Lady Vols pack a lot into short session

The Lady Vols held a short practice session Sunday with most of the time spent in a scrimmage with game officials. Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh ran the "post highway" – as it's called by the assistant coaches – and Shekinna Stricklen provided the steadiest play at point guard, though several teammates are still getting repetitions there for depth reasons.

Tennessee shot 61 percent as a team – Kelley Cain was scoring inside and Shekinna Stricklen, Angie Bjorklund and Taber Spani hit deep threes – and protected the ball better than in Saturday's session.

"I thought we got up and down the floor a lot better," Coach Pat Summitt said. "I thought our defense was better. Kelley is running the floor better. The post game looks much better."

Vicki Baugh, who rattled the rim after practice trying to dunk, ran the floor with greater speed than in the past and was always around the rim, but the approach is to continue to ease her onto the court.

"I am still cautious," Summitt said.

Once again, officials were used Sunday to simulate game conditions, and the coaches tried an assortment of combinations inside and out.

Alicia Manning was particularly effective – she lined up both inside and outside – and displayed the scrappiness and hustle that should earn her significant playing time again this season.

Manning had eight points on 3-3 shooting from the field and 2-2 from the free throw line. She also had four defensive rebounds, five assists and just one turnover.

As a team, Tennessee had 11 turnovers, one day after the ball squirted all over the court.

"Much better," Summitt said.

Glory Johnson continues to stand out in a good way on both ends of the court. She has played under control on defense and made better decisions with the ball.

Stricklen remains the steadiest point guard at this point – she has the most experience at the spot and her familiarity with it settles the team – with several players getting reps behind her. Briana Bass, Meighan Simmons and Kamiko Williams all took turns at the position during the scrimmages and also all played off the ball at times. Freshman Lauren Avant remains out with an injured right hand. At this point, nobody has closed the gap between Stricklen and the backups.

"I don't think so," Summitt said. "Others can run it but I like her there."

Tennessee was missing one player Sunday as senior guard Sydney Smallbone had a work-related conflict related to the requirements for her marketing and logistics majors. Sunday's session lasted just one-and-a-half hours, part of Summitt's plan to take advantage of the earlier start to practice by not having to go as long on the court. Had this season been a typical practice start of Oct. 15, Sunday's session would have likely pushed three hours in length.

The team will return to practice Monday and then take off Tuesday. The first exhibition game is Tuesday, Nov. 2, against Carson-Newman at 7 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena.

TRACK SHOES NEEDED: Nearly every coach and player that attended SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., declared an intent to run this season.

That is not an unusual proclamation in preseason but several teams are loaded with newcomers – led by 10 new faces at Mississippi State in the form of freshmen, jucos and a transfer – and running the ball can sometimes be easier to implement early than the nuances of half-court offenses.

Teams also can opt to run to overcome a lack of size inside. South Carolina lost its center from last season, Kelsey Bone, to transfer, so the Gamecocks, which have just one player over 6'0, also plan to speed up the tempo.

"I know we're going to be a running team because we're undersized in the post," said Ieasia Walker, a sophomore guard for the Gamecocks.

Florida has 6'4 Azania Stewart and 6'3 Ebonie Crawford inside, but the Gators also intend to run.

"I think we're going to be a fast, athletic team," said Stewart, who added she tailored her off-season to join in the fun. "I don't have a choice. I'm going to get left behind. I'm excited. It's a new look. It can bridge a gap."

Arkansas Coach Tom Collen also noted that there is a dearth of supremely skilled tall post players.

"I think for whatever reason finding really talented big kids is becoming more and more difficult," said Collen, noting it's hard for other SEC teams to try to match the post size of Tennessee. "You have no choice to become a running team."

Collen said teams also want to score in transition because SEC defenders are tough in the half-court.

"This league is all about defense," Collen said. "Everybody in this league plays defense."

Georgia Coach Andy Landers has the guards to run this season – and the Lady Bulldogs will likely be looking to push tempo. But Landers, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat during his time with the media, had a little fun with his answer.

"Since everybody else is saying they're going to run, we're going to slow it down," Landers said. "I met with Dean Smith (retired coach of North Carolina) last week to study the four-corners offense to use the 30-second clock.

"We're going to slow down some of these teams that want to run."

TE AMO: Florida's Azania Stewart, a 6'4 sophomore center from England, has the words "Te amo" tattooed on one of her right fingers. It means "I love you," and it reflects her personality.

"I am really friendly," said Stewart, who added she usually expresses the sentiment when saying good-bye to someone such as friends or family.

She smiled and said it's not something she would say to the media. That was because of a lack of familiarity but it could have been because of how the media voted in the SEC preseason poll. Florida was picked to finish last, along with Mississippi State. The Gators have six newcomers, including four true freshmen.

"It is very disappointing," Stewart said. "It makes you mad. It makes you want to work harder. It's annoying, but it helps you work harder. It's going to be in the back of my mind."

Stewart may have been a tad miffed with the media vote, but she was engaging and friendly during her time with reporters and delivered answers in a delightful British accent.

Stewart was playing netball in her home country – there is no backboard and players don't dribble – when a basketball talent scout saw her at the age of 15.

"I never knew anything about basketball," said Stewart, who noted there are few athletic opportunities for women in England, where the most popular sports are cricket and soccer. "If I am going to make that step I had (to cross the ocean)."

That sent her on a journey to the United States, where she ended up Notre Dame Academy in Virginia for prep school and then Florida for college. She lived with a host family in Virginia and spent last summer in her native country to play with Great Britain's national team.

"I've always lived out of a suitcase," Stewart said.

Stewart said the biggest adjustment for her was the size and strength of college players and her stint this past summer with older women on the international team was beneficial.

"I definitely struggled," Stewart said of her first year at Florida. "The SEC is a tough league."

Stewart is just a sophomore and hasn't been playing basketball for very long compared to other college players. She hopes to develop into a WNBA prospect.

"Even if it paid pennies, I don't care, I would do it," Stewart said. "I love America. America has done a lot of good things for me."

VIDEO COVERAGE: The Lady Vols held practice and a scrimmage Sunday. has video clips.

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