It’s all about mentality for Lady Vols
By Leonard Butts
Senior Day at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday afternoon proved to be just that for the No. 10-ranked Lady Vols in securing a much-needed win over Florida.
The regular-season finish found UT’s five seniors contributing to the kind of start that not only staked the Lady Vols to an early 12-point lead but also provided an intimidation factor that is difficult for a lesser opponent to overcome.
When the Gators responded by cutting the difference to single digits in both the first and second periods, a trio of Tennessee seniors — Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen and Alicia Manning — grabbed rebounds and knocked down shots to hold off each charge.
Johnson, Stricklen and Manning accounted for well over half of UT’s points and locked up a No. 2 seed heading into this week’s Southeastern Conference tourney.
Despite the determination to close out at home on a positive note, the Lady Vols have posted four league losses, and those have given opponents reason to believe that the outcome of postseason play in Nashville is wide open.
After all, Kentucky on Sunday clinched its first SEC regular-season title in 30 years, and Vanderbilt, Arkansas and South Carolina have provided the remainder of evidence that Tennessee may be as vulnerable heading into tournament time as it has been the last couple of months.
“All I wanted to do was go into the SEC tourney on a more positive note,” UT associate head coach Holly Warlick said of the win over Florida, which followed a stunning overtime upset at the hands of the Lady Razorbacks earlier in the week.
“We created our own fate and we’ve got to live with it and we want to finish out strong.”
Finishing out strong in postseason will mean putting forth the kind of effort UT’s seniors showed at home on Sunday, and for that reason Warlick said unless something changes in practice this week, they will remain as the starting five for Friday’s tournament opener against either Vanderbilt or Mississippi State.
“I’m extremely proud of them and thought they came out tonight and set the tone,” Warlick said.
Florida coach Amanda Butler seconded the emotion by indicating that the Gators had their worst game of the season as a result of allowing the Lady Vols to be more aggressive from the opening tip.
Tennessee’s challenge this week will be to tap into that same aggressive mentality on a slightly different stage in Nashville.
“It’s got to be a collective effort and a sense of urgency all the time,” said Manning, who reached double figures after a slump of scoring only six points in five games.
And that collective effort will require more than just UT’s five seniors.
Dr. Leonard Butts is sports editor emeritus and currently a professor at Pellissippi State. He wrote from Knoxville.