No. 24/20 Tennessee (2-1) takes on No. 23/23 Miami (2-0) in a matchup of top 25 teams at BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fla., at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sunday.
"I'm not going to put a helmet on and hope Tennessee misses shots," Miami coach Katie Meier said. "We're going to be Miami, and we're going to figure out what the best Miami is for this matchup. I hope they play the best game of their year, and I hope we're ready for it."
For its part, Tennessee needs a better start than it got for the first road game of the season at Chattanooga. The Lady Vols restored order at Georgia Tech and then wiped out Rice at home, but a young team is playing three of its first four games on the road, and that is a significant challenge.
Sophomore point guard Ariel Massengale thinks the team has adjusted and now knows, as a whole, what to expect in a hostile arena. Massengale remembered her first road trip as a freshman, which ended in a loss to Virginia.
"I think it is out of the system," Massengale said. "You never want to use it as an excuse because they played great but having four freshmen come in on the road … being on the road is definitely different than playing in your home arena.
"I experienced that last year against Virginia. We lost our first road game. But I think they got that out of their system. Now they know what it's like. We played well at Georgia Tech and regrouped and bounced back. We need to play like that the rest of the season. I think we see how good we're capable of being."
The Hurricanes will present a formidable challenge for the Lady Vols. Miami has size, like Georgia Tech did, but with more experienced players across the frontline.
"It's the first time we've faced significant size," Dean Lockwood said. "It will be a very good challenge."
The 'Canes use that size to score in the paint, and they also have perimeter players who will get to the rim.
"We have to be aware of a balanced attack," Lockwood said.
The Lady Vols also will need to locate Michelle Woods, a sophomore guard who has started the season 8-11 from behind the arc.
"Woods right now is on fire from three," Lockwood said.
Tennessee will rely on putting pressure on the ball – led by freshman guard Andraya Carter, who has set the tone for the guards – and also will be ready to mix up its defensive looks if needed. The Lady Vols deployed both man and zone against Georgia Tech.
Carter's tenacity on defense has pushed the other guards to elevate their play on that side of the ball, in particular Massengale and junior Meighan Simmons.
"Oh you're darn right she has," Lockwood said. "That is part of why Andraya is where she is and our other players at that position know that, ‘Hey, I have to keep pace if I am going to be in consideration for those minutes.'
"She brings such a great level of energy. Her involvement in the game, mentally, physically, emotionally, she brings it. That is one of those things that is a force multiplier. It's one person but it can have the effect of three people. It's really, really a great thing she is bringing to us right now. You're darn right."
Simmons was challenged Thursday at halftime of the Rice game by head coach Holly Warlick – along with other players – to elevate her defensive effort. Simmons responded and then some with steals – all four came in the second half – and used her speed on defense to ignite her offense.
"I wanted to go out there and prove to the coaches that I can do whatever it takes for the team," Simmons said.
The coaches know that Simmons can score. She leads the team at 18.0 points per game through three contests. But when she can defend with the same enthusiasm as she shoots, Tennessee is a different, and a better, team.
"We've got a chance to be in every game we play," Lockwood said. "Holly really made a point of that very thing. She said, ‘I am not impressed with our defense right now.' She singled a few players, she didn't get on them, but she basically challenged a few players, and Meighan was one of them.
"She said, ‘You know what? You're capable of much more. You need to step up your effort level.' I think Meighan embraced it. To Meighan's credit she responded to it."
That same response will be needed Sunday, and Warlick wants to see it from all five spots on the floor to start the game.
It is a style of play embraced by another freshman, post Bashaara Graves, and she was energized by it after the win over Rice.
"We were running, we were playing big defense, getting steals, and being in the passing lane; that's what we needed," Graves said. "Playing like that the whole game is what we need to do every game."
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick is expected to start: Andraya Carter, 5-9 freshman guard, No. 14, hails from Flowery Branch, Ga. (4.0 points per game, 2.0 rebounds per game); Meighan Simmons, 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas (18.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Cierra Burdick, 6-2 sophomore forward, No. 11, hails from Charlotte, N.C. (9.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg); Bashaara Graves, 6-2 freshman forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (16.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg); and Isabelle Harrison, 6-3 sophomore forward, No. 20, hails from Nashville, Tenn. (11.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg).
Miami coach Katie Meier is expected to start: Stefanie Yderstrom, 5-8 senior guard, No. 3 (8.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg), hails from Ostertalje, Sweden, will be making her 77th consecutive start, All-ACC Academic Team, played for Sweden last summer in Euro Cup qualifier, has played on Swedish national teams since age of 15, speaks Swedish and English; Suriya McGuire, 5-11 sophomore guard, No. 33 (5.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg), hails from Minneapolis, Minn., made her first career start in the season opener against North Florida; Michelle Woods, 5-8 sophomore guard, No. 10 (19.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg), hails from Naples, Fla., has scored 39 points in two games this season, nailed five treys in season opener; Morgan Stroman, 6-1 senior forward, No. 32, (11.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg), hails from Hopkins, S.C., missed the final 13 games last season because of an Achilles tendon tear, scored 17 points in season opener, needs 19 points to reach 1,000 for career; and Shawnice Wilson, 6-6 senior center, No. 40 (9.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg), hails from Pittsburgh, Pa., starting second season at Miami after transferring from Pitt, had pair of 17s in points and boards against N.C. State last season.
Key players off the bench for the Hurricanes are Caprice Dennis, a 5-9 freshman guard from Detroit, and Krystal Saunders, a 5-8 junior guard from West Park, Fla.
FROSH STUFF: Dean Lockwood has a keen appreciation for defense, and he particularly like Andraya Carter's block on a 6-2 Rice player to open the second half.
"She doesn't think she's out of the play," Lockwood said. "She doesn't give up on plays. I remember hearing football coaches talk about some players get knocked down and they get back up. Some players get knocked down and they stay down. And then there are players who get knocked down, get back up and make a tackle. Because they never feel like they're out of a play.
"And that's how she is. She gets knocked down, she'll get up, run around, look around and say, ‘Oh, I can still make a play.' She doesn't feel like she is ever out of the play. That can be infectious and it can push other people."
BEASTSHAARA: Thanks to the multiplier effect of the social media, Bashaara Graves has an assortment of nicknames from Bash to B12 to The Beast to BeastShaara.
"I saw that on Twitter," Graves said. "It's OK. I feel like when you say beast, it's like an ugly word, but I understand what they mean. I like it. It describes my physical game. If people want to call me BeastShaara, they can."
It is definitely a compliment. The freshman post is a throwback to the Tennessee paint players of lore – think Cornfed Chicks of the 1980s, a moniker that might really give Graves pause – because she plays hard on every possession.
"I like battling," Graves said. "I like being physical. If you are in the post you have to be physical. I am not as tall as the other posts, so for me to be as physical as them, that is what I need.
"It came naturally. When I was little I played with boys a lot. Because of their speed I had to be physical."
Graves started her second collegiate game at Georgia Tech and is likely to be on the floor for tipoff Sunday. When did she realize she was starting last Sunday?
"When we came in and my name was on the board," Graves said. "That is when I was realized I was starting. I was just like, ‘OK … ' Coach (Jolette) Law was like, ‘Don't be nervous.' I didn't think I was nervous at all."
Hardly. Graves played 27 minutes and posted a double-double with 18 points and 12 boards. She has been a reliable scorer and rebounder in all three games of her young career.
"We're very pleased with her consistency, more so than the numbers is the effort level that she is putting forth," Dean Lockwood said.
Pat Summitt frequently chastised players for giving in to fatigue. It is unlikely Graves will hear that from the head coach emeritus.
During the Georgia Tech game, Graves was on fumes but she continued to play hard. Holly Warlick was thinking she needed to get Graves out of the game seconds before the freshman got an offensive board and an and-one play.
"You've just got to get through it. Fatigue is an option," said Graves in a tone that indicated it wasn't ever an option for her. "Even though I know I was tired, I was just trying to give it my all regardless of how tired I was or that my legs were gone. I just knew I had to keep going."
Lockwood smiled when reminded of the play. He coaches the posts, and he clearly enjoys the process with Graves.
"She did a great job in that game," Lockwood said. "She really competed. Her toughness really showed out in that game. She went after rebounds. She was pursuing plays. She wasn't just in plays. She was pursuing the ball, pursuing action. It made a big difference for us."
Graves' court maturity also is in play when she makes a mistake. Against Georgia Tech, she made a bad pass on offense and responded by sprinting down court to challenge the shot and get the defensive board to get the ball back to her team. Younger players sometimes pout – and slow down – after a mistake. Graves' gut reaction was to get back on defense.
"It takes some players a half a year, a year, even two, to learn that very valuable concept," Lockwood said. "It's not about just what you're producing, it's about your effort level, and if your effort level stays consistent, more often than not your productivity will.
"But a lot of times when people aren't playing well they get into a little bit of a pity party, which is on the big end, or you get into yourself a little bit more. All of a sudden your effort level drops and naturally your productivity is going to drop. With her we love the fact that you can't tell whether she's gone zero for four or four for four.
"That shows a competitive maturity that is ahead of a curve."
Graves also takes pride in her game. After missing a layup as a freshman in high school from the left side because she shot it right-handed, Graves worked on her left hand – literally. She didn't just get in the gym, but used her left hand to eat, open doors, brush her teeth and other tasks to get used to using it.
The idea actually originated from Nikki Caldwell, a former Lady Vol player and then assistant coach, who mentioned the unorthodox approach when Graves attended a Tennessee camp in the sixth grade.
"She had told me to get better at my left hand," Graves said. "My AAU coach brought it back up."
Ariel Massengale is not surprised by the freshman's early success. Massengale and Cierra Burdick played with Graves in past summers for USA ball.
Graves played for Miami's Katie Meier this past summer when she was coach of the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championships in Puerto Rico.
"She is unbelievable," Massengale said. "Cierra and I played with her for two years with USA. She can do it all. Every year at USA there was something different that she had added to her game She plays hard all the time."
LEARNING CURVE: Freshman forward Jasmine Jones got off to a fast start in the exhibition games but has slowed a tad in the early going, though she did have 11 rebounds in the game against Georgia Tech.
The staff is telling Jones that she is on the correct course.
"I think all of the things that are new about college basketball are catching up a little bit now," Lockwood said. "We want her to play more and react more and think less. But we've put a few more things in and now sometimes your feet get slower because you're thinking about it a little bit.
"We just want her to keep playing. We're trying to emphasize what she was doing before she's on the right track so don't leave."
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ODDS AND ENDS
Tennessee leads the series with Miami, 1-0. This will the Lady Vols' first ever game at Miami. The first game in the series was last season in Knoxville, a 92-76 win for Tennessee in a game that was knotted at 42 at halftime. … The Hurricanes are tough at home. Miami has won 41 consecutive games at home, the second-longest streak in the country.