Lady Vols to take on Rice tonight

Ariel Massengale

The Lady Vols open the regular season at home tonight against Rice. Go inside with InsideTennessee for an interview with Ariel Massengale and to get ready for the game.

Ariel Massengale smiled Wednesday before practice when asked about the defense of Andraya Carter.

"She probably is the best on-ball defender," Massengale said. "Most definitely."

That might not seem like much of a statement to make about a guard, but Carter is a freshman with two official games on her collegiate resume. Her defense is that noticeable, so much so that head coach Holly Warlick took the time to praise the newcomer in the post-game press conference after an otherwise forgettable game in the season opening loss to Chattanooga.

Massengale and Carter both are likely to play significant roles Thursday when No. 24/20 Tennessee, 1-1, takes on Rice, 1-0, at 7 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena with a free webcast available at All Access.

With Massengale hindered at times by a sore left Achilles tendon – it is the type of injury that can be a nagging one for a basketball player – the sophomore has taken responsibility for helping the freshman get ready.

"Once it gets warmed up and gets loose, it is pretty much good for the most part while I am playing," Massengale said. "Once I am done playing is when you feel the pain, but I just think it is something you have to deal with, and the coaches have been smart and limiting my minutes.

"That is another reason why I am trying to coach up Draya and just get her ready."

Carter started the two exhibition games and the two regular season games on the road – Massengale was held out of the exhibitions to rest – and is likely to be on the court for tipoff tonight.

Warlick likes the way the two point guards play together – Carter sets the tone on defense, and Massengale settles the team on offense – but she may not be inclined to tinker with the starting lineup just yet.

That is fine with Massengale, who has taken a selfless approach and focused on making sure Carter understood what to do on the court. Massengale goes one-on-one with the freshman before the game even starts.

"Just talking to her," Massengale said. "Trying to give her a little pep talk: ‘This is what I need you to do. I need you to push the ball. I need you to play defense. Run your team.'

"I am always talking to her and just giving her that confidence that she needs. I think she played great against UTC and Georgia Tech. She has a great mind for the game. She is super athletic and can do so many things. At the end of the day, me helping her is only making this team better."

Carter's jumping ability also has gotten everyone's attention. Massengale has never seen a guard with such hops.

"No, I have not," Massengale said. "It is unbelievable."

The two have become an effective tandem on the court, as either one can bring the ball up the court and set up the offense. They also are starting to read each other well.

"I can tell her if someone gets the rebound and you're closest to the outlet, you get it and push it, and I'll run or vice versa," Massengale said. "On the defensive end we can pressure the ball and either one of us can get in the passing lanes. It makes us more athletic."

Massengale has shown a willingness this season to shoot the trey ball and get to the rim and draw fouls. Carter has the same ability but will have to get more aggressive on offense.

"I've just got to keep talking to her and letting her know," Massengale said. "In practice we go at it every day just trying to make each other better. And I think she takes that as a challenge.

"I think that will come more often. I think right now she is just trying to get the point guard role – passing, running the offense. As the season goes along she'll get that attack mode mindset."

Carter logged 36 minutes against Georgia Tech and while Warlick thinks the freshman can handle it, she also needs Carter healthy for the long haul of the season. The minutes should be able to be trimmed with the return of juco sophomore Jasmine Phillips.

Phillips, who suffered a left quad injury in October outside of basketball activities, has been out for several weeks and hasn't played this season. She returned to practice Tuesday, and Warlick expects her to be cleared to play Thursday.

"She looked great in practice, great on defense," Warlick said. "Her presence was a huge difference. That is her strength. My goal is to play her."

Warlick also will deploy her two-guard combination of Massengale, the selfless sophomore, and Carter, the precocious freshman.

"It is a good combination, and we will use it," Warlick said.

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Holly Warlick is expected to start: Andraya Carter, 5-9 freshman guard, No. 14, hails from Flowery Branch, Ga. (3.5 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game, 2.0 assists per game); Meighan Simmons, 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas (16.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Cierra Burdick, 6-2 sophomore forward, No. 11, hails from Charlotte, N.C. (10.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Bashaara Graves, 6-2 freshman forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (16.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg); and Isabelle Harrison, 6-3 sophomore forward, No. 20, hails from Nashville, Tenn. (9.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg).

Warlick has various options inside and out, and she would also like to get senior Taber Spani on track.

"Taber is a huge part of her success, and we are relying on her so much," she said. "Starting is one thing but how we're playing and how we're finishing the game is another, and Taber is very valuable to us.

"And so is Bashaara. Whoever we start, both of those two are going to get minutes."

Rice coach Greg Williams is expected to start: Jessica Goswitz, 5-5 senior guard, No. 5, hails from Knoxville, Tenn. (2.0 ppg, 5.0 apg), played at Webb School of Knoxville, started as an eighth-grader, hold the prep school's assist record with 636; Nakachi Maduka, 5-11 sophomore forward, No. 21, hails from Arlington, Texas (5.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg), district champ in triple jump in high school, brother Kodi plays basketball at Tulsa, sister Jeomi ran track and played basketball at Cornell; Megan Palmer, 6-1 freshman forward, No. 40, hails from Katy, Texas (2.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg), district offensive player of the year in high school, cousin Jessica Jessing plays basketball for Western Michigan; Christal Porter, 6-0 sophomore forward, No. 31, hails from Germantown, Tenn., (12.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg), also played volleyball at Germantown High School, uncle Rod McNeil played football at USC and professionally for Tampa Bay and New Orleans, uncle Fred McNeil played football for UCLA and professionally for Minnesota; and Jessica Kuster, 6-2 junior forward, No. 30, hails from San Antonio, Texas, (21.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg), selected as C-USA Preseason Player of the Year, has 991 career points, McDonald's All-American nominee out of high school.

Two key players off the bench for the Owls are Alyssa Lang, a 6-1 freshman post from Rockwall, Texas, and Maya Adetula, a 5-10 sophomore guard from Mansfield, Texas.

RICE INFO: Rice plays in C-USA and opened its season with a 57-42 win over Prairie View A&M on Nov. 9 in Houston.

The game in Knoxville is part of two-game swing in the Volunteer State for Jessica Goswitz, who played for former Lady Vol Shelley Sexton Collier at Webb.

Rice also will play at Tennessee Tech on Saturday before heading back to the Lone Star State for a Nov. 20 matchup with Texas State.

For those who follow the WNBA, a familiar face will be on the bench for the Owls. Taj McWilliams-Franklin is an assistant coach in her first year for Rice. Her nickname is "Mama Taj."

She played for the Minnesota Lynx, the WNBA runner-up to the champion Indiana Fever – led by former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings – this past season.

McWilliams-Franklin, who is originally from Augusta, Ga., attended St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas, and has played in the WNBA since 1999 for seven different teams. She won league titles with the Detroit Shock in 2008 and the Lynx in 2011.

Rice will be Tennessee's first official opponent at home without Pat Summitt on the sideline. Summitt, who began her career at Tennessee in 1974, is now head coach emeritus. She was at practice Wednesday and is expected to be at tonight's game.

Rice, the 19th-youngest team in the country – Tennessee is ranked as the 20th – has a stacked schedule. The Owls play three of the last four schools to win a national championship – 2007 and 2008 champion Tennessee; 2012 champion Baylor on Nov. 27; and 2011 champion Texas A&M on Jan. 1. Rice doesn't have a game scheduled this season against UConn, which won the 2009 and 2010 titles.

ODDS AND ENDS

This will be the first matchup between Tennessee and Rice in program history. The Owls have played two SEC schools with a 1-2 record. They won on the road against LSU on Nov. 22, 1998, lost to Mississippi in 2008 and beat Ole Miss in 2007. … The first 2,500 fans will receive a 2012-13 magnet schedule. A donation of two school supply items can be exchanged for a free 300 level general admission ticket. All items will be donated to the Knox County School Supply Depot.

INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE

Ariel Massengale

Bashaara Graves

Holly Warlick

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