Historic matchup on tap tonight

When former Lady Vol point guard Holly Warlick was asked about Delta State, her eyes flashed recognition. When current Lady Vol point guard Briana Bass was asked about the Mississippi school, her eyes looked quizzical. Both player and coach will see that name on the uniforms Monday – for Warlick it's a reminder of days past, for Bass it's a chance to set the tone for the team's future.

The players on Tennessee's roster were born about a decade after Delta State dominated the women's game, so the historical significance of Monday's exhibition game is so distant from their experience. But for Holly Warlick and Coach Pat Summitt it's a reminder of battles in the 1970s, when the head coach was just starting out at Tennessee, and the player was just out of high school in Knoxville.

Delta State won three consecutive AIAW national championships from 1975 to 1977. Summitt, who started her career at Tennessee in the 1974-75 season, lost her first two games to Delta State before winning the next four for an overall 4-2 slate.

"Do we have a winning record against them?" Warlick asked. "I don't know. It was always a bloodbath. Always. They were way before their time."

The answer to that question is, of course, yes, and Warlick, who played at Tennessee from 1976 to 1980, was on the floor for the first two losses. She also was in uniform for the last four wins. The first game between the two schools was held on Dec. 27, 1976. The last matchup was Feb. 6, 1979.

After 30 years the series will renew tonight at 7 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena in an exhibition that won't count as an official game but will go into the Lady Vols' archives of team-by-team results.

Briana Bass will get the start at point guard this time. Warlick, who was the point guard for Tennessee in the last game against Delta State, will be on the bench as the associate head coach.

Bass was curious about Delta State after being asked if she knew their history, and her eyes flashed recognition when told that the legendary former coach of the Lady Statesmen, Margaret Wade, is who the Wade Trophy is named after in women's basketball.

Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow, who will also be on the bench for the Lady Vols as a coach, was the first Tennessee player to win the Wade Trophy in 1991. The second was Candace Parker in 2007.

"She was a soft-spoken woman, yet her team played like warriors," Summitt said. "Coach Wade, she was a very gentle, kind lady and truly a lady, but her teams would just come after you. Behind that soft-spoken person was a coach that knew how to motivate and recruit the players there. Her teams had a toughness about them.

"They had a great program and a lot of talent. I don't know how many times we lost to them, but we lost to them in the (AIAW) tournament (in a semifinal game in the Final Four). They were good. They were disciplined. Obviously well coached."

Delta State had the prototype center in Lusia Harris, now Lusia Harris-Stewart, who entered the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame with the inaugural class in 1999 that included Summitt and Wade. Summitt and Harris played together on the 1976 Olympic team that won a silver medal in Montreal. Billie Moore, who was the coach of that USA team, has been in town and was courtside at Tennessee's first exhibition game.

"She had soft hands, she had a great shooting touch. She had the size. She had the toughness," Summitt said. "Off the court she was very gentle. On the court, just like her coach. At that time they assembled one of the most talented teams in the country."

Summitt said she had a lot of memories about Delta State, and "a lot of them are not very good."

Delta State was the leader in the mid-1970s with powerhouses Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech. Tennessee wanted to be among them.

"Absolutely. That's who all of us were chasing back then. They were the number one team in the country," Warlick said. "They were who you needed to be. Lusia Harris was way before her time, (tall), athletic, could run up and down the floor. Nobody had that.

"And then the shooters. They had shooters that if the three-point line had been in effect they would have broken all kind of records. They had great shooters. Margaret Wade was a heck of a coach. She took what she had, and those kids loved her."

Summitt and Kathy Harston, the director of basketball operations, arranged the game. Harston knew Summitt wanted a second exhibition game and lined up Delta State.

"Pat and Kathy, they told me, and I said, ‘That is really cool,' " Warlick said. "That was one of our biggest rivals, that and Tennessee Tech and Old Dominion. You put it in comparison to who your rivals are today. They were consistent and they won. They found a way to win."

Tennessee initially played under the direction of the AIAW, but then went under the umbrella of NCAA Division I for the 1981-82 season. Delta State, a small school in Cleveland, Miss., headed to NCAA Division II in 1985.

The Lady Statesmen remain a national power. They come to Knoxville having made the Final Four in their division in 2008 and 2009 and are currently ranked No. 3/4 in the country in two different polls.

Delta State's athletic department arranged for a bus, so fans in Mississippi could make the trip as a group. They depart this morning and will spend the night in Knoxville with a trip to the WBHOF planned for Tuesday morning.

"I think that's awesome," Summitt said. "That is great."

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS:

Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start, with stats from the Carson-Newman game: Briana Bass, 5'2 sophomore point guard, No. 1 (6 points, 8 assists); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 guard/forward, No. 5 (21 points, five rebounds); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard/forward, No. 40 (12 points, seven assists); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (22 points, 10 rebounds); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore, No. 52 (16 points, eight rebounds).

Summitt watched the Carson-Newman game film, a 124-34 win, when she got home Thursday night.

"We did a lot of good things, but obviously we had a size advantage and a skills advantage," Summitt said. "We still managed to get some good things accomplished. I think they felt good about themselves."

Summitt wasn't feeling particularly good about her team as a whole after two days of somewhat lackluster practices on Friday and Saturday.

"I told you I was looking for eight (players)," Summitt said. "We don't have eight right now."

The team was off Sunday but will hold shoot-around Monday afternoon after classes. The availability of freshman forward Faith Dupree, who was held out of Thursday's game because of an ongoing back issue, likely won't be known until game time.

"We'll have shoot-around Monday and go from there," Summitt said.

Delta State Coach Sandra Rushing is expected to start, with stats from last season: Sarita "Bug" Cooper, 5'6 junior guard, No. 1 (8.9 ppg, 7.8 apg), led the NCAA in assists last season with 289; Denesha Henderson, 5'7 sophomore guard, No. 32 (2.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg), played in all 37 games last season and started eight; Moe Bell, 5'10 junior guard, No. 5 (9.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg), All-Gulf South Conference selection last season; Shameka Russell, 6'2 junior forward, No. 20 (4.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg), hit 45 percent (13-29) of her three-pointers last season; and Veronica Walker, 6'1 sophomore center, No. 30 (11.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg), GSC West Division freshman of the Year.

Rushing has a connection to the SEC. She was a guard for Alabama and graduated in 1986 after being an Academic All-SEC selection for four years. She is in her eighth year at Delta State with a 177-43 record. The Lady Statesmen have won the past four Gulf South Conference championships and reached the NCAA Division II Final Four in 2008 and 2009.

Delta State also has two Division I transfers on the roster: Ashley Martin, a 6'2 senior center from Southern Miss, and power forward Trevonna Cannon, a 6'1 senior center from SE Missouri State. Every player on the team is from the state of Mississippi except the transfers – Martin is from Memphis, and Cannon is from Long Beach, California – and Henderson, who is from Guy, Arkansas.

Summitt and Holly Warlick are expecting a much stiffer test tonight than the Lady Vols got Thursday.

"It should be," Summitt said. "I am just excited we can get in two exhibitions before we open up here (Sunday). I'd say we will see a lot of zone. That is what I would expect."

Warlick added, "They've got speed. They've got size. I think it's a great game for us. I think they've got more penetrators. They've got more size."

Warlick also evaluated the first exhibition game and saw clear signs of progress from a year ago.

"I was very pleased with how we scored out of our transition and off our defense, because we really focused on those two areas," Warlick said. "That was the best our press looked. Last year couldn't come close to how it looked (Thursday). We're just practicing it more. We've made it an emphasis. We've made pressure defense, our pressing, our trapping and running off the break, make or miss, we've emphasized it.

"We've still got to defend dribble penetration a little bit better. We've got to go against people who are our size. We're not going to be able to just shoot over people like we did. I was really pleased with how much we got the ball inside and looked for inside, and our posts ran. I don't care who you're playing. They ran the post highway. We hadn't seen that in a long time. Our guards were getting out, too."

Tennessee was able to turn the Carson-Newman game into a track meet and run the score to 124 points. Warlick expects Delta State to try to set a more deliberate pace.

"I think they're probably going to make us play in the half-court game a little bit more, so I am anxious to see how our offense is when it gets in the half-court," Warlick said.

Briana Bass, who came off the bench and brought tremendous energy last Thursday, said that was the biggest difference she saw in the team from a year ago.

"The energy – it was contagious (Thursday) night," Bass said. "The energy that we had, we just fed off of each other. I think that was a big difference. And the chemistry was another big difference from last year."

Bass may be too young to remember the history of Delta State-Tennessee, but she will carry on the tradition of those battles of 30-plus years ago.

"Just play hard," Bass said.


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