The Lady Vols finish the regular season at home with three games next week – a rematch with an improved LSU, ranked No. 23; a face-off with Kentucky, second place in the SEC and ranked No. 16; and an Ole Miss team that Tennessee just played last week and needed an Angie Bjorklund last-second three-pointer to beat.
If Tennessee can hold on to first place and win the regular season championship it would be quite a turnaround from a year ago.
"That would speak volumes for this team," Coach Pat Summitt said. "Keep in mind their summer workouts were so invested. And keep in mind when we came back after we lost that first round game it was unlike anything I've ever seen in my life with Heather and with us."
Heather Mason, the team's strength and conditioning coach, was turned loose to get the team tougher. Usually, March and April are postseason months for Tennessee and not the time for strenuous workouts, but with the Lady Vols out of the NCAA tourney after a first round loss to Ball State – the first team in Summitt's history to not make at least the Sweet 16 – suddenly the team had time on its hands.
Summitt filled that time with court workouts twice a week and conditioning sessions with Mason three times a week, as allowed by NCAA rules.
Mason ran the team to Gate 10 – a steep incline outside Neyland Stadium – for timed sprints that left players gasping at the top and bottom of the ramp. She took them to the indoor football complex to push grocery carts loaded with weights the length of the field, flip massive tires over and over, pull sleds loaded with weights, engage each other in one-on-one battles with rope tug-of-war and hold human wheelbarrow races – one player crawled on her hands while a teammate held her legs – in which the losing pair had to immediately run a 100-yard sprint while the winning pair collapsed in the end zone.
The intent was to make the team tougher and more competitive and determine who wanted to work and who wanted to walk. They all stayed.
The proof of its impact is in this season's record.
"I really am pleased," Summit said in her Wednesday media teleconference. "I think we understand now what it takes and how hard you have to work. I think the one thing that has been the most impressive, is that in our tight games, we've found a way to win. I think down the stretch, as a team, we haven't hit the panic button."
Several games this season could have very well been losses a year ago, according to Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick.
"I think that's the difference from last year – the Ole Miss game, the Florida game – I am not sure we would've won those (on the road)," Warlick said. "This group has found a way to win, and now they've got a mindset that they're going to win every game, that they're in every game, which is great. Even if you're down whatever we've been down with four minutes to go they still sit on that bench (in timeouts) and there is no panic.
"I like that there's not any panic, but I'd like to not get behind and not have to fight our way out."
That is the next step in the team's maturation – faster starts and the attitude on display in the second half against Florida last Sunday after exchanging baskets with the Gators to start the game. Tennessee outscored Florida, 49-16, after halftime and went on to win, 83-44. The offensive display was noteworthy, but it was also set up by much stiffer defense, an indication that the team is inching closer to the identity Summitt wants them to show on the court.
"We still have games to play and I think we'll continue to learn more about our team," Summitt said. "Certainly, we have the talent. We have skill players. It's just a matter of them understanding that these habits (slow starts) are hard to break. We've got to have great habits every day in practice in all of our offense and our defense and our rebounding. We've just got to be invested across the board.
"One or two players decide they don't want to play hard, that's not going to cut it. We've made a lot strides, don't get me wrong, overall, I'm pretty pleased. Watching our film, we are getting better. We're defending better. We've got to make sure we're not giving up middle drives, that right there will cost us."
Defense is never far from Summitt's mind – she knows what hangs banners in the arena – and Tennessee could have been undefeated so far in the SEC had it not given up a long three-pointer, middle drive to the basket and rebound off a missed free throw late in the game against Georgia in Athens.
"There are some things that happened at Georgia," Warlick said. "But we're not (undefeated) because Georgia played a very good game against us, and when we got up we didn't take care of the lead, and Kelley fouls out, and we go in the tank.
"That's a learning experience for us, and we need to use it as a learning experience. We would like to be undefeated, but we're not. This group is good because we get their attention whether we win or lose, and that's been a really good thing.
"We're not even a year removed from losing in the first round so every game, every practice is a teaching moment for us."
Tonight will be an opportunity for the team to play without Kelley Cain. The 6'6 redshirt sophomore center has missed so many Thursday classes in the past month that she needs to stay in Knoxville so as not to miss those sessions again. Cain is an honors student enrolled in the College of Business with a marketing/logistics major and is on track to graduate next December and then enroll in graduate school.
"I talked to her about it and I said, ‘Would it help you if you worked out with us (Wednesday) and then (Thursday) you would be here to go to your classes?' " Summitt said. "She was like, ‘Coach, that would be awesome.' "
Cain was on the practice court Wednesday, as the team prepared on both sides of the ball for the Crimson Tide. Kamiko Williams, who was tossed out of practice Monday by Summitt for insufficient effort, was back Wednesday in her coach's good graces and is cleared to play Thursday. The team left after practice for the airport for a chartered flight to Tuscaloosa.
The three players out this season to rehab injuries, Vicki Baugh, Amber Gray and Faith Dupree, have not traveled this semester so as to not miss classes. Summitt will allow them to be with the team for postseason travel if their academics are in order. Summitt is as proud of her 100 percent graduation rate for players who stay through their senior season as she is of the eight national title banners hanging in the arena.
"They are here first and foremost to get a degree," Summitt said. "In the process we hope we win some championships."
Junior guard Sydney Smallbone has the same major as Cain, and the two share some classes this semester.
"Syd is in the same situation and she emailed her professor," Summitt said. "I'm not sure what the conversation was, but I know she is going to go with us. She emailed her professor, and he said he would be able to work with her."
The assistants learned that Cain would not make the trip shortly before practice, as did the players when they reported for practice after their Wednesday classes. Cain is a safety valve on both ends of the floor – she can erase defensive mistakes by a teammate with a well-timed swat, and she is shooting 66.7 percent from the field in SEC games.
"Maybe it will help them step up and be focused and try to bring what they do best as players," Summitt said. "I can't imagine them being in any kind of panic mode because of this. For some of them, it's an opportunity."
The first opportunity is for Alyssia Brewer, a 6'3 sophomore forward who will start her fifth SEC game this season.
"You look at a Lyssi Brewer and what a difference she has made for us," Summitt said. "Last year at this time, I was thinking are we ever going to get it together? I think it's a credit to the team and the players and their investment in the off-season.
"And even now, getting in the gym and going to Pratt, getting a lot of shots up. That's why Alicia Manning is playing a lot better. She's in the gym. I think across the board, we've got a team that's focused and they want to win."
Manning, once again, had worked up a sweat before practice officially started Wednesday. She was on the court working on ball-handling drills on her own. Manning was a freshman a year ago when the team struggled through an 11-loss season and dismal play on the road in the SEC. A year later, Tennessee is in the catbird seat to take the regular season crown.
"It just proves how time and what hard work can do for us," Manning said. "I think everyone has really become invested and every day we're working really hard and we're constantly looking to go forward and be the best team in the country.
"I think we've got to take it game by game. We can't just look at the outcome. We've got to look at the process. We have good chances if we keep playing hard, pull together and play a 40-minute game."
Manning will start on the perimeter Thursday for the third consecutive game and can move to the high post when Taber Spani comes in off the bench.
"She brings quickness, she's very athletic and she's committed to the defense and the rebounding," Summitt said of Manning. "What I like about her right now is that she's getting paint points."
Spani has deep three-ball range, and her presence on the court means Bjorklund can't be smothered on defense.
"I like A-Town (Manning) more on the block or just above the hash mark and Taber has got a better stroke (behind the arc)," Summitt said. "We've just got to get her to move and come off some screens."
Movement has been an issue for Spani ever seen a wicked case of turf toe, which has bothered her since last June, really became inflammed last month. She started the first four SEC contests, but was put on limited duty and then a full week of rest from practice and games as the foot became aggravated and secondary issues developed.
Spani played in the past two games, and Summitt hopes to have her for spot duty Thursday. Summitt had considered resting Spani against Alabama but with Cain out Spani will be needed for depth reasons. After Monday's practice, Summitt said she was going to watch a DVD of Spani on defense and offense – and one was also provided to Spani, who has been frustrated of late with her foot and the resulting limitations.
"She is (frustrated)," Summitt said. "We're pulling up all of her tape. She's going to get a DVD, and I'm going to take one and just really sit down and talk to her and try to get a strategy."
The status of Spani's left foot also requires a daily update from Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine.
"That's what Jenny and I talked about this morning," Summitt said Wednesday in her morning teleconference. "She said she actually was feeling better. I'll gauge that once I see her move. I think she'll probably work out (Wednesday), and I'm going to go in and watch tape with her as well."
Spani was able to work out at practice Wednesday, and she and Summitt watched tape before the session began.
"We watched for about 40 minutes, and I am going to take another on the road," Summitt said after practice. "Defensively, her awareness, if her player came through over here (on the wing), and the ball was at the top of the key, she wasn't seeing it. She was locked into her player.
"She was playing one-on-one defense, so getting her to understand seeing both, get the ball and the man in front of her. It's OK to turn her head, you've got to be quick with that."
Spani smiled when asked about the irony of enduring an injury more common among football players. Spani is the daughter of Gary Spani, an All-American linebacker at Kansas State and the leading tackler in Kansas City Chiefs' history.
"Maybe it's because I play like a football player," Spani said. "It's just in me."
When Spani hit a three-pointer against Ole Miss last week, it was her first make from long range in a month. She stroked another one against Florida. And although the shots were a relief it's not the season Spani – or the coaches – envisioned when practice first began in October, and the freshman started her first career game as a Lady Vol in November.
Last fall, it was clear that she was a player that would be hard to keep off the court. Now, Spani sees the court when her foot feels OK, and she knows her minutes will coincide with that condition, and she must adjust accordingly in games and in practice.
"It's been a big growing process and, for me, it's team first," Spani said. "It actually kills me not to be out there, but I've got to have a bigger picture mentality. I need to be there in March, and I need to help our team then. Pat has been like, ‘Look, there is so much more basketball to play. You can't kill your foot now and not be ready.'
"It's a long season, and there's a lot left to play."
The next step in the season-long process is tonight's game against Alabama. With Cain not available it's a chance for Glory Johnson to get back on track. Summitt has had a quick hook with the sophomore forward of late.
"I think the main thing with Glory is not to pace herself," Summitt said. "You're talking the best athlete on our team. For whatever reason, and I've talked to her about this, she paces herself and I just want her to go all out. I talked to her about this in our last game, just go as hard as you can and just pull yourself when fatigue sets in. We'll get you back in. I think that if we can get her to understand that. …
"It took Lyssi a long time to understand that. She'll pull herself. I want them to do that. There is a different strategy as opposed to say, ‘You play hard or I'll take you out,' that's when players will pace themselves. I want us to go all out and then pull themselves out, knowing they'll get back in."
Johnson pacing herself has not been an issue until lately – it used to be the coaches had to slow her down. Summitt was concerned enough to inquire about Johnson's nutritional habits, as she has a lean sprinter's build and needs to maintain her playing weight to keep her energy.
"I ask her even during the game," Summitt said. "I say, ‘You seem to give into fatigue, are you eating, are you eating healthy?' Everything I ask her, she says, ‘No, I feel OK.' I don't think she's quite aware of it, but we'll keep emphasizing what she needs to do. She's definitely a key player for our basketball team."
Johnson's second-half defense against Florida on Sunday changed the tenor of the game, as she took the Gators out of their offense. Florida relies on getting open three-point shots, and Johnson applied suffocating pressure on the perimeter.
"She can defend on the perimeter, which gives us an advantage," Summitt said. "You don't have many athletes that have the size Glory brings that can do what she does when she defends on the perimeter."
In the Ole Miss game, Summitt removed Johnson for not getting on the boards. Against Florida, Summitt was uspet because Johnson didn't sprint back on defense in the first half.
"When you make little mistakes and then they add up the coach wants to sub in someone that she thinks can do the job," Johnson said.
When Johnson comes out, Summitt may have a brief word with her and then Assistant Dean Lockwood has a longer conversation. After that, Johnson takes a seat on the bench with her thoughts.
"Just trying to figure out the mistakes that I was making and trying to figure out next time I went in how to fix those mistakes," Johnson said. "It was kind of hard because it was something different every time."
Johnson also knows what Summitt expects when she puts her back onto the court.
"Keep my energy level high throughout the whole game," Johnson said. "I tend to get frustrated now more than I used to. I'll be posting up ‘X' amount of plays and I feel like I'm wide open completely and either it's hard for the guard to get a pass inside or they're kind of hesitant because of the amount of turnovers that we've had in the past couple of games, so staying positive and keeping high energy level when you're not getting the ball as much as you think she should."
When Summitt put Johnson back in the game on Sunday, the coach walked with her towards the scorer's table for a fairly lengthy conversation, as least as much as such can be had during a game.
"Basically defense and try not to foul and sprint the floor," Johnson said of her instructions. "That is what she was trying to get me to do the whole time because their posts weren't really keeping up with our posts when we ran. Sprinting the floor and staying out of foul trouble and communicating what we should run on offense and defense. That was pretty positive."
Johnson will be especially needed tonight with Cain back at home with her books. Manning will provide some depth in the paint since Johnson and Brewer are the only true posts available in Tuscaloosa. Manning thinks the team – with a year of experience – won't take any team lightly and that includes Alabama, which is in last place in the SEC.
"Just looking at the Ball State game, you can't take any team lightly," Manning said. "They're a good team. They play with a lot of heart. They are a team that we can't overlook. They're going to play hard so we need to battle back with them."
Last season, when the SEC played a 14-game schedule, Tennessee was 2-5 on the road and 7-0 at home. The league plays a 16-game schedule this season and the Lady Vols are 6-1 on the road with one to go Thursday before closing out the season with three games at home, where Tennessee has tallied a 5-0 record to date.
The players and coaches will be glad to roll back into Knoxville in the wee hours of Friday morning, as they did after the past two road games at Vanderbilt and at Ole Miss because of late tipoffs.
"I feel like we've been a little junior pro team," Warlick said. "Plus, when the games are at 9 o'clock for us and we get in at 3, 3:30 (in the morning) and they've got to be in class, it wears on them a little bit. I think they are glad to be home (next week)."
The sophomores also seem to have finally learned what happens when opponents see orange. Alabama should be no different.
"I think our team could look at their record and say, ‘This ought to be an easy one.' No. We get everybody's best shot," Summitt said. "We're going to get their best shot. I guarantee you Alabama is going to be ready."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard/forward, No. 40 (12.4 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game, 4.0 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (14.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.6 apg); Alicia Manning, 6'1 sophomore forward, No. 15 (4.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.0 apg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (11.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.3 steals per game); and Alyssia Brewer, 6'3 sophomore forward/center, No. 33 (9.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg).
This will be the 12th different starting lineup combination this season, matching Summitt's tinkering of a year ago.
Manning will start her third consecutive SEC game, and her presence has been an infusion of energy for Tennessee, especially on defense. Johnson leads the team with 33 steals while averaging 26.4 minutes a game. Stricklen is next at 28 steals and averages 29.8 minutes. Bjorklund is third in steals at 26 and averages 32.3 minutes.
Manning averages 18.8 minutes a game and is fourth on the team in steals with 27, just six behind the team leader.
"She broke the game open at Vanderbilt with two steals," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said of Tennessee's come-from-behind win in Nashville last week. "She'll get after it."
Kamiko Williams, a freshman guard averaging 13.6 minutes a game, has 20 steals on the season. Her on-ball defense and basketball instincts are why Summitt has been demanding more effort and energy in practice from the first-year player – she knows Williams can help the team tremendously this season.
Manning's increase in playing time started with a solid performance off the bench on the road against LSU. The minutes and results – Manning also had two steals in that game to help the Lady Vols create separation in the second half – have increased Manning's confidence.
"Just keep doing what she's doing," said Warlick, who has met with Manning before practice for extra shooting workouts. "Manning has got a lot of confidence. She's worked on her game outside of practice, which helped her build her confidence. She's got a lot of confidence right now, and I'd like for it to stay because she's playing the way we expected her to play when she got here."
Alabama Coach Wendell Hudson is expected to start: Dedrea Magee, 5'7 senior guard, No. 2 (8.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.7 apg), hails from Picayune, Miss., 1.8 assist/turnover ratio leads the SEC in league games, scored 18 points against South Carolina this season, recorded her career high of 19 points against Tennessee last season, was the state Gatorade Player of the Year in Mississippi in her senior year of high school; LaToya King, 5'4 junior guard, No. 10 (6.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.9 apg), hails from Stuart, Fla., scored 23 points this season against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, transferred from Seminole Community College, named a 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Third-Team All-American; Ericka Russell, 5'7 sophomore guard, No. 23 (11.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg), hails from Tuscaloosa, Ala., scored 22 points and hit five 3-pointers this season against Ole Miss, tallied seven assists this season against Florida and 18 points against Kentucky, had a career-high 25 points last season against Vanderbilt; Tierney Jenkins, 6'0 junior forward, No. 21 (12.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.6 steals per game), hails from Mt. Juliet, Tenn., has started 18 games this season, had a double-double in the win over Auburn with 17 points and 13 rebounds, ranks second in the SEC in rebounding, had a program-record 27 rebounds against Belmont, won the 2006 Tennessee AAA state title at Wilson Central High School; and Courtney Strauthers, 6'4 senior center/forward, No. 22 (2.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg), hails from Snellville, Ga., has started seven games this season, tossed in 12 points against Kentucky, father Thomas was a standout defensive end at Jackson State, played eight seasons in the NFL for Philadelphia, Detroit and Minnesota, mother Jennifer played basketball at Arkansas College, now Arkansas State University.
A key player off the bench for Alabama is Tamara Williams, a 6'0 senior forward from Alabaster, Ala., who has started 18 games this season. Williams had a career-high 15 points against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Another reserve for Alabama is Alyson Butler, a 5'10 junior guard from Cleveland, Tenn., who has started six games this season. Butler had 10 points against Georgia and hit three 3-pointers.
Freshman Celiscia Farmer, a 6'0 freshman guard from Madison, Wisc., played 33 minutes against Auburn and scored 18 points in the Crimson Tide's win. Farmer had 19 points in the win over Florida in a 9-12 shooting performance from the field.
Alabama is without two players because of knee injuries. Kayla Robinson, a 6'2 sophomore center from Edwards, Miss., suffered an ACL injury early in the season. Varisia Raffington, a 5'11 junior guard from Tallahassee, Fla., and proven scorer for the Crimson Tide, tore the MCL and PCL ligaments in her knee on Jan. 17. She will not require surgery but will be out of action for three months.
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Alabama game. Here is her assessment.
When Alabama has the ball: Alabama's attack starts with its point guard, Dedrea Magee, who has multiple dimensions to her game.
"She's one of those guards, she can penetrate, she shoots the three, midrange," Warlick said. "She's a difficult guard just because she can do those three things. We can't isolate on her and take away one thing. I think we've got to play her straight up. She's played pretty well. She runs the team, gets them going, gets them in the offense, pushes the ball. I think she's had a good year."
The inside game is anchored by Tierney Jenkins, who has 92 offensive rebounds on the season. The next closest on the team is Carmen McCoy, who has 32 offensive boards and has played in all 25 games this season off the bench. Courtney Strauthers, who has started seven games, is third with 30.
"She's a great rebounder, catch and shoot, strong," Warlick said of Jenkins.
Alabama starts just one sophomore and fills out the rest of the lineup with upperclassmen.
"They're experienced," Warlick said. "They've got three-point shooters. They've got penetrators. They like to run off of opportunities for them – steals, long rebounds. They're a lot of similarities with us. They do a lot of three out, two in, four out, one in, motion, reading what the defense does and trying to direct their offense around what the defense does."
Tennessee scored 83 points against Florida. Alabama put up 82 in its 82-58 win over the Gators on Jan. 21. Alabama's other league win this season was against Auburn, 55-53, on Feb. 7. The Crimson Tide lost to Arkansas in overtime on Jan. 24.
"I know their record is not good, but they play hard," Warlick said. "I've watched them early, and I've watched them late, and they're getting better and better. They beat a good Auburn team.
"We've got to go into this game not looking at any record because Alabama is going to play their best against us, and we understand that. They've had games that could have gone either way, and it didn't go their way. They're on the edge of breaking out, and it's just a matter of getting better each week, and I think they have done that."
Defensively, "They play a lot of man, pressure on the ball, they'll pick up some full, they'll run a matchup," Warlick said. "They're going to throw a lot of stuff at us. I think they're physical on defense. They have really good ball pressure, and the majority of them are athletic, so they're going to bring the heat to us."
When Tennessee has the ball: Kelley Cain won't make the trip because of academic demands, but the Lady Vols game change won't change – they still want to play inside-out.
"We'll do the same thing we've been doing We'll just have a smaller look," Warlick said. "We're capable of covering when Kelley is out. We've done that. Just knowing that she's in makes you feel a little better, but the way Lyssi (Brewer) is playing and maybe it will get Glory (Johnson) started a little earlier.
"Would we like to have her? Absolutely. But we should have the talent and the ability to be able to handle her out. Because she's been out in foul trouble, and we've been able to handle it. It's something we have to adjust to and make it work."
Angie Bjorklund is the key to the outside attack, and Warlick said the ball needs to keep moving early in the offense.
"They are going to be on Angie, so she's got to move the ball around," Warlick said. "When we work the ball around we end up eventually getting her a good look."
Those good looks seem to come more often after halftime. In the second half in the past four games against Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Florida, Bjorklund has averaged 12.0 points and connected on 57 percent of her threes and 52 percent of her shots overall.
Bjorklund was named SEC Player of the Week for her performances against Ole Miss and Florida. The junior was selected Freshman of the Week five times in her rookie year for Tennessee.
Defensively,, Warlick wants to see the intensity of the second half against Florida when the Lady Vols brought some full court pressure to open up the game.
"That was an indication of what we're capable of," Warlick said. "We did bring some pretty good defensive pressure, and we got steals and shot layups. I think we're just trying to adjust to who's playing and who's playing together. We get in practice and we're all over the guys. I think sometimes in games we're afraid to make a mistake, and we've got to get away that mentality and carry over what we do in practice into a game."
Tennessee will be prepared to deploy its man and zone defenses.
"We probably start off man, but it could change," Warlick said.
The Lady Vols has proven themselves to be adept at both defenses.
"That's exactly right," Warlick said. "If we went in and said, ‘We're going to start in a 2-3,' it's not a shock, it's not a panic. They are comfortable with both, and we've gotten them comfortable with both this year, which I like."
POWER OF PINK: Alabama's basketball and gymnastics teams are involved in the "Power of Pink" promotion this week to raise awareness of breast cancer and those who battle the disease, with Coleman Coliseum also changing colors.
The College of Arts and Science, campus electricians and local businesses joined forces to convert the exterior of the coliseum into a pink glow.
"We're very excited to see the coliseum lit up in pink," Alabama gymnastics Coach Sarah Patterson said. "What an amazing display for this great cause, for the Power of Pink."
The pink lights on the exterior of the coliseum will be illuminated for tonight's basketball game and the gymnastics meet on Friday evening.
All fans in attendance will have the chance to win 2010 Alabama football season tickets, a 50-inch flat screen television, a 42-inch flat screen television, an iPod, iTouch, Nintendo Wii, $500 gift card to the Shirt Shop and $500 gift card to Best Buy.
Every fan will receive a free hot dog and drink, and the first 2,000 will get Power of Pink T-shirts, courtesy of Tuscaloosa Toyota.
"This is going to be a big game," Alabama basketball Coach Wendell Hudson said. "We've made some adjustments since our last game with the understanding that you have to play hard all the time and finish. We're looking forward to hosting Tennessee and hoping for a big crowd in this Power of Pink game."
A contingent of Tennessee fans is also expected at the game through an effort spearheaded by the area alumni associations in Alabama.
Tennessee's players will wear pink warmup T-shirts during pre-game, and pink adidas shoes during the game, as they did against Ole Miss last week during that school's pink game.
Tennessee's "Live Pink, Bleed Orange," game is Monday against LSU in Knoxville.
The Lady Vols will wear pink adidas uniforms while LSU will wear white, pink and purple Nike uniforms. Tennessee has both road and home pink uniforms, while LSU has white uniforms. Since LSU will be in its home white uniforms for an away game, the SEC had to approve the switch for the game in Knoxville. League permission has been granted.
ON TAP: Six other SEC teams are in action tonight in the following matchups: Ole Miss at Arkansas; Florida at Kentucky; and Vanderbilt at LSU. Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina are idle.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Alabama, 42-2. The Lady Vols are 15-0 in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide's two wins in the series occurred at neutral sites in 1981 and 1984. Since 1984, Tennessee has won 35 consecutive games, with the last victory coming March 5, 2009, in the SEC tourney, 68-49. Alabama led by a point in that game in Little Rock, Ark., at halftime after jumping out to a 9-2 lead. … Tennessee is 15-2 in games played on February 18. The last win on this date was against LSU, 75-73, in 2001. The first win on February 18 was against Centenary (Tenn.), 54-10, in 1925. The two losses on this date were to Farragut School, 14-8, in 1905; and Belmont, 102-80, in 1975. … Four of Alabama's 11 SEC games this season have been decided by single digits. The Crimson Tide finally broke free in one of those close games with a 55-53 win over Auburn on Feb. 7. Alabama lost by eight points, 52-44, to Georgia, and by four points, 66-62, to Arkansas in overtime. Alabama went down by 18 points against Vanderbilt before battling back to lose by nine, 70-61. The win over in-state rival Auburn ended an eight-game losing streak to the Tigers dating to Jan. 8, 2006. Guard LaToya King, who is 5'4, stole the ball from 6'7 center KeKe Carrier to preserve the win.
BY THE NUMBERS OVERALL WITH SEC PLAY IN PARENTHESES: Tennessee is averaging 74.3 points a game (68.4 in the SEC) while allowing opponents to score 55.8 (54.8). Alabama averages 64.2 points a game (57.1) while allowing 66.5 (70.2).
The Lady Vols are shooting 46.5 percent overall (45.9), 38.5 percent behind the arc (39.2) and 66.8 percent from the free throw line (62.2). The Crimson Tide are shooting 39.0 percent overall (36.8), 28.1 percent from long range (27.4) and 60.2 percent from the line (60.0).
Tennessee makes an average of 5.8 three-pointers a game (5.4) while allowing 6.2 (7.1). Alabama makes 4.2 threes a game (4.0) while allowing 5.3 (5.6).
Tennessee averages 43.2 rebounds a game for a +9.3 margin (41.7, +9.3). Alabama averages 40.8 boards for a -1.1 margin (37.0, -7.1).
The Lady Vols average 15.6 assists (15.0) and 14.7 turnovers (14.8) a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 16.4 times a game (15.8). The Crimson Tide average 13.1 assists (11.5) and 18.4 turnovers (18.8) with foes losing the ball 20.0 times a game (17.5). Tennessee averages 7.0 steals (6.0) and 6.0 blocks a game (6.2). Alabama averages 7.8 steals (7.0) and 2.7 blocks (3.1).