Even in the dawn of SEC play, it may be a little surprising to see the two preseason favorites to win the conference – Tennessee and Kentucky – having already suffered a loss.
The Lady Vols suffered that loss in their conference opener against the LSU Tigers back on Jan. 2 while the Wildcats lost to the Florida Gators – who currently find themselves tied atop the SEC at 2-0 – on Jan. 5.
Junior center Isabelle Harrison said the Lady Vols learned a lesson from the LSU game, stating the team lost their focus with all the outside distractions surrounding the game.
"That whole day with Candace's jersey retirement and all those former Lady Vols coming back, I think we were all a little flustered and we weren't as focused as we should've been," Harrison said.
The jumbled SEC standings have even taken the Lady Vols by surprise, but junior guard Ariel Massengale said the competition should make this season an exciting one.
"It's very surprising, but I always say the SEC is probably one of the best conferences when it comes to women's basketball," Massengale said. "It's exciting to see that. It means that it's going to be a good year, a fun year, and that every time you step on the court you are going to have to be ready to play because you never know what might happen."
While the Lady Vols bounced back and beat Georgia 85-70 on Jan. 5, they still had to fend off their SEC foe, as the Bulldogs roared back to the tune of a 21-0 run late in the second half to cut the deficit to six before Tennessee eventually pulled away.
The two close games have the Vols more prepared for what could be a tight SEC race, Massengale said.
"I think this first week has kind of taught us that," Massengale said about the stout SEC competition. "Starting with our season, we were just focusing on one game at a time, and now that we are in this part of the SEC season, now we see what it's going to be like from here on out so we just have to get ready and prepare for it."
Graves banged up
The Lady Vols inability to get rolling at the start of SEC play may be due in part to sophomore forward Bashaara Graves' nagging injuries to her back and right leg.
"I think she's fine," Warlick said. "She came down pretty hard on her back and I think she came in and got treatment so I think she is ready to go."
The injury prevented the 6-foot-2 forward from starting in the Lady Vols' victory over the Bulldogs and may keep her out of the starting five once again come Thursday's contest against the Ole Miss Rebels.
"I think it'll be based on what happens today and the next couple of days, so we will see," Warlick said.
Harrison gets cozy
With Graves being nicked up, Harrison has been asked to shoulder more of a load-down low for UT and she has done just that, scoring 44 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in the Lady Vols' two SEC contests.
Harrison attributes her success to finally reaching a point in her a career where she has confidence in what she does on the court.
"I'm just glad that I'm able to get to a point in my game where I can be comfortable with it," junior center Isabelle Harrison said. "Every game I just try to do my best and that's what Holly talked to us about. I just want to do the best for her and my teammates."
Even with the recent success, the Nashville, Tenn., native said she remains to be her own biggest critic, which has helped her develop the confidence she has now.
"I'm still pretty hard on myself when it comes to the games," Harrison said. "I'm always talking to Dean (Lockwood) about mistakes I've made.
"I feel like I've improved and whatever I have to do to get better, I'm going to watch film with Dean to continue to improve my game."