Lady Vols prepare for season opener

Taber Spani

The Lady Vols met with the media Wednesday before practice at Thompson-Boling Arena. Go inside with Inside Tennessee for story and video coverage.

The exhibition games are in the books – though not literally since they scores and stats don't count – and the 2012-13 season officially tips off Friday for Tennessee when the Lady Vols travel to Chattanooga for a tilt with the Lady Mocs.

"I benefited because I knew they were just exhibition games," freshman guard Andraya Carter said. "I knew I was going to make mistakes, but there wasn't that much pressure on me because they were just exhibition games. My teammates and my coaches were really supportive, and I just went out and tried to have fun."

That is a nice summation of why teams have exhibition games, as it allows the newcomers to experience a college basketball game and get used to their teammates, officials, the pace of the game, fans in the stands, media timeouts and 20-minute halves.

Holly Warlick and her staff found a lot of minutes for the four true freshmen in the two games – juco sophomore Jasmine Phillips was off crutches Wednesday but still walking with a noticeable limp because of a left quad injury and seems doubtful for Friday – as they know they will need the newcomers in every game this season.

"We're young, we're majority freshmen and sophomores and we're going to play whoever I need to play to help us win the game," Warlick said. "Whether it's a sophomore or a freshman, whoever. I'm very pleased with our freshmen. They've come along. I think they've worked hard.

"They're trying to understand the system. I'm sure it's complicated to them, but every day they get better."

Warlick could opt to start the game with five returning players, though three would be sophomores in Ariel Massengale, Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison. Junior Meighan Simmons and senior Taber Spani would be the only upperclassmen in the lineup.

Massengale returned to practice Wednesday – she rested a sore left Achilles tendon last week – and is expected to be cleared Friday. Carter acquitted herself well in the exhibition games, and Warlick has faith in the freshman if she needs to toss her into the proverbial fire of a road game at the point guard spot.

Spani has embraced the role of senior leader and will keep a close eye on the newcomers in their first game.

"I think the biggest thing is I'll watch and see how our freshmen react," Spani said. "Just the communication. … Not necessarily the play on the floor, but the mental side. How are they looking, how are they feeling, how confident are they. …

"I'll be really mindful of just watching and seeing how everyone responds and what the attitude is of the whole team."

Massengale looked good to go in Wednesday's practice session – and she was hitting her three ball – so Tennessee should be close to full strength Friday.

The Lady Vols worked on offensive concepts with Dean Lockwood showing them how to read the defense and Kyra Elzy reminding the players to make precise and hard cuts without the ball.

The instruction can be basic at times, but it is a recognition that the team is very young and must first be taught. Opening the season on the road is not ideal, but it does provide a chance for team bonding since the players will be together for nearly four days.

"Team trips and road trips are some of the highlights of the basketball season for us," Spani said. "Being together for 24/7, literally, is going to be good for us. I think it's crucial that we get to know each other on and off the floor as much as possible.

"Those bus rides and plane rides, all of those things are going to matter because the closer you are as a team, the better the chemistry is, the better you're going to play on the floor."

INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE

Wednesday practice clips

Andraya Carter

Taber Spani

Holly Warlick

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