Lady Vols get back to practice

The Lady Vols returned to practice Friday afternoon after a day off and Pat Summitt said afterwards that she intended to get Meighan Simmons some additional repetitions at point guard. Shekinna Stricklen remains slotted to start there with backup from Briana Bass, but Summitt is intrigued by the freshman's speed and savvy.

Fellow freshman Lauren Avant, who is day to day with a nerve contusion of her right hand, would return to the point guard mix once she returns to the court – and she has been solid pre-injury – but Coach Pat Summitt wants to take advantage of the team's guard depth this season.

During SEC Media Days on Thursday, Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb said for the first time she has an abundance of posts and a shortage on the wings. Tennessee has a shortage of posts, with Faith Dupree to transfer and Alyssia Brewer likely out until the first of the year, and depth on the perimeter.

When it was joked that maybe the two teams could work a trade as is done in professional sports, Balcomb laughed and pointed out it was the same state and same league so maybe some players would be agreeable to it.

"That sounds like something Melanie would say," Summitt said with a laugh.

Summitt was pleased with Friday's practice after a day off and noted that this team wants to win.

"I think they're focused," Summitt said. "We've still got some improvement to do. It's a work in progress all the time. We'll get where we need to be."

The coaches have been willing in preseason to try various looks at point guard. Summitt knows she has the experience and steady play of Shekinna Stricklen at the point, and the 6'2 junior continues to get practice reps at the position. But Stricklen also is getting more time on the wing to allow the coaches to see Bass and the youngsters at that spot.

Summitt wants to "just get a feel for what everyone can do, who has the best feel, who's going to communicate, who's going to help us get the ball inside, things like that."

Meighan Simmons, a 5'9 combo guard, can run with sprint champion Glory Johnson.

"The reason I love her so much is I love to push the ball and I love to use speed to our advantage, and she is such a quick athlete," Johnson said. "She is so light on her feet, and she can hit jumpers like crazy. I love transition layups all day."

The coaching staff wants to find multiple ways to get Simmons on the court.

"I want to look at Meighan Simmons at the point," Summitt said. "I like her game. A lot. So we're going to do some work on that as well. She doesn't look like a freshman. She looks more like an upperclassman, so really, really excited about her.

"I'm going to work her in at point guard just because I think she's got a great feel for the game and a strong basketball IQ so keep an eye on that. One thing about it is we've got some guards. We'll find at least two that will understand what to do."

Summitt was smiling when she said that and it is becomingly increasingly clear that she likes the talent level and commitment of this team.

Avant didn't participate in Friday's session and instead observed while riding a stationary bicycle.

"We don't want to rush anything," Summitt said.

Johnson effusively praised the two newcomers at SEC Media Days.

"Meighan is so quick and Lauren is so powerful," Johnson said. "Having them on our team has added to what we have. We gained two incredible freshmen that can help a lot this season."

Summitt praised Johnson on Friday for the way she handled the two-hour media gauntlet in Hoover, Ala.

"Everyone was very complimentary of Glory," Summitt said. "It was good for her to be there. I think it was a reminder that she needs to be ready to play a bigger role. She did a great job."

Several SEC coaches also asked about the status of redshirt junior forward Vicki Baugh. The tone of the queries was one of concern for a player that has had two ACL surgeries and didn't play last season.

"I think you're always concerned about a player that's gone through what she's gone through and not many players have had to do that," Summitt said. "So I do think that they are interested in Vicki and what is going to happen. I think people want her to be healthy because she is an exciting player to watch when she's on the floor."

Baugh was effective in Friday's session, as Thursday's off day would have been beneficial for her as she continues to work her way back into basketball condition.

"When she has a day or two off and she comes back, she's impressive," Summitt said. "The big thing with Vicki is sometimes she plays off of one foot. We're just trying to get her to land on both feet, go up, come back down, land on both."

It's how Baugh injured her left knee both times and it's a matter of reprogramming her on the basketball court. The more repetitions she gets, the more progress she makes.

Summitt repeated what she had said at SEC Media Days – she believes this team is ready to win.

"I think we are a lot more mature and obviously they picked us to win the league, but that's a tall task," Summitt said. "We just have to take it one day at a time and do the best we can do. I think they've realized that the clock is ticking and what will this team leave? What will their legacy be? It's a group that wants to cut down nets, and I think they really have that mentality now.

"But you look at Baylor out there and Stanford and UConn, there's a lot of great teams. Kentucky in our league is really tough and Vanderbilt. Our league is tough and we go outside and play Texas and Baylor and I'm excited about that. That will be a telling couple of games."

The Lady Vols will hold some scrimmage sessions Saturday beginning at noon at Thompson-Boling Arena – several hours before the Tennessee-Alabama football kickoff when fans are all over campus. The scrimmages allow the staff to put players in game situations and see what decisions are made on both ends and to try assorted combinations.

"We've done a lot of skill stuff but you've got to go up and down," Summitt said.

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