Lady Vols get defensive

The Lady Vols watched film Monday afternoon of a mistake-filled scrimmage against a male practice team on Saturday and then spent more than two hours on the court working on defense – transition and half-court – and offensive decisions in an October practice session that felt much deeper in the season in terms of intensity.

"Saturday we weren't very good. We watched a lot of tape today," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said after Monday's practice. "They exposed some of our weaknesses. We went back and worked on our transition D, we worked on our help-side D. We did an all-around (reinforcement) of our defensive philosophy. We spent a lot of time explaining and instructing."

In the players' defense, several observers said the male practice squad that rolled out Saturday was the tallest and most athletic ever seen at Tennessee with two that looked like they could hold their own on a scout team for Bruce Pearl and the Vols.

But the coaches saw some miscues they want corrected right away, even if the competition was stiffer than any team they would see this season.

"Offensively, we turned the ball over too much in our scrimmage," Warlick said. "It just wasn't a good day for us Saturday. … We weren't very polished in our offensive game. Our spacing was not good, so we watched it (on film) and we worked on it a lot today, because we've got offensively skilled players but if we can't let them use their strengths, such as penetrating and those type of things, then we're not doing our jobs."

The Lady Vols tweaked that offense Monday with variations in high-low formations because several players, not just the true posts, can handle the high part of the sets.

"We've got some four (power forward) players that can step out and hit the three, so we're trying to stretch the D and spread the floor out a little bit more," Warlick said.

The coaches overall were pleased with the team's response Monday.

"I think they had good intensity," Warlick said.

They also weren't flattened by any male practice players, as had happened last week. Meighan Simmons, who missed Saturday's session after taking an arm to the head on Friday, was back Monday. Shekinna Stricklen, who had to leave Saturday after a collision that tweaked a knee, also returned Monday.

The coaches, although they appreciate the speed and athleticism of the male players, had to remind them they don't want Lady Vols injured in practice because of overly aggressive play. Despite the strength of the Lady Vols overall, they will be on the losing end of a high-speed collision with a well conditioned and physically mature college male.

"You get in that moment and you're driving, sometimes it's hard," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "We just reminded them again anything close to a collision, stop and work on your pull-up game. It's a great way to work on your pull-up game."

"This is the best set of guys we've ever had," Warlick said. "Saturday, they were jump-shooting over us. We were getting discouraged because we had decent defense and they were hitting jumpers (over) us and then we'd come down and they're all over us and then we'd turn it over and then they go down and hit a three. You can box out and think you've got them boxed out and they rise up over you."

Two players that have held their own in the defensive drills are in a class that usually struggles on that side of the ball – freshmen Simmons and Lauren Avant.

"They are two of our best defenders, especially Lauren," Warlick said. "That's her strength. Meighan is ahead of the game more than we thought. I am very pleased with Lauren because that is what she does but Meighan, it's been a very good, I don't want to say surprise, but it's been very encouraging that her defense has been very good."

During a defensive drill Monday, one practice player hit three clutch shots in a row, and Simmons asked to switch so she could guard him. Simmons kept him from getting the ball in the next set.

"That's awesome," Warlick said. "You want somebody to step up."

Defense, or lack thereof, can limit the playing time of first-year players, but, so far, that won't be the case with the two freshmen guards.

"Not for those two. It hasn't been yet," Warlick said. "They both have speed. They both have a great first step. Even if they get in a position where they're not in the right position they can both get back and make up for it."

The Lady Vols will practice Tuesday and Wednesday before having an off day Thursday with Pat Summitt and Glory Johnson being scheduled to be in Birmingham, Ala., for SEC Media Days.

"I want us to be more consistent intensity-wise on both ends," Warlick said of the next two sessions. "I don't think we're quite yet playing together smoothly. On the defensive end we need to be helping more. Offensively our spacing is not (always) good.

"The more we play together and the more we scrimmage, the better we'll get. I thought we were there but you take three steps forward and Saturday we took two steps back."

It should also be pointed out that the coaches are using an assortment of combinations on the court on both ends, as they want extended looks at various players in different situations. Some of those combinations are likely to be deemed ones the coaches won't deploy often in games, but in preseason they want to see as much as possible before making those decisions.

"I think it's safe to say we won't play 12 players in a rotation – and right now we have 13 players total, but Lyssi (Brewer) is out (to recover from surgery)," Lockwood said. "Sooner or later we've got to start paring that down."

The coaches also are still in the teaching stage at assorted times in practice, and Warlick said they "haven't even scratched the surface yet," when it comes to installing all of the offensive packages.

"I look forward to when we call a drill out, and they know it," Warlick said. "We're still a little bit in the teaching stage. I was disappointed Saturday. I wasn't discouraged because I know we've got so much ahead of us."


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