close for comfort.

"Our worst nightmare, short of a loss, come to light," Lockwood said. "That game made me nervous. Just the dynamics – a Monday, Thursday, Sunday jammed in between two opponents who are at the top of the charts and a team who has won three league games but has won 18 overall and in my mind after watching them was very dangerous. I just didn't like the dynamics of all of it.

"I think they realized their vulnerability. Anytime I have a brush with mortality I realize I don't have that 21-year-old mindset anymore. I'm not invincible. I think our team realized this was a team that has won three conference games. It's one thing to get taken to overtime with LSU or Vanderbilt – with no disrespect with Arkansas because we think they were very good; we were wondering how they only got three league wins. You look at that and say, up to now, they have three league wins. They almost beat us. I think our kids realized we have to do what we do well, and it doesn't matter who is against us.

"How we come out of that you'll find out Sunday at one (o'clock) like the rest of us."

Spencer found some saving grace in getting the overtime victory. She also agrees with Lockwood that the close win allowed the team to see what happens when the team doesn't commit from the opening tip.

"And the fact we did go into overtime – I don't think we've had overtime at all this year – that will help us in postseason especially," said Spencer, who laughed when it was jokingly suggested that the team did it on purpose for that reason. "I like to look at the good things. I don't like to dwell on the bad things."

The team had two long plane rides home this past week after road games. Monday's was festive as the team celebrated clinching the SEC championships. Thursday's was more subdued with the general feeling being one of relief.

"It was upbeat," Lockwood said. "I think all of us knew, players included, that we were very fortunate. It's like when somebody tells you, ‘Hey, there's been a shark sighted in the water. Don't go swimming.' I just happy go lucky jump in that water. Next thing you know a big gray figure about 12 feet long swims up. I'm not fearful for the rest of my life, but I'm pretty sober. Next time somebody spots a shark I say, ‘Stay out of the water.'

"I think we have that feeling we'll still go swimming again but we now need to know what we have to go into every game with mentally and physically. I think there's a little part of us that is like 73 percent is going to be good enough. I can give you 73 percent of me and that will be enough. I think we got a sobering reminder that it is not and especially against a quality opponent."

It especially won't be enough if Tennessee intends to fulfill its goal of going undefeated in regular season conference play. They have emerged unscathed so far, but win No. 14 will require a complete effort from start to finish. The Lady Vols barely won last year in Knoxville, 70-67, in a game in which Redding started in place of Hornbuckle because she had gotten a technical in the previous game against LSU. Hornbuckle broke her wrist in that Vandy game in the first half – but played through it – and ended up missing the rest of the regular season and the SEC tourney.

Tennessee has gone 14-0 on four other occasions in SEC regular season play in 1998, 2001, 2003 and 2004. Tennessee's first undefeated season in conference play was in 1993, when it played an 11-game league schedule. Tennessee duplicated the 11-0 effort in 1994 and 1995. If the Lady Vols can beat Vandy on Sunday it would be their eighth time to finish without a blemish.

"That would mean, first of all, that our basketball team understands how to play not only at home but on the road," Summitt said. "They've been a very focused team. I think winning and running the table are important to this team. It would also mean a number one seed in the NCAA. One is obviously a great accomplishment by the team and bragging rights. The other sets the table for a postseason bid. A number one seed should give you obviously some opportunities to go into the tournament with a strong position."

It would also be a fitting end to the season for the seniors.

"It's a big game," Redding said. "There's going to be a lot of fans there, want to give them a great show and come out on top."

Redding's career at Tennessee hasn't been what she expected when she first arrived four years ago. The sharpshooter become a role player for the Lady Vols and has seen limited playing time. She has provided some instant offense off the bench, including the eight points she scored last Monday to help secure the win over LSU.

"I learned a lot here," Redding said. "It may not have been the four years I wanted it to be but everything is a learning experience, especially for life. She took care of me for what I'm going to go on and do in the future. I'm just thankful."

Will she come back to visit?

"Oh yeah," Redding said. "I have a lot of friends on the team. I'll hang out with them so I'll be back."

Does she have a memorable moment?

"I'm a jokester so I have a lot of funny moments," Redding said. "Everything has just been fun."

What advice would she offer to next year's incoming freshmen?

"I'd tell them to come in and work hard every day and don't take it for granted because it's a great program to be in," Redding said.

Curry had taken the floor for two years as a Lady Vol manager and this season took it in uniform. She was added to the team to help in practice and fill out a very short roster of 10 scholarship basketball players. She has played in 10 games and hit her one basket attempt for a perfect 100 percent mark from the field.

"It's going to be a special opportunity," Curry said of going to center court on Senior Day, where her parents will be waiting. Her grandparents, sister and her sister's boyfriend also made the trip from Iowa. Her brother, Joe, is playing in his high school basketball playoffs so he stayed behind.

"It's going to be sad, but it's going to be a lot of fun at the same time putting all the memories together at once," Curry said. "But at the same time Vanderbilt is a great team and ending the SEC regular season with a team like that there's going to be a lot of excitement without it. But it's in the back of your mind thinking that's the last time you're coming on and off this court. It's something special. It's one of things you'll remember just like the first day you stepped on it."

Will she come back to visit?

"Yes, I'll come back to Knoxville," Curry said.

Does she have a memorable moment?

"There's so many. Maybe it hasn't happened yet," Curry said. "But I think one thing that kind of brings all the memories together is the family aspect. The things you remember – the jokes around the locker room, the late nights doing laundry with the managers, all those things coming together are the really special things. It's not making a basket; it's not the physical part of basketball. It's those kind of things you can't replace."

Advice to next year's newcomers?

"I would just tell them to stay focused and work hard," Curry said. "You've got the coaching staff and you've got the teammates to continue to be a special and a top program in the country so come in and work hard, commit to the system and work with your teammates, and they can do everything they've seen done before."

Spencer is the epitome of a player who worked hard. She suffered a knee injury late in her sophomore year and missed the postseason. She battled through that off-season rehab and became a starter last season. She has started all 28 games this season. When asked about the emotions of Senior Day, she ended up talking about the challenge of the opponent.

"I don't really feel any different. It's like when you have a birthday you don't really feel any different that day. You're just a day older," said Spencer, whose immediate family will be here Sunday. "It's been a great ride, but I know this game is really important. We have to start strong. Vanderbilt is running their offense with great rhythm. They're just playing well overall. So we need to try to disrupt them. As far as the importance of this game it's extremely important for us because of the Selection Show coming up in March. That's what we're playing for right now. We definitely want to win and hopefully that will give us that number one seed."

Will she come back to visit?

"I don't really know where in the world I'm going to be but if I'm in the United States I'll definitely come back," said Spencer, who wants to play pro ball and do mission work post-college.

Does she have a memorable moment?

"I think about the SEC championships we've won, last year and the year before that when I was injured," Spencer said. "The Virgin Islands was a really fun trip for the whole team. I think about those moments."

Advice for next year's freshmen?

"As a freshman it can be a little intimidating coming into this program because of all the tradition and legacy," she said. "That's why you're here. You're recruited specifically for that and just to not contain or limit yourself but to play your game, and everything will fall into place."

Spencer does realize that the four years passed very quickly.

"Isn't that crazy?" Spencer said. "I don't feel that old. When I came in I was just sitting in Sidville."

Spencer and Redding were assigned to be roommates as freshmen. They ended up remaining roommates for all four years.

"It's funny because at first we did not like each other," Spencer said. "She wanted to watch TV all night, and I was the one who went to sleep and got up early. We had really different schedules. I never thought – we are like day and night – that we would be this close and would be still living together."

"She'll try to follow me around everywhere for the rest of her life," said Redding, as soon as Spencer was within earshot. "Wherever I am she's right behind. I'm just joking. We're good friends. We calmed down and we're just the best of buddies."

Redding looks forward to taking the floor with her best friend Sunday to start the game.

"It's going to be fun – two shooters out on the court so it will be tougher for them," Redding said.

That is certainly what Spencer is hoping for, but she's not fretting over shots that haven't fallen for her of late.

"Not at all," Spencer said. "I've had great looks both at LSU and Arkansas. The shot wasn't falling. I had a great practice (Saturday). I have the same confidence that I've had. … I'm really excited ( to start with Redding). She's been shooting the ball well. It's going to be exciting."

The team's desire is to get through the SEC regular season undefeated. Sunday is the last shot for any team to derail that dream.

"It's just a goal that we set," Spencer said. "If we win tomorrow then it will be something that was accomplished, and I think it will build our confidence for postseason. Because in postseason it's really tough. We talked about the SEC Tournament. Those three days are really hard and vigorous. Every ounce of your energy is taken up. I think that will give us great confidence going into the tournament."

"I think it will mean a lot to us after what we did last year," Redding said. "We just try to take it one game at a time, and this is it. Last one."

By last year Redding means the loss to Florida on Senior Day in Knoxville and the two other regular season defeats by Kentucky and LSU. Considering that last April the team had six returning players because of three transfers – one mid-season and two after the season – an undefeated conference run, if it happens, is impressive.

"I think it speaks very highly and it speaks volumes to the players to their unity of purpose, to their commitment to each other, to this team and the program, to their willingness to take on roles and come together," Lockwood said.

"Let's face it at the start of the year we add four new (basketball scholarship) people to a 10-player roster. It just speaks volumes to them to bridge all gaps and differences that there might have been, to make sacrifices personally and to come together and do something really significant."

Lockwood said each class has a chance to leave it marks on the program. This year's seniors could leave their first significant one with a win Sunday.

"This is a chance to leave footprints," he said. "I think every class would like to do that. Leaving footprints at Tennessee is not like leaving footprints at other places. You've got to do something significant. I think this is one major significant thing that when Sid, Dom and Elizabeth walk out of here – especially Sid and Dom who were here for all four years as players – they can look back and say, ‘Those are our footprints, so we are very proud of it.'

"I think 10 years from now, 20 years from now they're going to very proud if that happens. Obviously the biggest footprint of all would be winning a regular season, winning a tournament and then going on to win the whole shooting match. Those are mighty big footprints, and I think you can't help but think about those things. But I think just for (Sunday) that's an opportunity to leave footprints on a program."

SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. She had to leave right after practice Saturday for other commitments so Dean Lockwood pinch-hit. Here is the assessment.

When Vandy has the ball: "They run half-court sets probably as well as anybody in the country. We do not want to let them have the comfort level that they require to run those half-court sets. We want to pressure them, get up into them, just disrupt them, not let them run what they practice. We have to really get into shooters. They've got some kids who can just flat out make shots. We have to not let the three-point shooters get comfortable."

The Commodores have won seven straight games since losing to Tennessee in late January.

"I think they're just playing very good basketball," Lockwood said. "I don't think they're doing a whole lot different. They've got a few new sets in. Other than that they're not doing anything drastically different. I think they're just playing very good basketball. Their best players – what needs to happen on a good team – are performing night in and night out."

When Tennessee has the ball: "I think we want a faster tempo. I think we really want to push our tempo up and down the floor and make them have to defend us in transition. You've heard this a dozen times from me and from all of us: Our inside game, we want to establish it. We want to get the ball in there. It might be more inside-out early. But, we want to establish that we can put the ball into the post. That's very big."

PRACTICE VISITOR: Top recruit Shekinna Stricklen was at practice Saturday on an unofficial visit. The 6'2 forward from Morrilton High School in Arkansas is considered one of the best players in the class of 2008.

She was the 2006 Gatorade State Player of the Year for Arkansas and was the AAAA MVP in 2006 after leading her team to a state title. She had 30 points, 16 rebounds, four blocks and four assists in the title game. USA Today selected her among the top 25 players in the country prior to the 2006-07 season. Hoopgurlz.com rates Stricklen as the No. 9 player in the nation.

Stricklen watched practice with her family. Tennessee used Saturday's practice for half-court work and specific scouting in preparation for the Vandy game. Every Lady Vol practiced, and every player is cleared to go Sunday.

ON TAP: All 12 SEC teams are in action today. The other matchups are: Alabama at LSU; Arkansas at Georgia; Auburn at Ole Miss; Kentucky at Florida; and Mississippi State at South Carolina.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Vanderbilt, 48-6. The Commodores have never won in Knoxville. … Tennessee is 10-1 in games played on February 25. The sole loss was to Farragut School, 10-6, in 1905. … Since it is Senior Day the Lady Vols also will honor the three seniors on Vanderbilt's team – Dee Davis, Carla Thomas and Caroline Williams. … By the numbers: Tennessee is averaging 74.8 points per game; Vandy averages 78.1. Tennessee holds the rebounding edge, 38.1, to 34.2 for Vanderbilt. The Commodores are hitting 50.7 percent of their field goals as a team. Tennessee hits at 44.5 percent. Vandy's 3-point shooting is at 43.9 percent, Tennessee's is 37.1 percent. Tennessee averages 16.0 assists per game to 18.6 for Vandy. The Lady Vols block 5.4 shots a game to 2.7 for the Commodores. Tennessee steals the ball 12.6 times a game. Vandy swipes it 9.1 times a game. The teams are about even in turnovers – 16.2 for Tennessee and 16.9 for Vandebilt. … The highest turnout for a Tennessee-Vandy game in Knoxville is 21,968. As of Friday, 21,118 tickets had been sold for Sunday's game. … Lady Vols Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle have been named as two of the 30 finalists for the Naismith Award, which is given annually by the Atlanta Tip-off club to the national player of the year in women's basketball. Vandy's Dee Davis also is on the list of 30. … Lady Vol Sidney Spencer leads the team with 52 made three pointers (52-120, 43.3 percent) with Shannon Bobbitt nipping at her heels – 51 made (51-125, 40.8 percent). In the last month, the diminutive point guard has hit 21-49 from behind arc. During the same span, Spencer has hit 5-28. Spencer had a career-high 26 points against Vanderbilt a month ago and hit four three-pointers.


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