The Lady Volunteers (22-5, 13-1 SEC) will be looking to win the outright SEC Regular Season Championship on Thursday when Texas A&M (21-7, 11-3) comes to Knoxville.
The Lady Vols found themselves in the same situation last year, playing a home game against Arkansas with the regular season crown in reach. They lost 72-71 in overtime, but head coach Holly Warlick said they know what happened last year and are expecting to learn from that mistake.
“Well we talk about it, we had the SEC regular season (championship) in our hands and we had a game on our home court and we lost to Arkansas,” Warlick said. “So we talk about that and we have a chance to do it this year, but it’s not a given, we have to go out and compete just like Texas A&M is going to come in here and compete. They want to win as well so it’s about keeping our focus and understanding that we’ve got to do the things that got us here, so we can’t look ahead and think we can celebrate a championship when it hasn’t happened yet, we got to take care of business.”
Aside from the SEC championship, the game is also special because it is Senior Night for both Kamiko Williams and Taber Spani, who will be playing their last official home games (Knoxville hosts the NCAA Tournament this year).
“I don’t think I could ever put it into words what it’s meant to me,” Spani said. “It’s been so special, I just feel so blessed and honored to be able to be under Pat (Summitt) for three years and now Holly and to be a part of this. It’s more than tradition, it’s more than family, it’s something that’s really special to me and I’ll miss it for sure.”
Possibly the biggest obstacle the Lady Vols will have to face is dealing with the emotion of the Senior Night festivities, but Spani believes that her and Kamiko should be able to feed off the emotion and play good basketball.
“I think you have to be careful,” Spani said. “Obviously, at the beginning when you have your family out and you go through the Senior Night, that’s emotional, but once the ball goes up it’s a game, and we understand what’s on the line so we’re just going to try and leave everything out there. It’s going to be a balancing act, but I think me and Kamiko can feed off that emotion and energy so we just have to channel it all in the right direction.”
The Aggies should prove to be a tough test for the Lady Vols because of the similar styles of play that both teams have.
“They have a strong presence inside and they’ve built their program this year around Kelsey Bone,” Warlick said. “They are very athletic, they play hard and defense is a priority for them so it’s a little bit of a mirror of both teams philosophies and he's (Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair) a pretty strong, defensive-minded coach as well so I think you’ll see an up and down game, a very fast paced game, physical, so it should be a really good contest.”
Win or lose, the Lady Vols have already clinched a share of the SEC championship, but for Warlick that isn’t enough.
“We don’t want a share,” Warlick said. “We want to win it outright and that’s been our goal all along so a share is great, please don’t interpret that I’m not appreciative, but we want the title to ourselves.”
The game will tip-off at 7 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena.