Transcript: Kellie Harper previews SEC Basketball Tournament

Lady Vols HC Kellie Harper / Credit: UT Athletics

KNOXVILLE,  Tenn. — Tennessee women’s basketball head coach Kellie Harper took questions from the media on Tuesday in a Zoom interview session that covered the Lady Vols’ upcoming trip to the SEC Tournament in Greenville, S.C.

No. 14/16 UT (15-6, 9-4 SEC) finished third in the regular-season standings and takes its highest seed (No. 3) into the tourney since entering at No. 2 back in 2015. Harper’s squad will play at approximately 8:15 p.m. ET on Friday (SEC Network) at Bon Secours Wellness Arena vs. the winner of Thursday’s battle between No. 6 seed Arkansas (19-7, 9-6 SEC) and No. 11 seed Ole Miss (10-10, 4-10 SEC).

Tennessee is the all-time leader in SEC tourney titles, capturing 17 through the years.

Tennessee Head Coach Kellie Harper

Opening Statement:
“It’s this time of year. Everybody is excited. It doesn’t matter what you did; it doesn’t matter what you didn’t do leading up to now. I know it’s cliché, but every coach says it every year, ‘Record is 0-0, everybody has a fresh start.’ You get a new challenge in front of you. I fully expect this SEC Tournament to be competitive. Anything can happen. We’re hoping to take a team over there that is ready to play and compete at a high level.”

On what their preparation will look like this week:
“Their day off was Monday. We just lifted and did not do a lot on Tuesday. I think when you prepare for a tournament, you prepare to play for three games. We’re trying to prepare to play for three days. We’ll give them Tuesday off, that’ll help us with the rest of the week. Wednesday will be a really good practice for us. It will be a lot of Tennessee. We’ll work a lot on us. If there are some things that we can knock out that could prepare us for Ole Miss or Arkansas, we will do that. We’ll travel on Thursday and practice in Greenville. Because of the late tip, we will still practice without knowing who we are playing. That practice, we will still do a little bit more of us. Our walk-through on Friday will be scout heavy to make sure we are ready for whichever opponent we will play.”

On how her team will handle having the late game:
“They’ll probably handle it better than I will. It’s nearing my bedtime when we will be at the game. What we will do is try and shorten the day a little bit. Logistically, it’ll be a little tougher because of the scheduling of when your shoot-around is, but we will try to shorten the day and let them sleep in for a little bit if we can. We’ll try to work towards that on Thursday. We’re trying to trend in that direction. I think players want to play. I don’t know if it necessarily matters when you play on that Thursday or Friday. What matters is when you have a late game one night and an early game the next day. If you have a late game on Saturday and then an earlier game on Sunday, it makes a little bit of a difference. It’s tournament time. I think you just look forward to playing. The cool thing is if you have that late game, you get to watch a lot of basketball that day.”

On how it feels having her players on All-SEC teams:
“When you look at the list, what a talented list of all-conference players, both first and second team. I think our two definitely deserved to be on that. I think they did a terrific job this year and had the stats to back it up. I’m also really proud that Tamari Key was on the All-Defensive Team; that was very well deserved. I’m really excited for Marta (Suárez) to be on the freshman team. Unfortunately, her season doesn’t look like what we thought it was going to, based on her injury, but I think people noticed her a little bit.”

On how she plans to get her team prepared for the SEC Tournament:
“We are going to talk about taking care of business. Do your job, whatever that is. Whether that’s on the court or off the court, you have to do your job. We will really try to get into some execution things this week, making sure we are very clear on some of our schemes. We might even put some wrinkles in going into the tournament. Sometimes when you do that, it keeps the players’ minds fresh. So, we may do a little bit of that. At this point, as a coach, you want to walk into practice and see that they are ready. You want them to see what’s at stake. If they don’t, we may have to reel them back in and get their focus right. We cannot afford to have bad practices this week. So, if we start trending in that direction early in practice, we’ll slam the brakes on. We have to have good practices this week.”

On whether her expectations are to get to the championship game:
“Oh my, yes! And I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what city you are in. I don’t care who you’re playing; I don’t care who you’re not playing. If you’re advancing, then you’ve really done something, because there is so much parity this year. And a lot of times, it’s about match-ups as much as it is about seeding and talent. It’s about who do you match-up well (against), and you have got to figure it out. So, I think it’s definitely shaping up to be an exciting tournament.”

On how much previous games matter and does it make a difference in a tournament type of setting:
“Well, I think it makes a difference for the coaching staff to kind of game-plan and have an idea of what worked the first time and what didn’t work. And sometimes, if it worked the first time, you have to realize that the other team is going to change, and it may not work this time. So really, it’s a chess game, right? You have to be two, sometimes three, steps ahead of your opponent. You know, in terms of the team, I would be just fine if the players didn’t remember anything about the first game or two that you played, because I think you get to the tournament and, you know, it’s different. Everybody’s going to throw out all the stops to win, and if they didn’t beat you the first time, they’re going to give you something different. And I think it matters, but at the same time, when you get to tournament play, they’re going to throw everything at you.”

On how the SEC Tournament prepares them for the big picture of the NCAA Tournament and how competitive it is:
“I’ve thought about that quite a bit. It’s so tough; it’s so challenging. Not only are these some of the best teams in the conference, they’re some of the best teams in the country, and they know you inside and out. I mean, they get it. I think and I hope that the SEC Tournament and the competitiveness and the talent that we have there really prepares all of the teams going to the NCAA Tournament. I really hope that we’re setting each other up for success. Carrying that level of play into the NCAA Tournament could really make for a great showing for the SEC. And we should, we have so many talented teams this year. We really do. And a lot of them can make some noise in the NCAA Tournament, regardless of the outcome of the SEC Tournament. So, we’ll definitely… I think it’ll be good for us to be in that tournament environment and hopefully handle ourselves well and be able to take that over to the NCAA Tournament.”

On how she thinks Ole Miss and Arkansas have changed over the last few weeks and on the difficulty of trying to prepare for two teams at once:
“We have been worried about ourselves (lately). We have kind of put blinders on and worried about what we are doing. This last week has been about Tennessee, Missouri and Auburn. But we paid attention. I was able to watch the Alabama/Arkansas game, or the majority of it. So, we see how these teams are playing. We are trying to keep up with Ole Miss coming off a great win. Obviously, we do not have an advantage over those teams in terms of our scouts. We won’t prepare for both of those teams on Thursday. That is not what we will do, so we will wait and do our preparation on Friday, which will be the same time that our opponent will do their preparation in terms of the scout. But there are not a lot of questions about who each team is, and our staff will have scouting prepared for both going over. I am sure our team will brush up on both of them, and we will be able to watch that game, and that will be really good for us. So, I think that there is a little bit of being behind, because you don’t know in terms of your team. We can’t do walk-throughs until Friday, but we have a late game on Friday, and we will have time to get that in.”

On whether she will be able to do a walk-through and scout at the arena on Friday and her memories of playing in the SEC Tournament:
“Our arena shoot-around is that morning at 8:30 or 9:00, which really stretches your day out if you take that Friday morning. We will go off-site to do our walk-through and scouting prep, so we will be at a different gym for that. For me, some of my vivid memories were some of the tournaments that were played in Chattanooga at The Roundhouse, and how predominantly orange it was is a big memory for me. How much fun and competitive those tournaments were, and then I remember going down to Columbus and playing great. We played terrific that year down in the SEC Tournament, and had some big wins against some really good basketball teams. Fun times. But you know, it was the precursor to the NCAA Tournament, which was what we were really striving for.”

On her memory of learning the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled and how that helps her be thankful for basketball now:
“You know, we talk about that every now and then. We talk about how grateful we are to get to play because obviously, we saw how quickly it could be taken away. When I think back to last year, the biggest part for me was the lack of closure that we had not having the NCAA Tournament. When we played our final game, we had the anticipation that we were going to be playing more basketball. So, it was just awkward, really. And then it was so fast – everything happened so quickly, and it really never felt like last year ended. It just felt like last year kind of blended into the summer. That’s really what it felt like for me, and I am looking forward to taking this team not only to the SEC Tournament but to the NCAA Tournament and giving them a chance and seeing what we can do.”

On what she thinks about playing on Friday when their opponent has had a day head start with already having played a game in that arena:
“I have always thought that a team that played the day before has a little bit of an advantage to start the game. I have always thought that. They have already played, and they have gotten the first-game jitters out, so to speak. They are brushed up, they should be ready to go. But I also think that you do not want to play four games in four days. So, I think you have to be able to get over that, and you have to be able to settle in quickly. You know it doesn’t always happen that way. You really have to be able to settle in and figure out what they are doing very quickly in that game”

-UT Athletics

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