Dean Lockwood answers questions from the Big Orange Tipoff Club
Taber Spani talks about how the Lady Vols can improve
Tamika Catchings sat in Tennessee's locker room after Monday night's loss to Notre Dame with a choice to make.
Should the former Lady Vols All-American remain silent or should she stand up and speak her mind? She chose the latter.
"I didn't plan it," she said. "I started talking. I don't remember verbatim what I said."
She said enough to make a strong impression. Two Lady Vols referenced the impact as the team prepared to face SEC women's basketball rival Mississippi State (9-11, 1-6 SEC) at Thompson-Boling Arena today (TV: CSS, 7 p.m.).
"We needed to not only be challenged but also be encouraged and she did both," senior Taber Spani said.
The most pressing matter for No. 9 Tennessee (16-4, 7-0) is handling Isabelle Harrison's left knee injury. The sophomore center was helped to the locker room after going down with 5:07 left in the first half of Monday's 77-67 loss. She had been diagnosed beforehand with a lateral meniscus injury to the knee but was cleared to play.
On Wednesday, UT announced it was determined that Harrison will need knee surgery after a visit to Dr. Greg Mathien.
According to UT assistant director of sports medicine Jenny Moshak, the procedure will take place Friday. No timetable was announced on how long Harrison will be out.
Harrison entered the arena Wednesday on crutches. While the team worked out, she was lying on the trainer's table receiving treatment with the knee packed in ice.
Freshman Jasmine Jones likely will be first up to replace Harrison in the starting lineup. Her lone
start was Dec. 28 against Davidson. Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick shook up the lineup for that game to shake up the team after a lackluster loss to Stanford before Christmas.
Sophomore Cierra Burdick, who's been out since New Year's Eve with a fractured right hand, is close to being an option again. At Wednesday's Big Orange TipOff Club, assistant coach Dean Lockwood said Burdick is expected back for Sunday's game at Missouri.
Burdick had her cast removed Monday. She was on the court Wednesday, testing the hand by taking shots from close range.
No matter who starts, Harrison's situation means more playing time for 6-foot-3 reserve Nia Moore, who's averaging 9.2 minutes per game.
"She's going to be thrown in the fire early," Warlick said. "I think Nia is very capable. The more practice time she has, the more game experience she has will help her. But when you've been playing behind Bashaara (Graves) and you've been playing behind (Harrison) your playing time has been limited. But I think Nia is very capable of stepping up and helping us."
Under the circumstances, rallying the troops is advisable. With her impromptu talk, Catchings got that process rolling. She arrived in time to watch the team's shooting practice Monday and made a talking point of its uneven quality.
"You look at the game," she said. "It was kind of the same thing."
Both Spani and point guard Ariel Massengale mentioned the observation.
"It's not a physical thing, it's more of a mental thing," Spani said. "... Being able to tune in mentally and not have any lapses is going to be huge."
Catchings also left them with reason for optimism.
"I was impressed from the standpoint of what they can be," she said. "But from the outside looking in, sometimes you see more potential than they see."
Warlick was grateful that the players heard from someone other than the coaches, especially a player of Catchings' stature.
"Sometimes, they may think a coach, we're just harping on and on and on," Warlick said. "But to hear it from a former Lady Vol and their peers, I think it has a lot of meaning."
Guard Offered: Alexa Middleton, a junior guard at Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro, was offered a scholarship this week by Tennessee, according to Tom Kreager of the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal.