Kellie Harper Media Availability Recap (1/12/22)

Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper met with the media Wednesday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena, answering questions about SEC Game No. 5/6 Lady Vols in Nashville Thursday night against Vanderbilt.

UT (15-1/4-0 SEC) and Vandy (10-6/1-1 SEC) will square off for the 85th time in the series, at Memorial Gymnasium at 9:05 p.m. ET (8:05 a.m. CT). The game will be televised by SEC Network, and the statewide Lady Vol Radio Network and SEC Radio SiriusXM Channel 374 will have the audio broadcast.

By being ranked #5…

“I think we’re delighted with it. We’re proud of what we’ve been able to do so far. In fact, we haven’t even talked about it as a team, but I think they’re well aware of it. They can’t hide this big news. You know, we’re really excited with how our team has improved and how we’ve been playing, and we just hope to keep building on that.

On Vanderbilt…
“Well, I think one of their strengths is their defense. They held an Arkansas team to 55. They’re aggressive, they make plays, they get robbed and just frustrate the offensive team. So, I think that’s number one. Number two, I think they’re pretty disciplined on the offensive end – they run their sets, they understand who should shoot the basketball and where they should shoot it. And they’re going to be motivated. They’re playing really hard, and they’re also trying to prove something.”

On how much she thinks fans will travel…
“I’m really expecting a lot of Orange. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are coming. I think our players have a lot of people who will be there. So we’re planning a pretty good Big Orange contingent.”

Late departure…
“It will definitely be after my bedtime during the game, so it’s a tough turnaround. There’s no doubt about that. It’s a long day tomorrow. We’ll go to Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, then Thursday c It’s just like that. A long day. So we’re just going to try to push it all back, and let them sleep a little longer and try to start the day later. And then when we get back, the players will actually be on a bunk bus, so hopefully they can rest after the game on the trip home.”

On managing a full day on the road before tipping…
“What we’re trying to do…we’re splitting it up a bit. Obviously we have to get them up, feed them, and we’ll have a movie session. We’ll have a shoot; we’ll have a pre-game meal. But in between those times , they’ll have plenty of free time to rest. You don’t want them lying around all day. What we’re going to do, I think, is get them in and out. We’re going to break away from all the activities that we have to do tomorrow.”

On COVID-19 postponing Kentucky’s Thursday night game…
“I think at this point we want to play our games, you know. But then you look at it, and it’s a tight turnaround for us from what they (Kentucky) are going to do suddenly. But you know we’ll be focusing on Vanderbilt and then when this game is over we’ll try to figure out how we’re going to prepare our team (for Kentucky) so you have to pick yourself up and you have to prepare for your next game. I hope we can get them there.

On whether Vanderbilt means more as an adversary in the state…
“I think for me, this game will always be different, and you know, the rivalries in the state…growing up, half my family were Tennessee fans and half my family were Vanderbilt fans. I still think it’s a big game I know Vanderbilt very well, and Memorial (Gymnasium) is so unique, obviously with the setup of the game, so it’s still going to be a game that I don’t want to say is more important , but he will always hold something a little stronger for me, I think, with my past.”

On the non-conference program…
“I think our non-conference schedule did what it was supposed to do. I think it challenged us. I think we were able to play a lot of people again, we had close games and we got through it. with a lot of confidence, and I think that prepared us for SEC play as well as you can be prepared for the SEC. I mean, it’s every night. You must be awesome, and you know that this league is so, so tough this year. So hopefully he did his job.”

At Rae Burrel
“I think Rae is progressing extremely well. I think she played really well against Ole Miss. I think she followed that up with a really good practice after that game. And, you know, I think her progression is there. where we need to be I think she’s fitting in perfectly right now I think she’s taking good shots I think she’s making good decisions I think she’s aggressive where she needs to be aggressive , and I feel like you know, not putting her in a pressure situation but allowing her to come back more easily has been a good thing, and I think every day I think we can see her being a a little more comfortable, and I think that’s good for our team.

At by Rae Burrel presence that makes the difference…
“I think the one thing that Rae (Burrell) has always been great at is putting the ball in the hole. I think you know, just getting her back there gives you one more weapon. She has a great height. Right now, I think she’s doing a good job defensively. We need to get her a little more comfortable to get back on the boards, and that will come, but I think what it does, it just gives you one more really talented player. (It) gives me options.”

On what by Rae Burrel injury has done for the team in the long run…
“Well, in retrospect, you know, we can look back and see what this injury did to our team. It really challenged a lot of our players to pick themselves up, and we had to figure out some things. I think that not only the challenge of improving, but I think the challenge of playing through adversity – playing with a man down. I think it was great to see our team figure it out. Honestly, when they were able to playing through that, it gave them a lot of confidence that we were able to really carry on.”

At Jordan Horton step it up this season…
“I think Jordan has matured a lot. I think she’s grown a lot. I think the experience that she had the first two years has put her in a position right now to walk the court with great confidence and also the air that she’s playing in. I think she’s in better shape now than she was maybe her first two years and also, I think her presence on the pitch, offensively and defensively , has affected our team in a positive way.

On what Jordan Horton has meant for the team this season…
“I think right now she’s making the team better, because she’s making a lot of plays. The other thing is her plus-minus is really strong coming in and out. You know, she’s making a great work on the boards. I think our team has a lot of confidence in Jordan (Horston) and a lot of confidence when Jordan (Horston) is on the court because he can make plays. He can affect almost any play in because of what she can do on the boards – and defensively too – with the basketball.”

Improved free throw shooting…
“Our team really talks about the work they do. I hear it in the middle of the game. I hear our players talking about it. You know, we are committed as a group to work harder and to achieve more. They feel good about it, and we help track that to keep motivating them, but they’re so nice, and if there’s one area that we have a deficit, they want to be better, and I think that’s what you see. I told them… I said, “Hey, it can be slow. You know, that margin can grow a little bit at a time, but that’s where we’ve got to at least push it in a positive direction. “”

On the potential of Rae Burrel rejoin the starting XI…
“We’re 15-1. We’ll probably keep it as it is for a while.”

On the evolution of post-game locker room celebrations…
“So as best I can tell from what happened, our staff came in with big celebrations. And then one time we decided to go in and try to trick them a bit to disrupt them, kind of stoic and nice to scare them a little bit and then go crazy for them. Then I think because we did that they decided, ‘Oh, we could turn it around.’ So they started to turn the tables on us, and now it’s completely lost. We’ve lost all control, completely lost all control. So, I have no idea what’s going to happen next. And we’re out of it now . I mean, we just come in and see what’s going to happen.”

Keep having fun with the team…
“We actually had different group meetings this week. We call them leadership groups, and it did happen, and we think it’s really important to keep the fun going. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. I don’t think we’re going to lose it. I strongly believe that we can work really hard and have a good time. I think you can do both at the same time. And I think this team responds well to that. I think they’ll go out, and they’ll work hard, and they’ll do it with a smile. I think, for me, it’s a really good space to be in.

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