Transcript: Kellie Harper previews Missouri and Auburn

Kellie Harper & Rae Burrell – Lady Vols / 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 games at Missouri (8-9/4-8 SEC) on Thursday and vs. Auburn (5-15, 0-12 SEC) for Sunday’s Senior Day game.

This week’s contests close out the regular season for #20/21 UT (13-6, 7-4 SEC), with the SEC Tournament in Greenville, S.C., to follow on March 3-7 at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

Tennessee Head Coach Kellie Harper

On what Missouri does well and what they have to be ready for on Thursday:
“Obviously, Missouri’s offense relies heavily on their ability to shoot the basketball, and their spacing is great. The other thing you can always count on, and I think you see it, they improve in this area all year in that they are really intelligent. So, whatever defensive game plan they have, they will execute it. And they can give you a variety of looks, because their kids are pretty savvy. They’re also really tough. They’re just tough, and they are going to make hustle plays all night. They’re going to know what they need to do to be successful. So, I think matchup-wise, they can pose some problems, because they can play five perimeter players.”

On how Rennia Davis has performed the last two games:
“Well, Rennia was able to, in our South Carolina game, be a go-to player in that second half. We got her the basketball. She was feeling good, knocking down shots, making plays. (She) really got us back ahead and pushed us over the top. At Georgia, when we were stagnant early, she was one of the players actually making some shots. It wasn’t easy. People were keying in on her and trying to make things tough for her, but I love to see that she is still able to find ways to be successful and be productive.”

On how much she focuses on the assist to turnover statistic and if she thinks it helps determine the outcome of a game, considering the assist to turnover ratio was 3 to 20 against Georgia:
“Well, you don’t want to see that number. Obviously, I think that’s a number that doesn’t scream success. That’s how Georgia plays, and they take you out of assists a lot of times and make you play one on one. And they’re a tough matchup for us because they do have good size and a physicality in the paint, but their guards just get down and guard. They are really good defensively, and obviously, that caused problems for us. To start the game, we had some opportunities to knock down some easy shots, and we just missed them; they rimmed out. You’ve got to be able to find ways to be productive. And as poorly as we played, we still had a chance at the end. I don’t want to discredit what Georgia did though, because I think their game plan was really solid.”

On what the seniors have meant to her:
“I group them in a couple different categories. Obviously, with Jaiden (McCoy), we brought her in and due to injuries, it’s been unfortunate that she’s not been able to be on the court as much as we had hoped. For Kasi (Kushkituah) and Rennia (Davis), just to see their growth in the small time that we had them has been really fun. I love all three of them, and I think they all have different personalities. They’ve been fun to be around, and I’m proud of where they have helped this team go. If you’re missing that senior leadership and missing that senior experience really pulling strongly, it’s a big piece, and obviously, that’s been really important to our team.”

On Keyen Green’s status for the rest of the season and eligibly moving forward:
“Obviously, with COVID and extra years, there are so many variables right now. We don’t want to make decisions about those types of things until after the season is over, except for Keyen. She’s in a different position. We knew she wasn’t going to have another opportunity to play this year, so we’ve had those discussions. As of right now, we are excited because she plans to come back next year.”

On what she expects her team to fix in the last two regular season games of the year heading into the SEC Tournament:
“We are hoping for good weather, good travel, and an opportunity to practice. I think that is as important for us right now as anything. We are excited about taking the court today and trying to really work on Tennessee rather than another team. I really feel like we’ve been focused on our opponents for the last couple weeks more so than us, so I’m excited we’ll get to work on us. Then, we’ll turn to Missouri tomorrow. What I’d like to see is for us to clean up some of the things that we need to do, some of the things we’ve gotten away from in the couple weeks that could make us a better basketball team if we can get a little more consistent. Some of that is on the defensive end, and some of it is on the offensive end. Before you go to the tournament, you want to make sure you’re cleaning up anything. You want to make sure if there is something that really stands out, that you’re working on that. At some point, between now and the tournament, we’ve got to worry about Missouri and Auburn. But before the tournament, you want to go through everything you’ve got in your arsenal. You want to review every defense you have, every offensive play, every thought you could possibly have, because you go over to Greenville and to the SEC tournament, you’ve got to pull out all the stops. You have to make sure your team is ready.”

On how Tamari Key can avoid fouls called against her and how those calls affect her play:
“I think early on this season, you could see her having some frustration fouls. Now, I think she’s learned that her worth is greater than maybe a cheap foul. She’s really worked on that. I think it’s an area that we need to emphasize. We can’t control everything, so we can’t control what is called and what’s not called. What we can control is our actions and trying to keep ourselves as clean as possible, in terms of foul trouble. We have to be able to control that, whatever is called, we can play out of it and not let frustration set in.”

On whether Coach Harper can tell before a game if her team is ready to play:
“No, but let me back up let me actually answer that. I usually have a pretty good idea, and this year I have felt like we have been ready to play just about every game. I did feel like our practice on Saturday was not great leading up to our Georgia game. We usually have really good practices, but I thought that Saturday practice was not one of those good ones. I thought that hurt us a little bit and then the fact that we didn’t get a shoot-around (Sunday morning) because of a noon game and four-and-a-half-hour bus ride. There was not a whole lot going in our favor going into this weekend, so as a Coach I am trying to figure out the right balance of moving on from this game versus learning from this game and figuring out what we need to be better at.”

On what she thinks about the team’s destiny, regarding SEC Tournament standings, being in their own hands going into this last week of regular season play:
“Yeah, so I think that is going to be something that we talk about today at practice. We were off yesterday, and that will be an area that we want to make sure we all understand what that means. Sometimes you can talk about it, but players don’t understand what that actually means. So we will be very specific about that, and you know one of the things I have talked to them about in the past is you want to be in a position to have some control. And when you are in a situation where hoping certain teams win so that the seeding falls a certain way it is just not a good place to be in. It does not feel good when you are hoping something else happens that you literally have no control over. So I think that we have to focus on what we can control while understanding the big picture but also take practice today and be the best we can be today. We have got to find a way to get better today, and then tomorrow we have to be prepared to play Missouri on Thursday, so I think every day there is a goal within the big picture.”

On how Coach Harper expects her point guards to bounce back on Thursday and how much she is putting a focus on getting point guard play back to the standard she expects:
“Well, the one thing that I will go back to is that all season long our team has bounced back. And I have been really proud of not just those particular players, but everybody has really bounced back after a loss. I think this one was pretty frustrating at Georgia, and I think this one is gonna be a big challenge for our team to bounce back from. So we will find out pretty quick what state of mind they are in. It’s not anything that we have to do differently, it’s literally going out and doing the things we have done all season long. For us, it is not an overly complicated game plan to just watch our team play and see where we are at. Like I said, I think the practice will be good for a lot of players and continue to give us confidence about what we need to do.”

-UT Athletics