Lady Vols ready for early tip time

Pat Summitt at practice in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa - The Lady Vols met with the media - Pat Summitt was surrounded by photographers at practice - and had a court workout at Wells Fargo Arena on Friday. Go inside with Inside Tennessee for the latest on the team.

Taber Spani feels right at home in the Midwest. The native of the Kansas City area has been smiling since Monday night when Tennessee advanced to the Des Moines Regional with the win over DePaul.

Perhaps that comfort level will translate to the court, and Spani seems poised to connect on her shots.

No. 2 seed Tennessee (26-8) takes on No. 11 seed Kansas (21-12) at 12:04 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPN) at Wells Fargo Arena in downtown Des Moines.

Spani smiled when asked if her offense was packed for the trip.

"It's coming back," Spani said. "I think sometimes for me I want it to go in too bad. I just sort of will my shot in instead of just not thinking and shooting."

Spani has been physically limited nearly the entire season by a severe left knee bone bruise, but she has been able to loft shots in limited workouts outside of practice.

"I have had enough repetition, but I've got to be smart," Spani said. "Right now it's all mental. I am excited to hopefully be on fire in Iowa."

All Spani had to do to get a scouting report was call her older sister, Shalin Spani, who played for Kansas State.

"I talked to her (Tuesday)," Spani said. "They know them very well. K-State beat them earlier. I will definitely be getting her viewpoint because they have seen them a lot."

Spani's parents and younger sisters are still involved in high school basketball, so Tennessee has to get a win Saturday for the Spanis to make the relatively short trip to Iowa for Monday's game. That is extra motivation for Spani as a win over Kansas means a visit with family.

Spani is on the floor to stretch the defense because she can hit long-range threes. Spani also has the size to box out - she may not be able to grab the rebound, but she will make sure to check out an opponent, who won't get it either.

That means the post players can box out another post and have a clearer path to the board, rather than also have to fight off an incoming guard that didn't get picked up on the perimeter.

Glory Johnson, who had a career-high 21 rebounds against DePaul, said the players have bought into the concept of a full team effort. They want all 11 players to contribute.

"Play as a team, use our size to our advantage and use everyone on the team," Johnson said. "Everyone on our team has something special that they bring to the team."

Johnson's board work has the attention of the Jayhawks.

"We're definitely going to have to box her out," Kansas forward Aishah Sutherland said. "She's a great rebounder, and we're going to have to rebound just as hard as her.

"We're going to do drills in practice to be able to stay focused, box out and not trying to just go for the ball, but be able to see her before we (go after) the ball."

Kansas has regrouped after losing leading scorer Carolyn Davis in mid-February to a torn ACL and dislocated left knee.

"The initial reaction is how gut-wrenching it is for those players," Kansas Coach Bonnie Henrickson said. "Your heart goes out to Carolyn, obviously, and you turn around and circle the players, because they all know what that meant.

" … you can't let what you don't have keep you from using what you do have. I am a firm believer in that."

The loss of the junior forward's 16.9 points per game could have doomed Kansas, but the Jayhawks got even more from point guard Angel Goodrich.

Henrickson first saw Goodrich play as an eighth-grader.

"I thought she could help us then," Henrickson said, before adding with a smile, "but I couldn't convince her high school or parents to move her to Lawrence."

Sutherland also stepped up her game, and Chelsea Gardner moved into the starting lineup for Kansas, and the Jayhawks were able to reshuffle the pieces and get back on track.

Kansas got an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney and took out No. 6 seed Nebraska and No. 3 seed Delaware in order to reach Des Moines.

"It all goes back to when Carolyn went down and we went through the emotion of all that - to circle the wagons and know that the goals and expectations weren't going to change," Henrickson said.

"Life isn't about the hand that you have been dealt, but the way you play the hand."

Tennessee has changed its hand to start the game and it started on Senior Day for the last contest of the regular season. The Lady Vols opened with the five seniors and stuck with the lineup in postseason. Tennessee is now 6-0 with the seniors.

"We've stayed with that senior lineup in hopes that these seniors would take ownership of this team," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "We haven't lost a game since we started doing that, so we hope that our senior lineup will continue to affect us in positive ways."

Briana Bass, who didn't play much leading into this season, has become a vital part of the team in her last year. She gives way to freshman Ariel Massengale, the highly decorated high school All-American who has 156 assists this season, and has embraced the role of getting the team off to a good start.

"My role is to be a spark and play excellent defense and make sure the team is running the offense," Bass said. "If I get an open shot I need to take that shot and make that shot."

Freshman Cierra Burdick is playing for the five seniors.

"I want to see them get to a Final Four," Burdick said. "I want to see them put all the negative criticism to rest. This is their last year and it's a great year for it to be done.

"It is a great deal of motivation. I love my seniors."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Briana Bass, 5'2 senior guard, No. 1 (2.2 points per game, 0.6 rebounds per game); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 senior guard/forward, No. 40 (15.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg); Alicia Manning, 6'1 senior guard/forward, No. 15 (4.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25 (13.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg); and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 redshirt senior forward, No. 21 (7.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

Kansas Coach Bonnie Hendrickson is expected to start: Angel Goodrich, 5'4 junior point guard, No. 3 (13.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 7.4 assists per game), hails from Tahlequah, Okla., her 244 assists this season broke the single season record of 207 held by Lisa Braddy (1987-88), also set the Allen Fieldhouse record, men and women, with 16 assists against Texas on Feb. 8, was 2012 Academic All-Big 12 First Team selection, shot 53.8 percent (21-39) in the two NCAA tourney games, has recovered from two ACL tears suffered in 2009 and 2010, started all 33 games this season; Natalie Knight, 5'7 freshman guard, No. 42 (5.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg), hails from Olathe, Kan., has started all 33 games this season in her first year at Kansas, has averaged 11.3 points over last four games; Charlicia "CeCe" Harper, 5'8 sophomore guard, No. 24 (3.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg), hails from San Antonio, Texas, has made 11 starts this season, including the last eight games, tallied three assists against Delaware, tallied a career-high 10 points against Baylor this season; Chelsea Gardner, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 15 (4.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg), hails from DeSoto, Texas, moved into the lineup after the season-ending injury to Carolyn Davis on Feb. 13, has averaged 12.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in the NCAA tourney, has shot 58.8 percent (10-17) in the two games, 16 boards against Nebraska tied Kansas record in an NCAA tourney game, last done by Lisa Tate in 1994; and Aishah Sutherland, 6'2 senior forward, No. 11 (13.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg), hails from Perris, Calif., grabbed career-high 22 rebounds against Oklahoma State on Jan. 28, the most by a Jayhawk since Tracey Claxton snared 28 boards on Nov. 21, 1981, against Pacific Christian, has started all 33 games this season.

SCOUTING REPORT: Mickie DeMoss handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Kansas game. Here is her assessment.

Offensively, "They're good in transition," DeMoss said. "They're selective when they run, but they will push tempo. They run a lot of quick hits to get certain people shots, particularly (Angel) Goodrich and (Aishah) Sutherland."

Goodrich is the catalyst for the Jayhawks.

"She leads the nation in assists," DeMoss said. "Really can do it all. She had 20 and 27 points in the last two games and 11 assists total. If you over-help on her, she is going to find open players, so your one-on-one defense has to be really good on her.

"I think she is one of the top point guards in the country," DeMoss said.

Defensively, Kansas plays "a lot of man to man," DeMoss said. "They are pretty aggressive. They'll get out and deny one pass away.

"They use their athleticism. They play hard. They play aggressive. We're going to have to execute well, run our sets hard. We have seen a little zone from them so they may try to mix it up on us some."

Keys for Tennessee: "First and foremost we have got to take care of the basketball," DeMoss said. "We have got to do a better job of making the most of each possession. We started the DePaul game with way too many turnovers, so that is an area of concern.

"And then just execute our offense and get good looks at the basket. Make the easy shots. Defensively, we can't let Goodrich and Sutherland have breakout games on us. Our defense has got to affect them to a certain degree.

"Our defense has got to be solid on those two young ladies and then good team defense. We will probably mix it up a little bit on them like we have done on everybody. Defense and board play, same stuff. We have got to dominate the boards."

WAKE UP: The Lady Vols have gone from one extreme to the other from the last game to the next.

In Chicago they tipped at 9:40 p.m. Eastern time on Monday. On Saturday, the ball goes up at 11:04 a.m. local time (12:04 p.m. Eastern).

That changes pre-game meal from dinner to breakfast.

"Can we get some happy medium like a 2 o'clock tip?" Mickie DeMoss said with a smile. "But it is what it is. If I had to choose between the two, I would rather go early because you are not sitting around all day."

Curfew is usually around 11 p.m. on the road, but it was moved up an hour Friday, and the players' phones are taken overnight to ensure that they can get some rest and are not awakened by callers or text messages.

"We'll be in the bed early," Ariel Massengale said. "We're excited, ESPN, early morning game, chance to go to the Elite Eight so it just has a different demeanor."

Massengale laughed and said neither she not fellow freshman Isabelle Harrison were "good morning people" - Taber Spani apparently is very outgoing in the morning - "but (Saturday) will be different. I probably won't even sleep."

Spani likes the early tipoff.

"Definitely, especially for some of the personalities on this team," Spani said. "Being able to get up and get going is a good thing."

Spani and Meighan Simmons said nearly simultaneously of Massengale, "We will get her going."

Kamiko Williams could be assigned to wake up the rest of the team. She is usually up with the sun.

"She rises so early," Simmons said. "You can hear her as soon as she wakes up. That is our alarm clock."

Spani also is ready to roll early.

"At six in the morning, I am like, ‘Morning, guys!' and they are like, ‘Taber …. ,' " Spani said, drawing her name out slowly.

The weather should be wonderful all day Saturday. It is unseasonably warm in Des Moines with temperatures in the 70s - locals said it was not unusual to have snow and frigid conditions in late March - and that has been a godsend for players like Vicki Baugh, whose knee gets cranky in the cold.

"You can walk outside with normal clothes on," DeMoss said. "You're not bundled up. Chicago was beautiful. We come here. It's beautiful.

"I talked to some friends down in the Panhandle and they're like, ‘It's going to rain all day.' I said, ‘Well, it's beautiful in Des Moines, Iowa.' We've gotten real lucky with the weather."

Wells Fargo Arena does have a sign for the tornado evacuation route, but that shouldn't come into play this weekend.

"We're not going to push our luck," DeMoss said. "One day at a time. Today is pretty."

The weather could help attendance and walk-up sales. About 7,000 tickets were pre-sold and organizers hope that reaches 9,000 on Friday.

LOPSIDED LOOK: Three of the teams in the Des Moines Regional have combined for 28 losses. Overall No. 1 seed Baylor has zero.

Tennessee and Georgia Tech arrived in Iowa with identical records at 26-8. Kansas is 21-12. Baylor is 36-0.

The Lady Bears said they don't feel any pressure with the perfect slate.

"I don't think we've ever felt any pressure," Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey said. "We're honored to be here; we don't take things for granted."

"We just need to continue what we've been doing," Baylor guard Odyssey Sims said. "Nothing has changed. We just need to keep playing basketball."

Mulkey noted the 16 teams left all share the same goal - win a national championship.

The Tennessee players said win-loss records lose significance in postseason.

"Any team can be beaten on any given night," Ariel Massengale said. "We've had some losses that we shouldn't have had this season and I am sure Kansas and Georgia Tech have probably had some as well, but that's in the past.

"Right now it comes down to who can play the best at game time."

"Everybody here knows how to play basketball," fellow freshman Isabelle Harrison said. "We're just trying to get better and prepare for each game that we play."

Meighan Simmons said the want-to is what matters now.

"I think it's a matter of the heart of the team and their will to go out there and play," Simmons said. "A record might say a lot, but at the same time it's who wants to get the job done and who wants it the most."

"Definitely," Taber Spani said. "Once you're in this round, everybody is good, everybody is talented, so it's all about the mental and the heart. If you can bring your ‘A' game then you have a much better chance to move forward.

"It's all about want-to."

"One and done," Cierra Burdick said. "We're all here for a reason. We've all proved that we're capable and worthy of being here."

Burdick's confidence was shaken a tad in Chicago when she struggled with her shot but she was back in form in Des Moines.

"Great shooters shoot their way out of slumps," Burdick said. "I am always striving to be great. It is my job to shoot myself out of this slump and hopefully I will be able to prove to everybody that I am capable of getting out of it."

IRONWOMAN: Kansas point guard Angel Goodrich, who leads the nation in assists with 244 - the junior has 520 for her career - logs a lot of minutes.

Her stat line in minutes since the Big 12 season started Jan. 4 was: 40, 40, 47, 38, 40, 39, 39, 34, 44, 39, 37, 40, 39, 40, 39, 34, 40, 40, 40, 39, 40.

"Yeah, that is a lot of time," Goodrich said. "For me it's just giving my all. When I get to the media (timeout), I try to control my breathing, try to get my breath back.

"It's just whatever it takes to help my teammates get a win."

Bonnie Henrickson doesn't sub Goodrich much in games, but she does in practice repetitions. And if Goodrich made a mistake during her shift, she polices herself.

"In practice if she misses a layup or misses a box out and turns it over in practice, when she's subbed out, she runs down and back," Henrickson said. "I never say a word to her, and that makes everyone else do that as well."

HOTEL HABITAT: With Tennessee on spring break this week, the three freshmen had to move out of their dormitory and stay in a downtown Knoxville hotel.

That means Isabelle Harrison, Cierra Burdick and Ariel Massengale had been in hotels in Chicago, Knoxville and now Des Moines since March 16.

"We can go to our teammates' house, but I still want my own room like I have at the dorm," Harrison said. "I have all my stuff packed."

It's not as bad as when the current seniors were freshmen. Pat Summitt had booted them from the locker room after a desultory loss in February and they also lost laundry service - the managers get all the practice clothes ready each day - so they had to tote their gear back and forth and wash out practice shorts and shirts in the hotel bathroom during spring break.

The freshmen have heard all about it from the seniors.

"That was a rough time," Harrison said. "They tell us a lot of stories from their freshman year. A lot of stories. And I don't ever want those past events to come back."

STAYING PUT: Brittney Griner is not leaving after her junior season and will return to Baylor, according to Coach Kim Mulkey, who made the announcement rather emphatically Friday.

Candace Parker was subject to endless speculation about her status in 2007 - and it continued even after she said she would return - and Mulkey sounded as if she were weary with the topic. She noted that Griner wanted to leave with a college degree.

Kansas Coach Bonnie Henrickson, whose team is an 11 seed, was asked why it is not as common in the women's tourney for lower seeded teams to get deep in the tourney as it is on the men's side. She noted that male players exiting for the NBA can equalize talent to some degree for the lower seeded teams from smaller conferences.

"It is more about the guys leaving early, the one and done, two and done," Henrickson said. "Then, you have some mid-major seniors who can make a freshman look silly at this time of the year. That kind of experience, or not having that, is a difference."

The reporter cited teams such as Butler and VCU making the Final Four last season.

"Ouch, don't say VCU to Kansas," Hendrickson said with a smile, referring to VCU eliminating the Jayhawks last year on the men's side in the Elite Eight.

Hendrickson also noted that situation is not the case for the women's game, but that Griner was welcome to make the leap. Kansas plays in the Big 12 and has to face Baylor in league play.

"Don't tell Kim I said that," Hendrickson said.

CAMP SUMMITT: Bonnie Henrickson first crossed paths with Pat Summitt in Knoxville while working a summer camp for Tennessee.

Henrickson was a graduate assistant at Western Illinois and had played Division II basketball at St. Cloud State, so she wasn't expecting interaction with Summitt at a camp attended by hundreds all vying for the coach's attention.

"She took a moment to visit with me and speak to me, and she didn't have to do it," Henrickson said. "I have admired and respected how she has handled success. I have never gotten the sense from Pat that success defines who she is.

"Pat is an unbelievably loving, giving, compassionate person. To me, that is the most impressive thing."

MEDIA SURGE: There has been a spike in media at the Des Moines Regional and the Lady Vol locker room was crowded Friday during the open time for the press with representatives from national media, including the New York Times, a contingent from Knoxville, including the television stations, and the local Iowa press.

The media even included the AARP, and its representatives - one had a boom mike - pitched questions to players and coaches about Pat Summitt and her decision to coach this season after announcing that she had early onset dementia.

The question about Summitt's future has been a popular one with the media. Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood was asked if he were a betting man, what would be his call.

"I am not a betting man, so I am a terrible guy to ask that question," Lockwood said. "I would just tell you that Coach has so much passion for this game. I have not been around a lot more competitive people, if any, than Pat Summitt.

"One of the things that she is more passionate about than anything is mentoring young women. I have no idea what her plan is on the immediate horizon, but I would tell you I would be very, very surprised if she wasn't involved in this program as a leader, as a mentor in some capacity doing something for Tennessee Lady Vol basketball.

"She is the best. She is an incredible person of character. As great of a coach as she is, she is a caring woman. She cares about young people. One of the hard things about coaching is to be tough on people and to be demanding on people. I give Pat so much credit because I am sure she knows there are times when players are irritated, aggravated, probably go home and say, ‘That crazy woman.'

"But you know what? She has just taken a stand to mentor young women and to help young women be leaders and to be prepared for a lifetime of challenges whatever may lie ahead.

"In 38 years she has not wavered. And I have so much respect for that. I can't tell you how much I respect a person who is not concerned about what people think but about doing it the right way."

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Kansas, 2-0. The Lady Vols won one game in Knoxville in the 1996-97 regular season as part of the Women's NIT and the other in the postseason on March 23, 1996. That meeting was in the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tourney in Charlottesville, Va. … This is the Jayhawks' third trip to the Sweet 16. Georgia Tech, which plays Baylor in the second game, is in its first Sweet 16 in program history. Kansas is one of three teams whose women's and men's programs are in the Sweet 16. The other two are Baylor and Kentucky. This will be Tennessee's 30th Sweet 16. The Lady Vols record is 24-5. … Tennessee is 5-3 in games played on March 24. The last win on this date came against Virginia, 81-51, in 2003. The first win on March 24 was against Kansas State, 81-69, in 1977. The three losses on this date were to Virginia, 79-75 in overtime in 1990; Louisiana Tech, 71-68, in 1994; and Xavier, 80-65, in 2001. The three other wins on this date were over Maryland, 79-67, in 1981; James Madison, 72-52, in 1988; and Connecticut, 91-81, in 1997. … The Lady Vols are 7-1 in NCAA tourney games played in the state of Iowa. The lone loss was to Iowa in 1993. The seven wins were over Georgia and LSU in 1986; North Carolina in 1993; Colorado and Connecticut in 1997; and BYU and Vanderbilt in 2002.

PRESS QUOTES: Transcripts from Friday's press conferences are available online. Click on the school name below:

TENNESSEE

KANSAS

BAYLOR

GEORGIA TECH

PHOTO COVERAGE: Inside Tennessee also shot photos Friday that can be viewed:

HERE ON FACEBOOK

VIDEO COVERAGE

Lady Vols practice

Kamiko Williams

Briana Bass

Alicia Manning

Glory Johnson

Ariel Massengale, Isabelle Harrison

Taber Spani, Meighan Simmons

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