Quotes: Kellie Harper preview Alabama game

Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper met with the media on Wednesday in advance of Thursday’s SEC opener between the No. 7/9 Lady Vols (11-1) and Alabama (9-2). 

UT and the Crimson Tide will face off at Thompson-Boling Arena at 6:32 p.m. ET in a game live streamed on SECN+. Tickets are available at AllVols.com.

Lady Vols HC Kellie Harper / Credit: UT Athletics

Tennessee Head Coach Kellie Harper

Opening Statement…
“We’re really excited about starting SEC play. I think what you try to do in your non-conference schedule is to prepare yourself for your league, and to get your team as, hopefully, good as they can possibly be. So, we’re excited about now seeing where we are with the team. Jordan (Horston) is still not feeling well and will not be in practice today. Rae (Burrell) is continuing to progress, getting to do a little bit more each day in practice. So, I don’t know what that means in terms of a timeline still, but the progression has been there. So, the team feels good, they’re excited, and we’re ready to go.

On Rae Burrell’s injury progression…
“Rae’s (Burrell) been able to… I think each practice she’s getting to do a little bit more. It’s really to her comfort level. Part of where we’re at right now is letting her do more and then seeing how her body reacts in response to that the following day. So, you know, I think she’s getting a little more confident every day. We’re starting to progress her into more drills, for sure, in practice right now.”

On Jordan Horston’s availability for game against Alabama…
“(It’s) probably one of those game-time or game-day decisions, for sure. So, at this point, I know she can’t be here today, so it makes it a little difficult.”

On Alabama…
“Alabama has three athletic perimeter players that can get to the basket and can shoot threes. I think their quickness on the perimeter is one of their strengths. They do a really good job of going to those top three players. I think they’re very well coached. I think they run a lot of good stuff. They’re putting points on the board. They’ve got the right pieces around those three to get them the basketball.”

On running different defenses against Alabama…
“At this point, we’ll have a plan A, and we’ll probably have a plan B and probably a Plan C going into the game. You know, I think right now everybody knows our main defense is our man. We want our man to be as good as it can possibly be. We’ve got to, at some point, be a little more confident, a little more comfortable with the alternative defense, whether that is working with what we have, and getting it a little better, or maybe finding something else that we want to put in. So, it’s still a work in progress. Our alternate defenses are still a work in progress.”

On Sara Puckett starting against UTC…
I think Sara (Puckett) is really good. I think she is very talented. I think she’s very composed, very mature. That was another one of those situations where it was honestly a game-time decision. She handled it really well. I think the maturity really helps her there. And then the confidence that she has and her teammates have in her really helps when you have to jump in the starting lineup.”

On whether she saw what she wanted to see defensively against Chattanooga…
“I thought, defensively, we had a lot of breakdowns. I thought our off-the-ball defense, and more of it being our system, I didn’t think we executed our system as well as we need to. We really worked hard on that after that game, watched it on film. We’ve got to get better there. I think sometimes when you have Tamari Key in the paint, you know you’ve got a big eraser back there that can clean up a lot of our mistakes. We have to make less mistakes. I think that’s really important. I think our team understands that. So, we’ve got to get better. We weren’t as good as I wanted to be in that game. I think our team understands that. We’ll keep working hard to get better.”

On Tamari Key’s progression offensively…
“I think if you look at the progression that we’ve had as a team this year, and then you can go back two years, you can easily see we get the ball in the paint more now, more consistently, in better position to score. Now, part of that is our execution has been a little bit better on the perimeter. We are looking for our post players, but also, they are doing a great job of posting up and looking for the right spot to get the ball in. So, it’s been a lot of different things, right combination of those things. Tamari (Key) is playing with great confidence. There’s no doubt that that alone has been able to elevate her game. I think the way she carries herself in practice, I mean, we’re in practice yesterday, and we are continuing to pound the ball inside, pound the ball inside. I just want to sit back and smile at one point, because it’s like the light bulb clicked with this group, and they understand now. She’s not going to score every point; we’re going to still have opportunities on the perimeter. Our team understands that is a strength of ours.”

On what can be taken from previous prep for SEC play into this year...
“After you go through a season once, you really know the teams and coaches better. Now, you go through (the SEC season) twice, you have a really good understanding of how they play, what their strengths are. You probably tried some things that worked and tried some things that didn’t work versus different coaches and different systems and different styles and different players. So, you just have a little bit better confidence, at least I do as a coach, going in with a scouting report. It’s not just what I’ve seen on film. I have a little bit more experience, a little bit more knowledge of what has worked in the past. I think that’s very valuable in that you can’t speed that up. You can’t speed that experience up. So, I think that’s been really big in terms of our confidence going into the season.”

On managing players’ minutes to avoid exhaustion during a three-game week…
“Well, I thought our first game, we were able to keep those minutes about even, which was really good. We needed some high minutes with some of our players coming off the bench. We had a pretty tough practice. Then we’ll go to prep practices. So, the day before the games will be a little bit lighter this week, because we do have three games. I think our players understand at this point they have to take care of their body. We have to reiterate that. They have to hydrate, they have to eat, they have to do the rehab, they have to do treatment recovery. There’s so much going on right now, especially when you’re in a three-game per week part of your season.”

On Rae Burrell’s next steps in recovery…
“Well, I think for her it’s just getting a little bit more time on the court, live action time on the court. In practice, I think that’s really the next big step for her.”

On Alexus Dye’s confidence building…
“I think right now we can always count on her being aggressive. We talked to her about continuing to be good at what she’s good at, which is rebounding, getting into the basket and knocking down jump shots. I think for her, you know, also now stepping up and being able to guard like really good players in our league, I think is going to be a big, big step for her. But she is so much fun to coach. She’s a player that you can walk in and be very, very direct, very blunt with. Here’s the stats, here’s what I need, here’s where you are, you’ve got to be better at this, or you’ve got to do this but keep doing this. And she typically responds really well in those situations.”

On first SEC game being at home…
“To me, it’s the best environment. We had a great crowd for our opener after Christmas against Chattanooga, I thought. I was so excited. I’ve been excited about hearing some ticket numbers that have been out for this game for Alabama game. I know that’s not always easy, especially when you’ve got a big game down the street in Nashville that same day. So, I’m super excited about our fans and the community support that we’ve had here. So, when you have this environment, you really do wish all of your games were here. It’s not so much that I don’t want to be traveling, or, you know, I don’t want to play in another gym, but if you’ve got the best, you’ve got to be excited about it.”

-UT Athletics

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