When the leader of a team goes down, certain players have the opportunity to step up and rise to the occasion when their number is called upon.

That is precisely what redshirt freshman point guard Andraya Carter has done for the No. 6 Lady Vols since starting point guard Ariel Massengale has been sidelined after a collision with another player on Jan. 23 against Florida.

In Tennessee's last 10 games of the SEC regular season, Carter has handled the starting responsibilities and served a key role in the team's 9-1 finish, during which it has only given up 60.3 points per game.

"I have gotten more comfortable just playing more games and being in that role," Carter said. "My teammates have been so great. They have all been behind me this whole time since I got into the starting lineup. It's hard for me not to be confident when I have them behind me."

The former Buford H.S. (Ga.) standout started the first five games of her rookie season last year before redshirting due to a shoulder injury; however, she's been even better the second time around.

In her last 10 contests, where she has logged 31 minutes per game compared to 21.8 minutes in the first 19 games of the season, she has averaged 8.1 points per game to go along with 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals.

"It's been all about having fun out there," she said. "When I'm not thinking about it and just trust myself and my teammates, I think I play really well."

While she has often been referred to as a "defensive stopper" by head coach Holly Warlick and teammates, Carter has elevated her game on offense since her duties have been shifted to running the point a majority of the time.

In her recent stretch as starter she has shot .491 from the field (28-of-57 FG) and went 10-of-21 from 3-point range.

"I have gotten more confidence in my offense just working in the gym extra and working with my coaches and watching film," she said. "It wasn't something that I really did or really focused on too much."

The Lady Vols probability of winning takes a large shift upward when the 5-foot-9 energetic guard hits from long range; UT is 16-1 this season when Carter hits at least one shot from behind the arc.

"I like being an offensive threat and being able to knock down shots," Carter said. "I think it helps my team. So just being an all-around player is something I've been working on and having confidence on that end."

While her offense has taken another step forward this season, her main focus is to still keep the same high level of intensity on the court and be a stopper on defense.

"I think defense is something that I can bring every night, so I really try to focus on that," Carter said. "It's something that you can control and it's kind of like an effort and a heart thing. So I do try to focus on that and using that to propel everything else."

As the Lady Vols head into the SEC Tournament, Carter will most likely continue to be called upon even if Massengale is able to return as the team would slowly work the junior back into the rotation.

"Andraya is a team player and she has learned a lot from Ariel," Warlick said. "She has taken what she's taught her and what she's seen and putting it to work.

"Andraya is a smart player. When she is confident and works her way out of some things her mental frame is really good."

One thing Carter believes has carried her team this season, which finished 24-5 in the regular season and second in SEC play with a 14-2 record, is the Lady Vols' family-like relationships.

"If Jordan (Reynolds) has to step up, if Cierra (Burdick) has to step up, I'm going to be right there instilling confidence just the way they have in me having to step up with Ariel being out," Carter said. "Just being a family, that's what we do. We all do it so naturally and it's not even anything that we have to think about. That's the good thing about being here."

She and her team will continue their pursuit of the program's ninth national championship as they have a double bye in the SEC Tournament and will play the winner of the LSU-Alabama game this Friday at 6 p.m. in Duluth, Ga.

"A good friend of mine told me that confidence is repetition and I've really been sticking with that," Carter said. "Knowing my role and the game plan has all helped and I just have to keep it going."