Lady Vols picked No. 4 in AP poll

The Lady Vols policy of maintenance days for players needing a little rest was in full effect Friday afternoon as eight players took the court for shooting drills in a session that lasted just one hour at Pratt Pavilion. Three other players had the day off the court to let some aches and pains ease, while two others remain out as they recover from injuries.

It is an approach that Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, suggested to Pat Summitt since the practice season began in early October for Tennessee. Summitt endorsed the policy and puts its implementation in the hands of Moshak, thus players sitting out know it has the stamp of approval from the medical staff.

On Friday, posts Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh and guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen didn't take the court, while Lauren Avant (day to day, hand) and Alyssia Brewer (Achilles tendon surgery, out since September) continued to rehab their injuries.

Eight players, freshman Meighan Simmons, sophomores Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams, juniors Briana Bass, Glory Johnson and Alicia Manning, and seniors Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone, participated in up-tempo shooting drills in the half court plus some free throw shooting and were done in an hour.

Moshak thinks the policy will pay dividends in the long run, as she can nip nagging injuries before they become chronic ones.

With the exhibition games scheduled for next week and the first official game against Louisville in two weeks, the coaching staff would have been anxious in the past to get the full team on the court. But the Lady Vols have been at work since Oct. 3, and despite the closeness of the season's start, the coaches were at ease with players missing practice.

The topic of good health – a key for any national contender – was even on Summitt's mind when she was asked about the debut of the AP Top 25 poll. Tennessee was voted No. 4 behind Connecticut, Baylor and Stanford. The first three teams, along with Oklahoma, were the 2010 Final Four participants.

"I don't really pay that much attention but I think if anything with our team I think that might get their attention," Summitt said. "The expectations are much higher and hopefully they'll continue to work hard and be focused and stay healthy. I don't put a lot of merit there (in preseason polls) because you just never know.

"You have got to stay healthy. That's very, very important for us."

There is no way for a team to guarantee good health, but there are methods to increase the possibility, thus the maintenance days for players who need a rest from the physical pounding and length of practice.

"I even contemplated taking the day off (Friday) but when we talked as a staff we thought it would probably be beneficial just to get in shots," Summitt said. "Because when you're doing all the teaching and you're running through all of your sets you don't always have the amount of time to have the repetition (of shooting drills)."

Four SEC teams were among those ranked in the Top 25 – Tennessee at No. 4, Kentucky at No. 9, No. 19 Georgia and No. 24 Vanderbilt.

"Kentucky is good," Summitt said. "They could probably be a little higher in my opinion, but that's just because we know our conference."

The SEC coaches picked LSU to finish third in the conference, ahead of Georgia and Vanderbilt, but the Lady Tigers didn't make the AP voters' poll. The omission of LSU surprised Summitt.

"Definitely," Summitt said. "When I was looking over it I had them in the top 12 (in the country)."

Summitt was elated at the inclusion of UCLA in the poll at No. 16. The Bruins are coached by former Lady Vol Nikki Caldwell.

"Good! Good for her!" Summitt said. "I am not surprised. I think she has earned a lot of respect in a relatively short period of time. I think her team is really solid, and I know the coaching staff will be right there getting the job done."

Summitt thinks Tennessee's lofty ranking reflects the return of the entire team plus Baugh and the number of veterans on the roster.

"I think just us being a year older and having the inside game and also I think guard play is better and the depth is solid," Summitt said. "With that I am not surprised by it."

Xavier was voted No. 5 in preseason and was a made layup from upsetting Stanford in last season's regional final and reaching the Final Four. Former Lady Vol Amber Gray, who sustained a stroke brought on by a brain aneurysm, was officially cleared to play Thursday when the NCAA granted immediate eligibility via the Division I Subcommittee for Legislative Relief.

Gray suffered the stroke in July of 2009, nearly died, went through extensive rehab and sat out last season at Tennessee to fully recover. Tennessee's medical personnel didn't release Gray to play so she transferred to Xavier in August – her doctors are located in Cincinnati – and received clearance. The last step was a waiver from the NCAA to not have to sit out a transfer year. Gray, a redshirt sophomore, now has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

"I am excited for Amber and am hopeful she will have a positive impact on our team this season," Head Coach Kevin McGuff said in a press release on Xavier's women's basketball website. "More importantly, we look forward to helping her reach her potential as a player over the next three seasons."

Lady Vol fans were among those sending congratulations on Gray's Twitter account.

VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips from Thursday and Friday's practice session.


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