Cross-country trip big for Lady Vols
Posted: Friday, December 9, 2011 7:01 pm
By BETH RUCKER
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s last road trip didn’t go so well. The seventh-ranked Lady Volunteers are hoping for a better showing on their upcoming journey, even though this road trip will be much, much tougher than the last.
The Lady Vols (4-2) will face No. 20 DePaul on Sunday in the Maggie Dixon Classic in New York. They’ll meet No. 11 Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J., on Tuesday before a quick trip home and a long flight to California for games at UCLA and No. 4 Stanford.
“It’s a big stretch for us and a big test,” associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “We’ve played really well at home, but we’ve got to understand the importance of playing hard on the road. We’re going to play four solid, solid teams.”
That importance didn’t quite sink in during the Lady Vols’ only other road game this season, a disappointing 69-64 overtime loss to unranked Virginia on Nov 20. They played with little energy, struggled to hit their foul shots, fell behind early and never managed to get in control.
It didn’t help that the trip to Virginia was sandwiched in between two big games at home. The Lady Vols had beaten then seventh-ranked Miami in an exhausting game five days previous and had a date with top-ranked Baylor on the calendar a week later.
“That was very telling,” coach Pat Summitt said. “It was a tough loss. We just didn’t compete as hard as we needed to. With a senior-dominated team, we ought to be able to get it right now. I think across the board we’ve learned a lot from that loss. We’ve just got to stay focused and take care of these next opponents.”
Tennessee’s three true freshmen were playing in their first road game as well, and point guard Ariel Massengale said she’s learned plenty from the experience that will help her and forwards Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison over the next two weeks.
“Now we know what to expect,” Massengale said. “You do get a little nervous because you’re on the road. Now we know what to expect, and we can go in there knowing what we need to do as a team to get ourselves prepared mentally for an away game.”
It was unclear whether Massengale would be available to play against DePaul, a school located about 30 miles from her suburban Chicago home. The Bolingbrook, Ill., native injured a finger on her left hand diving for a loose ball at the end of Thursday’s practice and was to be evaluated later.
Tennessee will have spent a full week preparing for DePaul by the time Sunday arrives, though practices have been interspersed with study sessions and exams. Exam week also helped the Lady Vols move on from their last game, a 73-57 victory over No. 25 Texas on Sunday.
“We’ve had to work around (exams), but most of us are finally done with school and that’s always great,” junior guard Taber Spani said. “Preparation is going really good. We’re focused and we’re excited because we know we’ve got two good opponents when we go up there.”
Since the Virginia game, Tennessee has gotten solid play from Massengale, preseason All-American forward Shekinna Stricklen and posts Vicki Baugh and Glory Johnson.
In games against Baylor, Middle Tennessee and Texas, Stricklen has led the way with an average 19 points.
Published in The Messenger 12.9.11