As the Tennessee threes rained down Tuesday against Carson-Newman to start the game, the Lady Vols' approach on team defense seemed to be one of being content to sit back and wait on the ball to come back. Carson-Newman had more points at halftime, 36, than it scored a year ago, 34, in the seventh consecutive exhibition game between the two teams.
There were several bright spots – and not just the final 110-66 score with Tennessee down to essentially seven players in the second half – especially the play on both ends by junior forward Glory Johnson, who spent considerable time on the perimeter on defense. Johnson can be a shutdown defender in the mold of former Lady Vol Nicky Anosike and seems to have embraced the role this season.
"I think Glory is really starting to understand how to play good defense and not foul, not take herself out of position," Pat Summitt said. "I think that is maturity and obviously Dean (Lockwood) has done a great job of coaching and working with her one on one and doing the extra stuff."
Also, the Lady Vols have an arsenal of long-range shooters and an element of speed in freshman Meighan Simmons that had been missing the past two seasons. Alicia Manning recorded a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds and, as usual, filled a box score without fanfare.
"She is just hardnosed, a tough kid, workhorse," Summitt said. "She is going to get her minutes."
Taber Spani is back to pre-injury form with her offense and has clearly been in the gym getting shots lofted.
"She seems to be," Summitt said. "She's got to commit more on the defensive end, and she will. All you've got to do is just remind her."
That is the next step for Tennessee – elevate the overall defense – and although Summitt noted the short bench because several players were out for assorted reasons, she also witnessed too much passivity on defense from a team she expects to be past that point this season.
"It was very, very glaring just watching the game and then watching the tape," said Summitt, who waited until Wednesday morning to review it. "It's very clear that they are not passionate about playing great defense and rebounding the basketball. We have to change that. We have to change the culture.
"Their mindset is they have to dictate with their defense and their board play."
Spani is 6'2 and can guard at the high post, but she will have to take a page out of the defensive development of former Lady Vol Sidney Spencer, who was 6'3 but learned positioning and footwork to handle perimeter players, too.
"She can," Summitt said. "She's not going to be our most athletic player there, but she's got size, she's got a great basketball IQ."
Johnson is the most athletic defender on the perimeter followed by Manning, who despite her size at 6'1 can still keep smaller players in front of her, as can Angie Bjorklund.
Kamiko Williams also has the physical tools to play perimeter defense, but the sophomore guard is still learning the overall concepts, though she has made improvement from last season. Williams has the potential to be as effective as Johnson, especially in full court defensive packages, and she snatched a pass at mid-court out of the air against Carson-Newman that seemed to have a clear path to the intended target.
Junior guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen can play multiple positions on offense but she is 6'2 with long legs and a high waist and has struggled with perimeter defense and staying low in a stance.
Stricklen does have defensive instincts and can be very effective in the open floor. Now, her half-court perimeter defense needs to catch up with the rest of her game.
"She's going to become one," Summitt said.
Assistant Coaches Mickie DeMoss and Dean Lockwood started practice Wednesday with some drills designed to address the issues of stance and footwork. Players used towels to keep their hands behind their backs and had to defend one on one just by moving their feet.
An encouraging sign was that Stricklen performed well in those drills Wednesday.
"Today was one of her best defensive days," Summitt said.
The perimeter defenders also were missing 6'6 Kelley Cain (sore hip) and 6'3 Alyssia Brewer (Achilles tendon), who can clean up miscues. If an opponent got past the first wave of defense last season, Cain and Brewer were lurking in the paint to swat away shots. But they were watching from the bench Wednesday, along with Vicki Baugh, a 6'4 forward. With the bigs on the bench, the other Lady Vols had lost a security blanket of sorts.
"They did," Summitt said. "It definitely exposed us."
Summitt also credited Carson-Newman with executing its game plan, especially on offense. The Lady Eagles hit some tough shots after showing patience on offense and connected on 4-7 from behind the arc in the second half for 57.1 percent, a stat that had to be particularly galling for Summitt.
"Confidence," Carson-Newman Coach Dean Walsh said when asked to explain the offensive output. "This year's team is older. We are getting good senior leadership on the floor, as far as our execution goes, and for the past week we have enlisted a practice squad, so we are playing against guys now and I think that has helped us come in here with a different attitude."
The Lady Vols took the court with a different attitude on defense. In the past, the coaches have barked about defense and it was primarily their voices that were hard at practice. That wasn't the case Wednesday in Pratt Pavilion. It was the players shouting instructions and encouragement to each other.
The players were on the floor after about an hour spent in the film room. Summitt listed the team's first 10 regular season opponents on a board.
"I said if that doesn't get your attention … Our defense was so horrendous. It was really hard to look at," Summitt said. "Film doesn't lie. We learned how bad we were. We saw a lot of just really bad basketball. We saw a lot of laziness defensively, just uninspired. That is about the best thing I can say. We were so uninspired to play defense.
"It probably gave us a little false hope because we were making shots. We were having a big ole time. Kiss of death for us."
Tennessee had a few more players back at practice.
Freshman guard Lauren Avant participated for the first time in two weeks and should be cleared for the next exhibition game.
Cain was back at practice for the first time since last week.
Baugh remained out because of a tight left iliotibial band and hamstring – and Wednesday's defensive practice with all the crouching and lateral movement was not the one to return to with those symptoms – and instead did sideline rehab. Both could be available for the next game, Cain more so, with the decision on Baugh remaining day to day.
Angie Bjorklund sat out Tuesday's game for being late to a class under the team's attendance policy but will be back for Sunday's exhibition game against Union. Bjorklund, a 2010 First Team Academic All-American, was named Wednesday as one of 30 candidates for the 2011 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award in women's hoops, which focuses on four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition.
Williams, who also ran afoul of the attendance policy, played Tuesday and will serve her one-game suspension on Sunday.
"We're getting close," Summitt said when asked about getting a full bench again.
Summitt was smiling after practice and while she was peeved about the defense, her mood was balanced by the fact that the team responded. The players will have the day off Thursday and report back Friday. Summitt also had considerable help on the practice court from DeMoss, who went into head coach mode at times.
"She's very good," Summitt said. "She's got good drills. She's a good teacher. She holds them accountable. The more I look at her the more I think we're a lot alike. You need help. It doesn't always need to come from me."
WHO ARE YOU: The names on the Lady Vols jerseys are expected to be in place in time for the regular season opener at Louisville next week. The uniforms arrived a little later than usual and because Tennessee has gone to a racer-style jersey with a tapered back and shoulders, a decision had to be made about where to place the names.
There was not enough room above the numbers so the names will go below them in the same style used by the WNBA. Pat Summitt said she didn't have a preference.
"It doesn't matter," Summitt said. "As long as they've got them on there, they're happy. I probably won't even notice."
VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips of Wednesday's session, which was loaded with defense.