Lady Vols get back to practice

The Lady Vols were back on the practice court to get ready for in-state rival Vanderbilt. Go inside with InsideTennessee for the latest on the team and video coverage.

Meighan Simmons approached a gaggle of media members Tuesday at Pratt Pavilion with her arms tucked inside her orange practice jersey.

The players had made the quick walk under the arena to the practice facility without wearing winter gear and for the native of Texas the temperatures in Knoxville were far too cold.

Simmons smiled, extracted her arms from her jersey and handled an assortment of questions from the media, especially having to take a young team into Memorial Gym with its odd configuration of an elevated court and the benches on the baselines.

It will be sophomore Isabelle Harrison's second trip to Nashville, which is also her hometown.

"It is crazy," Harrison said. "It is an experience that can't be described. I used to go to basketball camp there when I was little so when I was little I imagined myself maybe playing there one day, then I started branching out to other schools and decided I loved being here.

"It is definitely going to be a crazy atmosphere."

This will be Simmons' third trip to the venue on the Vanderbilt campus, and she has learned it is best to establish that she can get to the rim before lofting shots, as it is not a gym friendly for shooters not used to the arching basket supports and shadowy backgrounds.

The focus of Tuesday's practice was defense – Holly Warlick said the team would get up a lot of shots Thursday at shoot-around to get used to the gym – because the Commodores run multiple offensive sets in one possession.

"Vandy has a ton of sets, they run them to perfection, we all know they are smart and can pick up stuff and run a lot of plays," senior Taber Spani said. "We need to really be in tune on the defensive end on what we need to do and bring that defensive intensity right away."

Assistant coach Dean Lockwood sounded as if were talking about security alerts when he mentioned the defense needing to get to "level three."

He moved his hands around various points on a nearby wall to demonstrate to the media the defensive concepts that a relatively young team – Tennessee starts a freshman and two sophomores – is still trying to absorb.

Tennessee's defense starts on the perimeter with ball pressure. If the ball handler is moving more or less at will and getting the ball anywhere she wants it to go – see the Stanford game for an example – the defensive crack starts and can crater by the end of the possession.

There is a second line of support with the help defender, but then a teammate must now help the helper, who left her player to provide the initial help.

"Defense can be played in levels," Lockwood said, his hands forming a defensive line starting with the ball. "Level one is on-the-ball pressure. Level two is can you help? If I get beat, can you help me? Level three, can I get beat, you help me and someone else helps you?

"That's level three, and we're not there yet. We've got to do it consistently. That is the biggest thing against Vandy. You have to have multiple efforts against Vandy.

"If you just defend one action, you're going to be in trouble. You will be OK temporarily but they are so good at running multiple things. We've got to get to level three."

Assistant coach Kyra Elzy, who made her name in orange and white as a shutdown defender, had plenty to say at Tuesday's practice about defense. If she didn't like what she saw from one player, the entire team ran suicides.

The Lady Vols will practice again Wednesday and then depart for Nashville. Game time Thursday is 9 p.m. Eastern and SportSouth has the television broadcast.


Lady Vols basketball practice clips

Taber Spani

Meighan Simmons

Holly Warlick

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