DAYTON, Ohio (UTLadyVols.com) -- Just a few feet and a steep ramp away from Tennessee's press conference in the University of Dayton Arena, it was quite the relaxed atmosphere in the Lady Vol locker room, where the team opened the doors for the media for the open locker room session.
The open locker room is one of the favorite parts of the postseason for the media, providing one-on-one time with the student-athletes in a relaxed setting that isn't available the rest of the season.
Longtime Knoxville News Sentinel beat writer Dan Fleser describes open locker room periods as "the best part" of postseason from a media standpoint. "There have been times I've walked into one and walked out with a whole new lead that I didn't have when I came in," Fleser said. "It's like talking to the players in their living room."
For the players, filling the time between media members talking with them is an interesting challenge. The NCAA doesn't allow the student-athletes to have any electronic devices during the open locker room periods. Phones, ipods and computers have to stay tucked away, so the team has to find other ways to stay occupied. For Alicia Manning and Kelley Cain, it was a playful fight that ended up with both players laughing hysterically, even if Manning did have a Cain-sized red handprint on her shoulder.
"She has really long arms," Manning said, interrupted by the "thwack" of another Cain slap. "She can still reach me," Manning finished with a sigh. Cain said the back and forth wasn't the result of a longstanding rivalry between the two Atlanta-area products.
"We've been over that for a long time," Cain said. Turning attention back to the battle at hand, she added, "She started it. I just wanted to finish it." "I would do no such thing," Manning replied in feigned astonishment at her teammate's statement. "She started it."
Longtime basketball trainer and UT Associate Athletics Director for Sports Medicine Jenny Moshak reminded Manning not to hit Cain in the head, shaking her own head in amazement.
Manning and Cain Pass the Time Before Practice
The doors closed and the Lady Vols soon took the court for their first practice session on the court where they will face off with Ohio State at noon on Saturday on ESPN. Fans can also join us for the Live Game Blog here on UTLadyVols.com, which will also feature expanded coverage from the Tennessee open locker room period after the game.
Notes from Friday's Practice and Press Conference
- Tennessee Head coach Pat Summitt spoke of a foe familiar to her and the Lady Vol staff, though not so familiar to her team. The Lady Vols may not have met Ohio State since a 1996 NCAA Tournament game in Knoxville, but Buckeye Head Coach Jim Foster is a familiar face to Summitt and many Lady Vol fans from his days at the helm of the Vanderbilt Commodores from 1991-2002.
"He (Foster) has had a lot of good teams. I know we have battled it out when he was at Vanderbilt. He's done a great job. Obviously, this season has been a good example of his team playing well together."
Summitt, who is 24-3 all-time against Foster, including a single victory over a Foster-led St. Joseph's team in 1986, said that she had a lot of respect for her former SEC colleague but noted that Saturday's game may very well be reminiscent of some of the old-school UT-VU games of the 90's.
"We had some knock-down, drag-out games, but that's all part of it," Summitt said. "Definitely, in the SEC we know it's going to be a battle every time we played. He did a great job at Vanderbilt, there's no doubt about that. He's going to have his team ready to play tomorrow. I expect it to be a tough battle."
Taber Spani Talks About the Excitement of the NCAA Tournament
- Junior forward Glory Johnson told the media during her time on the podium that a home-court advantage for Ohio State wasn't a concern for UT with the regional being just an hour away from OSU's Columbus campus.
"Our fans go where we go in large groups," Johnson said. "Just knowing that we have fans, we can use that to our advantage to start the energy. Just play as hard as we can because they travel to come see us play a good game and we have to bring it." Senior Angie Bjorklund agreed. "No matter where we go we have a ton of orange in the stands. That just shows the commitment that they have to us and we just have to give back to the fans and show that we are just as committed. It's exciting to always have people cheering for you."
- Foster said that the Lady Vols most resemble Penn State, who the Buckeyes went 2-1 against this season.
"They remind me of Penn State in our league," Foster told the assembled media. "They have a point guard that is similar, gets it and goes like (Meighan) Simmons. They have three-point shooters that shoot in transition and post (players) with size. " Despite singling out Penn State as a comparable team to UT, Foster said the up-tempo style they play is actually one he prefers.
"I like a fast tempo. We are comfortable playing fast."
- Each team enters Saturday's contest on a hot streak, with Ohio State having won its last 11 games and Tennessee riding a 24-game winning streak.
- One change this season for the NCAA Tournament has been the elimination of the open practice sessions that were a staple of the first day at each site for the First and Second Rounds and the Regionals. The change was made to give teams an opportunity to practice longer on the floor on which they will compete, rather than having a short workout at the game site, with a longer workout to follow at a local high school. The first 15 minutes of each session has been opened up to the media.
- Tennessee Associate Athletics Director for Development Dara Worrell celebrated a birthday Friday with the team here in Dayton.
"I was born on the day of a UCLA men's National Championship Game" Worrell said. "My dad always told me he thought that had something to do with my chosen career path."