KNOXVILLE, Tenn. —
Tennessee has been able to exceed preseason projections.
The Lady Vols didn’t return a single player who started an NCAA tournament game last year. The combination of a coaching change and roster upheaval led to them being ranked 20th in the preseason Top 25. SEC coaches picked Tennessee to end up fifth in the league, while the SEC media had the Lady Vols finishing fourth.
“I can’t tell you how many people told me, ‘We’re really not expecting (much from) you all, so you should have not a cushion, but a year that you can just develop and grow,’ “ Warlick said. “That motivated me, and I know it motivated our players. I knew what we had. I just didn’t understand or know what we could do as a whole. I’m proud of them. We’re only going to get better and better. We haven’t reached our full potential.”
This year’s Tennessee team is delivering the same type of results as Summitt’s last few squads. After winning back-to-back national titles in 2007 and 2008, Tennessee went 22-11, 32-3, 34-3 and 27-9 in Summitt’s last four seasons. The Lady Vols lost in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament, reached the Sweet 16 in 2010 and got to a regional final each of the last two years.
Tennessee has overcome injuries that left the Lady Vols with only nine healthy players. Freshman guard Andraya Carter is out for the season with a torn labrum in her right shoulder.
Sophomore forward Cierra Burdick has missed seven games with a broken right hand and is expected to return in early February.
“We always have a point to prove,” Simmons said. “Now this year since we are the underdog and people underestimate us. We have to remember Tennessee is Tennessee.”
The Lady Vols have benefited from the tenacity of Simmons, who averages 17.6 points per game and has a knack for delivering whenever her team needs a boost.