Senior guard Kamiko Williams sprained her right ankle and Jasmine Jones hurt her right knee Sunday, leaving the Lady Vols with only seven healthy players by the end of their 80-63 loss at Missouri. Jones returned to practice Tuesday, but Williams remains unlikely to play Thursday at LSU (13-8, 4-4 SEC).
The 12th-ranked Lady Vols (17-5, 8-1) lost freshman guard Andraya Carter to season-ending shoulder surgery in December. Sophomore center Isabelle Harrison underwent surgery on her left knee Friday, leaving her status for the rest of the season uncertain.
“When Jasmine and Kamiko got hurt, I’m thinking I hope we have five people to compete,” Warlick said. “It’s an interesting thing, and we’re just going to have to deal with it. We’re going to be kind of walking on eggshells in practice now. It’s different for us.”
The injuries have wreaked havoc on Tennessee’s efforts to win an SEC title in Warlick’s debut season.
Tennessee absorbed its first conference loss Sunday against a Missouri team it had trounced 84-39 in Knoxville just 3 ½ weeks earlier. The Lady Vols now are tied atop the SEC standings with No. 14 Texas A&M (18-5, 8-1).
“We’re just ready to go back to work and get better,” senior guard/forward Taber Spani said. “We understand that what lies before us is hopefully holding up an SEC trophy at the end of this regular season. That’s what we’re after. No matter what it looks like, no matter who’s on the floor, who can play and who can’t, I don’t think any goal’s changed.”
Williams’ injury came at an unfortunate time because the senior guard was in the midst of the best stretch of her up-and-down career. Williams had 10 points, 13 rebounds, six steals and six assists Thursday in an 88-45 rout of Mississippi State. She scored 14 points in the first half of the Missouri game before getting hurt.
The injuries to Carter and Williams leave sophomore Ariel Massengale as the Lady Vols’ lone healthy pure point guard, though junior shooting guard Meighan Simmons, Spani or sophomore guard Jasmine Phillips could play the point if necessary. Phillips has only appeared in seven games this season.
Harrison’s surgery leaves the Lady Vols thin in the frontcourt as well. Warlick remains cautiously optimistic the 6-3 center will play again this season.
“I think it’s more of a chance, yes than no,” Warlick said. “But that’s me. It could be wishful thinking.”
The Lady Vols did get some news last week with the return of Burdick, who said she her hand was at about 80 percent. She played with a pad on the hand against Mississippi State, but she removed it for the Missouri game.
Burdick believes her hand can return to full strength in the next two to three weeks.
“I definitely want to do the best thing for the longevity of my career and my health, but my team needs me,” Burdick said. “I feel like with us dropping like flies, I can take a little pain to get back out there with my teammates.”
Tennessee has followed up a nine-game winning streak by losing two of its last three, but the Lady Vols remain confident in their SEC title hopes. Their three leading scorers — Simmons, freshman forward Bashaara Graves and Spani — are still in the lineup. They blamed the loss to Missouri on a lack of effort rather than a lack of healthy players.
After playing at LSU on Thursday and hosting Mississippi on Sunday, the Lady Vols have a week off. That extra time will give this the Lady Vols a chance and could allow them to get a little healthier for the stretch run.
“This team has not felt sorry for themselves,” Warlick said. “They’ve battled. Their back was against the wall at the very beginning of the year when they were (picked) fifth in the league. I think they’re going to continue to battle. I think they understand that five people can play for 40 minutes. I really do. Six people can play. We’re going to take what we have and we’re going to go with it and we’re going to compete.”