History helps Lady Vols' SEC tournament cause more than depth

Lady Vols open SEC with Florida

Meighan Simmons on being named SEC co-player of year

DULUTH, Ga. — History won’t pull on a white uniform with orange and blue trim and take the court for Tennessee today.

Too bad, since the top-seeded Lady Vols could assemble an army on their behalf just from their last three year’s worth of experience at the SEC women’s basketball tournament.

They open against No. 9 seed Florida (18-13) in the first of four quarterfinal games at Gwinnett Arena (TV: SportSouth, noon). The Gators beat Arkansas 64-59 in a second-round game on Thursday.

Tennessee (23-6) has won the tournament three consecutive years in dominant fashion. The average margin of victory in the nine games has been 17.4 points.

The tournament’s most valuable player award has been handed like a baton across the years from former Lady Vols Alyssia Brewer to Shekinna Stricklen and finally to Glory Johnson.

Junior Meighan Simmons played on two of those teams and recalled the teamwork. Sophomore Cierra Burdick remembered how well last season’s

team followed each day’s game plan and prioritized such staples as defense and rebounding.

“We have players on this team who have lived through that and done it and done it well,’’ assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. “We’re going to rely a lot on their leadership.”

Tennessee also can draw upon similar motivation. The team that won here three years ago still was distancing itself from the 11 losses of the 2008-09 season. First-year Coach Holly Warlick thinks this team still hasn’t forgotten the preseason predictions, which placed it as low as fifth in the SEC standings.

“I think this team is motivated by people still doubting if they’re legit,” she said. “So in the back of their minds, they’re still out to prove that they’re where they’re supposed to be. I love that. I think it’s great for us.”

Last Sunday’s 78-65 loss at Kentucky might work to UT’s advantage as well. While it doesn’t add up like four regular-season conference losses did for last year’s team, the embarrassment caused by 31 turnovers against the Wildcats has lingered.

“We’re capable of doing much more than what we showed,” Burdick said.

What the Lady Vols really need, however, is a few more experienced players. The past three UT teams had depth on their side. Two years ago, nine players logged double-figure playing minutes in the tournament championship game.

Tennessee likely will have just nine players available today. Warlick said on Wednesday that center Isabelle Harrison (knee) is doubtful.

“This is just facing adversity; we have to be resilient,” Burdick said. “I think we’ve done this the entire season. So we just have to continue to play with the cards we’re dealt.”

As she’s done before, Warlick said she will consider using seldom-used reserves Nia Moore and Jasmine Phillips.

“It’s going to be valuable to try to sneak them in for a couple of minutes,” Warlick said. “I think we’re going to have to try to get them some minutes.”

Florida played just eight players against Arkansas, but the Gators’ backups accounted for a 26-11 edge in bench scoring. Florida’s other statistical advantage was 12-7 in second-chance points.

“They don’t stop playing,” Lockwood said. “They play so hard. They’re physical. They’re quick on the perimeter, very good offensive rebounders They’re doing the things we’ve had trouble with.”

They did enough to force overtime when the teams met in Gainesville, Fla., on Jan. 13. Tennessee prevailed 78-75.

“This (Tennessee) team can’t look ahead; we can’t prepare ahead,” Warlick said. “We have to stay in the moment.”

Dan Fleser covers Tennessee women’s basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS and http;//blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser.

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Comments » 7

VolsFan4Lyfe writes:

One game at a time Lady Vols...You want to prove the doubters wrong?!? Become the first program to win 4 consecutive SEC tourney titles !!! 6 titles (Reuglar season ad tourney titles) in 4 years would leave people with something to remember you by. Then with Next year's recruitig class adding depth to this team with a healthy Izzy and Andraya Carter...This team may be just straight dominate...I'd like to think they'd be Baylor type of dominate in and out of conference play.

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to VolsFan4Lyfe:

One game at a time Lady Vols...You want to prove the doubters wrong?!? Become the first program to win 4 consecutive SEC tourney titles !!! 6 titles (Reuglar season ad tourney titles) in 4 years would leave people with something to remember you by. Then with Next year's recruitig class adding depth to this team with a healthy Izzy and Andraya Carter...This team may be just straight dominate...I'd like to think they'd be Baylor type of dominate in and out of conference play.

Amen!

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

I see the Vols in the top 5 next year making it to the final four.

ModelMaker writes:

Next year is one thing, and it does look good, but this is this year and I don't think the Lady Vols can win the SEC tournament without Ezzy in there. I hope they prove me wrong and win it. It would be similar to Uconn trying to win the the Big East without Dolson their big center or Baylor trying to win the NC without Greiner. One key player can make a huge difference in basketball because there are only five players. The odds will be against them. If Izzy plays and plays well then I like their chances.

underthehill writes:

The Lady Vols are the best and most talented team even with the injuries..go prove it..

butch31 writes:

Nia definitely needs more playing time. With Izzy out of commission, we need Nia, big time!!!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to butch31:

Nia definitely needs more playing time. With Izzy out of commission, we need Nia, big time!!!

I agree. I think Holly has done a fine job with a thin squad, but it might not BE as thin if Nia and Jasmine Phillips had gotten some meaningful minutes earlier. I get that they may not be steady enough to rely on yet, but a young player learns only so much watching from the bench. The only way to build depth is to play young players BEFORE they are fully ready; otherwise, if and when you need them, you know they WON'T be ready. Very few games get completely out of hand in the first half, so why not let the young ones get their feet wet when you don't NEED for them to be great and you can survive a short stretch if they AREN'T great? Why sign these gals in the first place if they are THAT shaky as freshmen? They might be in the regular rotation already if they had signed someplace else.

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