Caldwell, Warlick looking for a win

Advocate file photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU women's basketball coach Nikki Caldwell yells during the Lady Tigers' game against Texas A&M in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in February.
Advocate file photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU women's basketball coach Nikki Caldwell yells during the Lady Tigers' game against Texas A&M in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in February.

In the offseason, they ride motorcycles together for charity. During the season they talk, Nikki Caldwell updating Holly Warlick on the latest developments of her daughter Justice, Warlick filling in Caldwell about her newest puppy.

Closer friends neither one has in college basketball. Fiercer competitors neither one will face than when Warlick’s No. 12-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers pay a call on Caldwell’s Lady Tigers at 8 p.m. Thursday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in a game on Cox Sports Television.

Both want the other to succeed on any night but this one. It’s how they were taught by the same coach: Hall of Famer Pat Summitt.

“Pat was friends with a lot of people in the women’s game, but when it was time to throw the ball up it became business,” Caldwell said. “It’s never personal. You kind of take that mentality against people who are dear to you.

“I look at Holly as family. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her and vice versa. I just look at it as an opportunity to play against a great team.”

When Summitt stepped down at the end of last season after announcing to the world she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Warlick and Caldwell immediately emerged as the top two candidates to succeed their former coach.

Caldwell had left Summitt’s orbit to become a head coach, first at UCLA, then LSU. Warlick remained the loyal right hand, and when Summitt needed help coaching the team last season it was Warlick who assumed more and more command.

By the end, there was little question Warlick would become head coach full time.

“For the most part it’s been an easy transition,” Warlick said.

“This is a program I’ve been part of for three-fourths of my life. I try not to look at the big picture, because that can be overwhelming.”

Warlick stays day to day, game to game. It’s a better way for her to deal with the Lady Vols’ enormous legacy, though the occasional crossed swords with Caldwell does complicate things.

There’s no one Warlick would rather see win — except tonight.

“We’ve done this when she was at UCLA and twice last year at LSU,” Warlick said. “It’s just about being a competitor and doing your job, but at the end of the day when you leave the floor you’re always good friends no matter what.”

Tennessee and Warlick have won all three matchups with Caldwell’s teams so far, including a victory by the Lady Vols over the Lady Tigers in last year’s Southeastern Conference tournament championship game.

They could meet with big stakes again in this year’s tournament, but first both are desperate for a regular-season win.

Tennessee (17-5, 8-1) is tied for first in the SEC with Texas A&M, but the Lady Vols are coming off a disappointing clunker of an 80-63 loss Sunday at Missouri. LSU (13-9, 4-5) is coming off a 74-57 home loss to A&M, its most lopsided defeat of the season.

“We need to come out and execute our game plan and play as hard as we can on the defensive end and try to keep them off the boards, because they’re really good in that area,” Caldwell said.

This might be evolving into a frustrating season for Caldwell, but she is optimistic. She likes to envision a day when LSU and Tennessee once again duel annually for SEC supremacy as they did a few years ago, with Warlick in Summitt’s role and Caldwell in the role of late LSU coach Sue Gunter.

Both Summitt and Gunter were close friends, but fierce competitors as well.

“Sue and Pat have influenced Holly and me in a big-time way,” Caldwell said. “I’ve been able to reap the benefits of their struggles to get this game to where it is today.”

Kenney cleared to play

LSU guard Jeanne Kenney is available to play after leaving the Texas A&M game with a frightening-looking knee injury Monday night.

Team spokesman Bill Martin said Kenney, regularly LSU’s starting point guard, will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore Anne Pedersen. Kenney practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.

Kenney went out in the second half against the Aggies when an A&M player fell back against her leg, hyperextending her knee.

Warlick said senior guard Kamiko Williams will miss the game with a sprained ankle. injury. Williams has played in all 22 games for the Lady Vols, averaging 6.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Tennessee freshman forward Jasmine Jones suffered a knee injury late in the Missouri game but is expected to play.