The Lady Vols practiced Thursday in preparation for Sunday's road game at Penn State.

Four of Tennessee's first five games of the 2016-2017 season will have been road games after the team plays Penn State and at Virginia Tech on Nov. 27th. Coach Holly Warlick said the road-heavy early schedule is by design. Warlick said she was nervous about a road season opener at James Madison University (which Tennessee won 81-69).

"I just think it's going to help us in the long run," Warlick said. "I love playing at home, but we can't do that all the time. We have to go to tough environments."

The Lady Vols, ranked no. 13 in the AP Top 25 Poll and a perfect 3-0 to start the season, still have a lot to improve on to sustain success, Warlick said.

"Obviously, I'm concerned about our defense," Warlick said. "I think if we just continue to get solid, one-on-one, then we will continue to be a solid basketball team. Sustaining our energy and our effort, we talk a lot about that, boxing out and rebounding is just effort and heart."

Redshirt junior center Mercedes Russell said she thought the defense gradually improved over the first three games.

"When we played JMU and Navy I think from the start we were a little stagnant on defense and then we began to pick it up," Russell said. "Then Tuesday night, from the start at ETSU we played good defense and continued it on all game."

The Lady Vols and Penn State tip off Sunday, Nov. 20 at 5:00 pm. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.