Lady Vols host No. 1 Stanford today

Bashaara Graves

The Lady Vols host the No. 1 team in the country today at Thompson-Boling Arena. Go inside with Inside Tennessee to get ready for the game.

The family of Bashaara Graves will be in the stands watching when No. 10/11 Tennessee (7-2) takes on No. 1/1 Stanford (10-0) at 4 p.m. Eastern (TV: SportSouth, MyVLT) on Saturday.

After the game ends, the Lady Vol players will be able to depart for home and, depending on distance and whether by car or airplane, be able to sleep in their own bed Saturday night.

If a player's mind drifts to a home-cooked meal and much-needed family time, it won't be the first time it's happened.

"You always worry about that," Assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. "People are getting ready to go home. Travel plans are made.

"The magnitude of this game is going to get their attention. That helps to focus them. You're always a little concerned that it is Christmas and we don't want them singing ‘Jingle Bells' too early."

The presence of Graves' family will actually help her to concentrate.

"I just want to get a win before I actually do go home and knowing my family is coming to game it helps me to focus on the game and not actually going home," Graves said. "I haven't seen my mom in forever."

That should ease Lockwood's mind a bit about the player affectionately called the "The Beast" by Lady Vol fans because of her relentless energy and willingness to mix it up in the paint.

Graves is just a freshman, but she has played with the poise of an upperclassman and she moved into the starting lineup in her second collegiate game.

A year ago she was playing post for Clarksville High School in Middle Tennessee. This past week, she was asked to go against 6-8 Brittney Griner, a force unseen before in women's basketball in sheer size, strength and skill.

"The coaches wanted me to guard her, and I knew it was going to be a challenge," Graves said.

To Graves' credit, she didn't back down, and Griner went noticeably harder at Graves than the other young post players Tennessee tossed into the proverbial fire at the Ferrell Center in Waco.

It was apparent to courtside watchers, and Lockwood, who is Graves' position coach, said he noticed it, too, and it reminded him of Candace Parker.

"No question," Lockwood said of Griner's approach to Graves. "Brittney is a great player and you sense a young gun that's got any type of thought … we're going to get that straight right now. You respect her for that."

Graves' awareness came afterwards.

"I really didn't notice until I watched the game later," Graves said. "I didn't know she was going at me like that. It kind of helped me a lot. That just means she respects me a little bit.

"She's an All-American. She's the best player in the nation, and she's treating me like that. It gave me a lot of confidence."

Graves also should have gained confidence with her performance. The numbers, six points and four rebounds, won't be remembered. How she scored will be. She hit a reverse layup to keep the ball away from Griner and nailed a soft turn-around in the lane over Griner's outstretched arm.

"I did a reverse layup, and I felt very comfortable with that," Graves said. "I wasn't scared that I was going to get blocked or anything like that. That gave me a lot of confidence."

The coaches also noticed Graves' attitude and ability to adjust.

"She attacked," Lockwood said. "You watch her on tape it was obvious she had to adjust and respect the kid she was playing, but once you get used to the size and the range that Brittney can cover, once she got used to that and she got comfortable, I thought she attacked.

"I did not think she was intimidated once she kind of got going."

That bodes well for Graves' future in orange.

"Very good to see," Lockwood said. "Absolutely. That shows her what she's got intestinally. She's got a little fortitude in her, which is very encouraging."

Lockwood is especially interested to see how the entire team reacts to a lopsided loss to Baylor that opened with the Lady Vols in a 17-0 deficit. It wasn't the worst start in Tennessee program history. In the 2006-07 season – a national championship one – Duke led the Lady Vols 19-0 in the first half.

"No doubt. I think it's a great test and hopefully it is telling," Lockwood said. "It's going to be a real test of our resilience, our ability to bounce back, our ability to attack consecutive opponents of this nature. I think it is going to be a very good test and barometer for our team.

"If we're going to go where we want to get to, we're going to have to play back-to-back games like this. So this is as good of a time to do it as any."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5-6 sophomore guard, No. 5, hails from Bolingbrook, Ill. (8.9 points per game, 2.6 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game); Meighan Simmons, 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas (17.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 steals per game); Taber Spani, 6-1 senior forward, No. 13 (6.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg), hails from Lee's Summit, Mo.; Cierra Burdick, 6-2 sophomore forward, No. 11, hails from Charlotte, N.C. (8.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg); and Bashaara Graves, 6-2 freshman forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (14.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg).

Spani, who is ailing with lower back pain, filled in as a starter against Baylor, because Isabelle Harrison wasn't cleared to play after suffering a sprained ankle against Texas.

Harrison was cleared to practice Friday so she could return to the starting lineup. The 6-3 sophomore center is averaging 10.0 points, 7.5 boards and 2.6 blocks per game.

Harrison has the same calming effect on the posts that the now-departed Vicki Baugh did on younger players.

"She is what Vicki was to the freshmen a couple of years ago," Dean Lockwood said. "They look at her and feel better. They're more calm. They're more confident, because she's willing to be the first one out the door and say, ‘I'll take care of it.'

"Getting her back from just a purely personnel standpoint is big but also that intangible standpoint; our other frontline people feel better when she's in there."

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer is expected to start: Amber Orrange, 5-7 sophomore guard, No. 33 (10.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg), hails from Houston, Texas, second in the Pac-12 with 1.67 assist-to-turnover ratio, third with 5.3 assists per game; Toni Kokenis, 5-11 junior guard, No. 13 (8.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg), hails from Oak Brook, Ill., tallied 15 points, went 7-7 from the line against South Carolina; Mikaela Ruef, 6-3 redshirt junior forward, No. 3 (2.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), hails from Beavercreek, Ohio, has tallied 21 assists this season, missed all but three games last season because of foot injuries; Joslyn Tinkle, 6-3 senior forward, No. 44 (14.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), hails from Missoula, Mont., had a career-high seven blocks against the Gamecocks; and Chiney Ogwumike, 6-4 junior forward, No. 13 (21.9 ppg, 12.2 rpg), hails from Cypress, Texas, tallied 21 points, 15 boards in win over South Carolina, preseason watch list for Wade and Wooden awards.

NELL ON WHEELS: Nell Fortner and her traveling promotional roadshow will be at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday.

Fortner, a former USA National Team head coach and now retired from Auburn, is traveling in an RV to various games this season to promote women's college basketball.

The RV will be parked along Phillip Fulmer Way and the show will be held inside Arena Dining from 2:30 to 3:15 p.m.

"I think women's basketball needs something like this at a bigger level than what I'm doing, but you've got to start somewhere," Fortner said.

Fortner has extensive contacts across the sport – and she hasn't ruled out a return to coaching – but she is enjoying the break to get "my batteries recharged," she said.

One thing is new for Fortner. She now has access to other teams' practice sessions. That leads to behind-the-scenes features with coaches and players.

"I love that kind of access," she said.

Fortner's website can be viewed by CLICKING HERE.

MOORE MINUTES: With Isabelle Harrison out for the Baylor game, freshman Nia Moore logged 16 minutes and grabbed five boards. Like Bashaara Graves, Moore also handled the pressure well and went hard while she was on the floor.

"She showed some very good signs," Dean Lockwood said. "We have been so encouraged by Nia. Sometimes it's hard to see because she is not getting the minutes. We do want to bring her along slowly, because we don't want to throw her to the wolves right away, especially from a physical strength standpoint.

"She is an incredibly smart basketball player. Showed a lot of guts as well like Bashaara did."

FRYING PAN TO FIRE: The Lady Vols played pre-season No. 1 Baylor on Tuesday and host now No. 1 Stanford on Saturday. Those are back-to-back games usually reserved for a Final Four.

Dean Lockwood drew the task of preparing scouting reports for both teams, so he was very familiar with what the Lady Vols were up against.

"It's an enormous challenge," Lockwood said. "First of all, they are two great teams. People that would be forecasting, they are going to be two Final Four teams. And they are two very distinct styles."

Brittney Griner earned special attention on a scouting report. So does Chiney Ogwumike.

"Griner is an entity unto herself," Lockwood said. "She is unlike anything ever in college basketball. And not to be undone, you've got Ogwumike who is putting up staggering numbers right now. Different type of player but is dominant in her own way."

The two teams are led by dominant players, but they present much different looks when they have the ball.

"Here's the big difference in what they do offensively," Lockwood said of Stanford. "They run so much action. They are still running portions of their triangle, they are running Princeton offense, they are running what we call drag ball-screening action. They do a lot of different things.

"We have to be very tuned in to concepts whereas with Baylor it was a little more simplified but nonetheless very, very important to stop certain things. But here you've got to be in tune because they can get you in so many different ways. They are very, very good in executing their offense. Our defensive pressure is really important."

Lockwood got some help on the scouting report. The players, who are out of school, were assigned to prepare their own report to present to the coaches. It likely noted Ogwumike. Amber Orrange deserved a section, too.

"That's the best Stanford point guard I've seen in my nine seasons of watching Stanford in terms of quickness, being able to turn a corner on you, using ball screens, which they are doing a lot more," Lockwood said.

"She is athletic. Defensively she can get into you. They've had good ones, but this kid is a difference maker for them."

Lockwood kept a close eye on the Stanford-South Carolina game Wednesday in which the Cardinal eked out a win at the end.

"We didn't want them coming in really mad after a loss," Lockwood said. "We have a lot of respect for South Carolina and how they're playing right now and we knew going in there it was probably going to be a tough game.

"But Stanford held their poise and executed down the stretch and then they got big plays from their big players, I am very impressed with that. Very impressed."

Lockwood and the other coaches will be looking for improvement in specific areas.

"Our one-on-one defense, containing people, keeping them in front of us," Lockwood said. "Our ball pressure. That waned a little bit. Our toughness overall defensively.

"The physicality with which we block out and go to the boards is a huge thing. That's something we have got to get back to. I thought Baylor took a little of that out of us."

The season-opening loss to Chattanooga was a shocker. It was followed by seven consecutive wins. The Baylor loss wasn't a surprise but its swiftness – the Lady Vols trailed 41-16 at halftime – lingered afterwards.

"We got face to face with a real dragon," Lockwood said. "We have to go through a team like that if we have any aspirations of being a Final Four type team and going in that direction. It doesn't get any better than that.

"That gave us a face-to-face confrontation of where we've got to get to and how we've got to close the gap. There is a clear gap between our two teams. We went face to face with a real dragon and now we see where we've got to go to slay it."

GAME NOTES

Tennessee leads the series with Stanford, 22-7. The last six games are even, though, at 3-3, with the Cardinal winning at Maples and the Lady Vols winning the last two in Knoxville and a national title game matchup in 2008. This will be the 30th meeting between the two teams in a series that began in 1988. Stanford last won in Knoxville in 1996, but took Tennessee to overtime in 2008 and 2010 before falling at Thompson-Boling. … The Cardinal also will break for Christmas after the game. Stanford's next game is at home on Dec. 29 against Connecticut. The Cardinal has the nation's best home court win streak at 82 at Maples Pavilion. The streak began Nov. 28, 2007, with a win over San Francisco.

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