Kellie Harper Media Availability Recap (1/5/22)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee women’s basketball head coach Kellie Harper took questions from the media on Wednesday afternoon in Pratt Pavilion, as her No. 7/8 Lady Vols (13-1/2-0 SEC) prepare to host No. 25/23 Texas A&M (10-3/0-1 SEC) on Thursday night. Tip-off is slated for 6:30 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena, with the game carried by SEC Network.

UT was picked in the SEC Preseason Polls to finish second by the media and third by the coaches, while A&M was picked second by the coaches and third by the media. The Aggies, coached by Gary Blair, are the defending SEC regular-season champions and carry a three-game series win streak into the contest.

The Lady Vols have opened league play with two straight wins, defeating Alabama (62-44) at home and Arkansas (70-63) on the road on Dec. 30 and Jan. 2, respectively. Texas A&M fell in its league opener at LSU on Sunday, 75-66.

Lady Vols HC Kellie Harper / Credit: UT Athletics

Tennessee Head Coach Kellie Harper

On if Rae Burrell is on a minute restriction…
“She’s not ready to go 40 minutes. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think any of our players will play 40 minutes. We’re just getting her minutes every day in practice, and you know, at this point, it’s like everybody else, we’ve just got to work her in. She’s got to come in and perform; she has to feel good about what she’s doing. I think that’s a big piece for her, mentally. When you’re out that long, it takes a little while to get back, and we understand that. We’ll have patience with her.”

On what dictates Burrell’s minutes…
“The minutes, at this point, are dictated by performance. I mean, we’re not going to play her if she’s not healthy, and right now we have the clearance to play her.”

On how Burrell’s return affects the team…
“I think just having Rae back gives them a boost. I think everybody understands what Rae can do and what Rae is capable of. You know, having her out there is another issue for our opponents to worry about. I think that’s a big piece. And obviously, she’s done everything. She’s a playmaker, so you know that’s a positive for us.”

On her comments praising the team after the Arkansas win…
“Actually, I think it was Mickey Dearstone. After the game, he grabbed me and he just said, ‘I’ve seen a lot of teams play, and I’ve never seen anything like this.’ And it was a very positive statement towards our team, and I think that just got me a little emotional, and I kind of carried that over to media, I guess. But they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do, they really have. They’re fun to coach, they’re great to coach, they’re great teammates, they fight, and I needed to say that. I needed the world to hear that.”

On if the team knows how she feels about the team…
“I think they know. I think they know that we love them and we’re proud of them. We’re very honest with them. We talk about that, but then we talk about how we’re going to be better. So, we have both sides with our team. I think we have a really good open dialogue. I think the team knew that, I think the world just needed to hear it.”

On post-game celebrations…
“These post-game celebrations have taken on a whole life of their own. You know, the coaches are out in the hallway, we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do, then the players trump us. I mean, they just one-up us about every time. It’s fun, you know, it’s fun. And I love the fact they are happy in celebrating wins, because we’ve said from day one: wins are hard to get, so you better enjoy them.”   

On her in-game assist to Jordan Horston
“Yeah, well, after the game Jordan (Horston) asked who picked her up, and I was a little offended that she didn’t know immediately… I’m just kidding. I did tell her that I needed her to get up, so I said, ‘I was going to grab you, and then I saw the ball, and then I was going to throw you to the ball.’ We had a good time with that. We had a lot of fun. I actually sent the clip to our team in our little chat message and asked if there was any way I could get half of a steal credit for that one. Jordan gave me a steal credit for that one in our group chat. You know, it’s just one of those things. It’s just a fun team, and when you’re playing well or when you’re winning and things are going well, all that stuff it’s just fun. (It’s) fun to be a part of.”

On if the team would be as good defensively without Tamari Key
“Our defensive would have to change if we didn’t have Tamari. We would have to do things a little bit differently, I believe. And I think we could. I think we could be a good defensive team, but I think it would look very differently, probably have to change some things schematically without her.”

On if Tamari Key showed a different side on Sunday, defensively…
“I have no issues with Tamari guarding on the perimeter. I know she can do it; she’s done it before. We’ve seen her be able to do it in practice. She’s pretty mobile. Now, she’s not going to guard the point guard out there, but she can guard her position out on the floor. I’m very confident with that. The problem is then she’s not in the paint helping her four teammates. So, it’s really… her being on the perimeter is not an issue for her, it’s an issue for everybody else. And so, we’re trying to keep her inside for our team’s sake.”

On her team’s depth being a strength…
“Oh yeah, depth is a big deal, because at any point you have no idea what’s going to happen. You have no idea what your roster is going to look like from game to game. I think you look at some of the games that have happened, and it’s just facts. And so, you hope that your entire roster is ready to go. You know, even players for us that may not get a lot of minutes in normal SEC games, they’ve had enough minutes for us to have enough confidence to put them out there if the situation warrants it, and I think that’s important.”

On how the team has improved since the Stanford loss…
“Well, I think right now, I feel like every game we’ve improved, or we’ve tried to take something to learn. That Stanford game, I think, although we were disappointed in the outcome, I think our players actually took some confidence out of that game. I think they learned some things, realized where we needed to get better in some things. And I thought, probably best of all, I thought they had a great attitude and mindset coming out of that game, coming off that loss. They were very motivated, they would’ve been anyway, but also with a different air about themselves. I think they have a little bit more confidence, you know, coming out of that game that we can really play with anybody, and I think that’s going to serve us well against a tough SEC schedule.”

On if the team is taking any extra precautions against COVID-19…
“Yeah, I think for us, we’ve kind of ramped some of our protocols back up. We’re in masks more often now than we were for a little bit. I don’t know that there’s a foolproof way of avoiding this, we’re just doing the best we can. And I think right now that’s what everybody’s doing and just hoping for the best. You know, we want to take this very seriously, and the health of our players is very serious. We want to play basketball, but we do want to make sure we’re taking care of our team first.”

On strong first and fourth quarters…
“I think we come out with a pretty clear game plan, and I think we’ve been able to punch first, I guess, so to speak, in some of these early games. And then, I think the fourth quarter, I think you’ve just seen strong finishes. Our team really feels good about getting to the fourth quarter and having a lot of gas in the tank. I think at times in the last few games, we’ve just worn people down in that fourth quarter. I don’t know if it’s always going to hold true, but I think that’s what happened in the last few games.”

On how close Jordan Horston is to being back in game shape…
“I think Jordan’s in pretty good shape right now. I think that Arkansas game was a much-needed game for her to get the rust off, the Christmas break off of her and get back in the swing of things. So, she’s been good in practice, looks good, and is moving really well. I was making a comment the other day about how well she was moving in practice, so feel really good about where she’s at.”     

-UT Athletics

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