Union, located in Jackson, Tenn., is an NAIA powerhouse with five national titles and four in the past six seasons, including the last two. In the past six years, Union has a combined record of 204-21. The Lady Bulldogs lost in the national semifinals in the two seasons in which they did not win a national championship.
Union is led by Zeinab Chan, a 6'4 center from the Sudan. Chan was 9-12 from the field and tallied 22 points in Union's season opener 85-39 win on Tuesday over St. Catharine College (Ky). Lavanda Ross, a 5'8 junior guard from Jackson, also was 9-12 for 22 points. Union also has a 6'6 post in Beatrice Awino Duol, who is from Kenya, but played sparingly Tuesday. Union lost to Vanderbilt, 69-48, in an exhibition game a year ago and plays the Commodores this season in an exhibition game on Nov. 9 two days after the Tennessee game.
"I think we will probably get a little more challenged," Coach Pat Summitt said.
Tennessee won 112-66 on Tuesday over Carson-Newman, but was plenty challenged defensively. That led to a very defensive practice Wednesday in which the Lady Vols barely touched the ball on offense. Friday's session, following a day off, started with defense – and it remained a primary focus, including using towels to keep players' hands behind their backs so they would move their feet – but the team also worked with the ball in its hands in a session that ended right at two hours in the arena.
"I think our defense and our board play have to be the top two priorities," Summitt said. "We have a lot of people that like to score, which is a good thing, but first we've got to establish the fact that if we don't play defense and we don't handle the boards, then it makes it very difficult night in and night out.
"We can separate ourselves out if we don't have people just giving in to fatigue, which we had some give in to fatigue and run around in circles (Friday)."
The circle-running was the result of either getting lost in transition or making the wrong decision on a trap or in help defense. Tennessee's defensive schemes are multi-layered and dependent on communication at all five spots on the floor. When fatigue sets in, the chatter takes a hit.
"It's not everybody," Summitt said.
"The one thing I told my staff we're in here putting in all these set plays so the team should think, ‘Oh, wow, we're just going to be able to fire it up.' No. I think we have to make them aware that if they don't play great defense, they're not going to play."
That was certainly the case Tuesday. Tennessee was scoring at will inside and outside but Carson-Newman wasn't getting much resistance when the Lady Eagles had the ball. The Division II team had more points at halftime than it scored in the entire exhibition game a year ago.
"They have got to commit to playing great defense and to rebounding the basketball," Summitt said. "And communication could be a whole lot better."
During Wednesday's film session and practice it was made clear that players who don't commit to defense and rebounding won't see the court as much this season.
"I think one thing we ought to do is coaches won't say a word," Summitt said, referring to upcoming practices. "OK, ‘Here's what y'all are running and for the next five-minute segment I don't want the coaches to say a word.' They're going to have to talk."
The point guard situation remains fluid with junior Shekinna Stricklen the most experienced player at the position and a line behind her with Briana Bass, Lauren Avant, Kamiko Williams and Meighan Simmons also getting repetitions. When that situation stabilizes the team is more likely to hear a consistent voice at the spot. It doesn't have to be one voice, though. The national title teams of 2007 and 2008 had Shannon Bobbitt and Alexis Hornbuckle interchangeable at point guard but also the very vocal Nicky Anosike in the paint.
"That's going to be awhile," Summitt said, referring to the ongoing rotation at point guard.
That's good news for Stricklen, who still looks the most comfortable of all the candidates at the point guard spot but wouldn't object at all to a shift to the wing.
"She always loves that," Summitt said with a smile.
"I hope someone will step up," Stricklen said. "But I've been at the position for two years now and it's going into my third year. I am comfortable at it. I told Coach if I need to be there then that's where I need to be.
"If not, I would love to be on the wing and play more with Angie on the wing. Angie plays a big role on this team. She's the leader and she gets everyone together. She has really stepped up and she's been doing what she's supposed to do."
When Summitt was asked if she intends to move Stricklen away from the ball, she said, "Yes and no, but she'll probably start there."
Summitt was referring to starting at point guard, a nod to the experience factor for the junior guard/forward.
"Her size," Summitt said when asked of the advantage of having Stricklen at point. "I think she's more vocal. She's more aggressive. She's really been attacking the paint, attacking the glass. She seems to be very comfortable at that position now."
Williams started at point against Carson-Newman but she will sit out Sunday's game because of violation of team class attendance policy. Angie Bjorklund, who was late to class, served her one-game suspension and will be back Sunday.
Bjorklund was pouring in three-pointers Friday – one came on a sweet feed from Vicki Baugh after she was doubled inside – and also was one of the ones to chatter on the court. The senior guard is in top physical condition and doesn't seem to be affected by fatigue.
Baugh is expected to take the court Sunday in the exhibition game, her first contest in uniform for the Lady Vols since Feb. 2, 2009.
"I don't want to overextend Vicki's minutes," Summitt said, but "we should all be good to go."
That would include center Kelley Cain, who was back at practice Wednesday after treatment for a sore hip. Baugh sat out Wednesday's defensive-oriented session but was on the floor Friday for the first time in a week.
Glory Johnson has held down the post in the absence of the bigs – Alyssia Brewer remains in rehab status from Achilles tendon surgery last September – and had another solid practice Friday on both ends, especially on the boards.
"She has put in extra reps," Summitt said. "She is good about that with Dean (Lockwood). I wouldn't hesitate to play Stricklen inside either."
Stricklen is 6'2 and can slip inside in some of Tennessee's offensive schemes. Her versatility makes her a tough matchup as she can now line up inside or out.
"I think if we can mix up where she is they've got to find her," Summitt said. "If you move people around sometimes you can get an advantage by doing so. We can take her inside and post her up. She's certainly a big guard for us and can score over people."
VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips from Friday's practice session.