DULUTH, Ga. — Tennessee planned on celebrating its quarterfinal victory in the SEC women’s basketball tournament with an ice bath Friday afternoon.
Some reward, huh?
But it’s necessary strategy for a shorthanded team doing its best to maintain fresh legs while meeting the daily demands of the conference tournament. The Lady Vols will play Texas A&M today in the tournament semifinals.
“We’ve got to get better before tomorrow,” UT coach Holly Warlick said after an 82-73 victory over Florida at Gwinnett Arena. “And we’ve got to get rest.”
The rest requires sacrifices.
The first sacrifice: cell phones. They’re off limits for the tournament.
The next sacrifice: a mandatory ice bath after each tournament game.
“We do what we need to do to make sure they get rest,” Warlick said. “Rest will be huge for us because of our lack of depth.”
The rest is more crucial because of UT’s preferred pace. Although injuries basically have reduced it to a seven-player team, Warlick isn’t compromising on speed.
“We’ve just got to dig deep,” she said. “We’re not going away from our game plan.”
The game plan was obvious from the outset against Florida, which beat Arkansas on Thursday to reach the second round. Tennessee’s two speeds were fast and faster.
“We wanted a fast-tempo game,” Warlick said. “I thought we set the tone early.”
The Lady Vols didn’t just set the tone. They secured an advantage from which Florida couldn’t recover.
UT never trailed after its opening surge produced a 17-4 advantage in the first five minutes. Florida cut the lead to two later in the half but was never closer than six points in the second half.
The performance was a huge upgrade over UT’s last outing, a 78-65 setback against Kentucky five days ago.
Tennessee was too fast for its own good against Kentucky. It was just too fast for Florida this time.
As rushed and harried as the Lady Vols looked against Kentucky’s full-court press, they made speed work for them against the Gators. Improved health made a difference.
Point guard Ariel Massengale admittedly wasn’t at full speed against Kentucky after injuring a knee three days earlier against Texas A&M.
She was noticeably quicker against the Gators, who took the Lady Vols into overtime before losing in mid-January. She also was intent on not letting off the accelerator.
“Made or missed shots, we were going to push the tempo,” she said. “That was the game plan.”
The plan was executed with five Lady Vols playing 30 or more minutes. Massengale played 35 and didn’t appear any worse for the wear.
Guard Kamiko Williams, who injured both ankles against Kentucky, was feeling better, too.
“I could barely get up and down the court in the second half against Kentucky,” said Williams, who had a game-high four steals and was one of six UT players to score in double figures. “But the four days we had (between games) helped a lot.”
She planned on furthering her rehab with an ice bath, which has become part of her game routine, tournament or otherwise.
“I’ve been doing it the past couple of months,” Williams said. “It helps. It really does.”
The help just isn’t immediate.
“The first two or three minutes before your body gets numb are the worst (in an ice bath),” Massengale pointed out.
“It’s the worst thing in the world. But come game time, it will pay off.”
A coach with a short bench is counting on that.