Taber Spani on Missouri's Morgan Eye
Along with the usual directives, Tennessee's coaches remind the Lady Vols more often lately about getting sufficient rest and eating properly.
"It sounds like something your parents would say," guard Meighan Simmons said, "Like my parents probably would be like 'you need to go to sleep. You need to eat.' "
The advice is intended to help preserve UT's ranks. The Lady Vols are down to nine active players with Andraya Carter (shoulder surgery) out for the season and Cierra Burdick (fractured right hand) sidelined until at least February.
With reserves Nia Moore and Jasmine Phillips playing limited roles, seven women's basketball players could do most of the work for No. 9 Tennessee (12-3, 2-0 SEC) against Missouri (12-4, 1-1) tonight (TV: SportSouth, 8 p.m.) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
After Burdick's injury last Monday, all five UT starters played at least 31 minutes last Thursday at South Carolina with four playing 34 or more. On Sunday against Georgia, three starters logged at least 34 minutes.
The result was two impressive victories marked by strong second-half play. The attrition apparently hasn't robbed the Lady Vols of their finishing kick.
"We're in great condition," said freshman forward Bashaara Graves, after playing 36 minutes in Sunday's 79-66 victory. "We're running the ball like we want and getting what we want from offense and defense."
The Lady Vols are running a marathon, not a sprint. There's nearly two months left in the regular season. And then comes the postseason. The coaches realize the toll a heavy workload could take on a younger player like Graves.
"At the same time, we look at what the alternative is," assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. "We're not going to compromise on how we need to play and how hard we need to play."
Instead, they're stressing time management, paying attention to the length of practices and player substitutions during games. Head coach Holly Warlick said that she will resist the urge to hoard time-outs.
"I'm usually one to sit on time-outs," she said.
It's incumbent upon the players to get the necessary treatment. Senior Taber Spani logged more than 30 minutes just once before Burdick's injury.
Since then, she's become a starter and is averaging 37 minutes the past two games. All this time, she's been dealing with what she described as "back stuff."
"I live in the training room, no matter what," she said, "just to survive, honestly."
Along with the physical maintenance, the players have to manage their fouls more closely. Center Isabelle Harrison missed most of the first half against Georgia after picking up two fouls. UT missed her rebounding and defensive presence.
"I feel like most of my fouls come from, I guess, fatigue,'' she said. "I'm in pretty good shape. But when it gets hard (on defense), I can't bail them out with a foul."
Lockwood conceded that UT's style of play will create a certain amount of fouls. When watching video with players, the coaches stress being smart about playing hard.
"What we want to avoid are the silly fouls," he said. "The reaching at 40 feet away (from the basket), going for a steal and knocking somebody out when you have no chance to make that play."
Against Missouri, the Lady Vols will be charged with being smart about guarding shooters. In their first season in the SEC, the Tigers are the top 3-point shooting team. They set a conference record with 18 3-pointers in last Sunday's 82-76 victory over Auburn. Sophomore Morgan Eye made 11 of them.
"We're different than a lot of teams in the SEC," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. "When we get going on all cylinders, it is a different matchup for teams in this league."
When viewing a 30-second video clip, Lockwood counted seven screens set by the Tigers on one possession.
All the more reason to remind the Lady Vols about getting their rest.