Vicki Baugh returns to action

The roar began as Vicki Baugh walked from the bench to the scorer's table, simmered for an official timeout and then began anew as she walked from the huddle to the court for the exhibition game against Union University. When the announcer introduced the substituted player on the floor for Tennessee the fans came out of their seats to give the redshirt junior forward a standing ovation.

It had been 21 months since Vicki Baugh last played in a game for Tennessee, and the significance of No. 21 walking onto the court wasn't at all lost on the crowd Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena with one fan screaming, "Welcome back Vicki!"

Baugh tore her ACL on Feb. 2, 2009, and endured a second grueling knee rehab, surgery last January to repair a meniscus tear and a redshirt year before being cleared to take the court this season. Pat Summitt brought Baugh off the bench in the 86-53 win over Union as part of the plan to ease her back into action.

Baugh had other plans as she drove from the high post on her first offensive touch – the same play in which she injured her knee in Tampa in April of 2008 in the national title win over Stanford. It was also a drive to the basket that ended with the second ACL tear in February of 2009.

Did Summitt hold her breath?

"I didn't," Summitt said. "I hold it about every day in practice, but I just see her more balanced and more confident.

"I thought, ‘Wow, she looks like the Vicki Baugh that we had hoped we would see.' Today was probably the most impressive that I have seen her."

Baugh entered the game with 3:50 left in the first half. Her first offensive play was to get a pass at the high post and then drive to the rim. She didn't score, but the decision reflected her confidence in her knee.

"Oh, most definitely," Baugh said. "I was a little bit too eager to drive. I think I tripped over my own shoe. It was great being back on the floor. I didn't even think about my knee."

Baugh got on the scoreboard on a perfect lob feed in transition from Lauren Avant, who also was making her debut, and converted the layup, which got the crowd excited again.

That gave Tennessee a 39-18 lead with 1:26 left in the game. Union's Kayla Bryant hit a long three with Glory Johnson soaring in her direction and a Tennessee turnover gave Union the ball to end the first half. The Lady Vols' stiffer defense didn't allow the Lady Bulldogs to loft a shot, and the teams went into the break with the score, 39-21.

Union, a six-time NAIA national title winner, including the past two seasons, provided a much stiffer exhibition test than Tuesday's game against Carson-Newman when Tennessee had eight players available and played passively on defense.

"It's better than what we saw Tuesday night," Summitt said. "But you've got to be able to look at personnel and you've got to have a sense of urgency for what you have to do and you've got to find the best shooters always. Our two freshmen will get better and better, but our upperclassmen we expect them to know what to do and to communicate on the floor as well."

Tennessee let Union's Kayla Hudson get free behind the arc – and in the defender's defense Hudson lofted some shots from 25 to 27 feet and hit a few of them – and she was 5-10 from long range to lead her team with 17 points.

With the shot clock winding down, Hudson was just inside the arc and had Alicia Manning playing skintight defense since Hudson had picked up her dribble. She somehow managed to spin free and loft a one-handed shot around Manning with her left hand with one second on the shot clock to pull Union to 15-10 with 12:09 left in the first half.

"I really did get a good look at the rim, however, it was with the wrong hand," Hudson said with a laugh while her coach turned in his seat to hear the full explanation of the shot. "I was trying to get a little bit of separation and she (Manning) really wasn't going anywhere, so I just did the old spin move and kind of threw it up there."

The shot fell, much to the amazement of the crowd – announced at 11,252 and estimated at about 8,000 – and Hudson's coach.

"Kayla hit some big shots," Union Coach Mark Campbell said. "I am not sure the left-handed one was the big one, but the other ones were."

Union was 9-19 from behind the arc (47.4 percent) for the game with Bryant and LaTesa McLaughlin hitting two apiece. Hudson did the most damage by launching from well behind the arc.

"I think that's what got us," Manning said. "We weren't really expecting them to be able to shoot seven feet behind the three-point line. They definitely can shoot. I give them my hand in that."

Hudson anticipated that players accustomed to guarding opponents in the SEC are likely to stay a little in front of the arc to protect against the dribble drive and also be able to get up on the shooter. So she scooted well back of the line.

"I think that's where we have to make up for my lack of athleticism and getting around people off the dribble, I have to extend the three-point line," Hudson said. "A lot of the sets we ran gave me some separation, and I knew I had to get my shot off a little quicker because they were bigger and faster and stronger. I think Coach got me in the right spots and people set some great screens for me."

Union, which led Vanderbilt a year ago by 13 points and had a one-point lead with five minutes left in the game before succumbing by 11 points, got to within three points, 21-18, with 6:54 to play in the first half on another Hudson bomb, but Shekinna Stricklen answered for Tennessee in the deep corner.

The lead was in double digits, 29-18, on a Kelley Cain layup from an Angie Bjorklund pass after the ball whipped around the perimeter and Cain, who also made her season debut, overpowered her defender.

That play came after a Bjorklund steal with Stricklen getting the ball on the break. Stricklen drew the defender to her before dishing to Taber Spani for the layup.

Tennessee had struggled from long range to that point – 2-11 to start the game – but a three-pointer came from an unlikely source when Johnson connected from just behind the men's line at the top of the key. She hit one in a regulation game last season that was shot almost sideways from the wing as the shot clock expired and indicated this three was her first and last attempt of the season.

"That's what I told my teammates," Johnson said. "All I need is one. That's all I want, too."

"She was 100 percent last year, too," Manning said.

"More than likely it'll be the last one unless someone leave me wide open, and Pat tells me to shoot," Johnson said.

Johnson had another outstanding game with 20 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and a steal. She was 6-10 from the field and 7-8 from the free throw line. She was all over the glass on both ends and had several wow moments with her leaps to the boards. She also played well within the system and under control with the ball in her hand.

"I liked everything but that three-ball," Summitt said with a smile. "I wasn't impressed with that. It was deep and lucky. Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good, right?

"I think she heard what I said in the locker room, but I don't want to steal her thunder. I'll let her go ahead and feel good about it until (Monday) when we go to practice again."

Monday's practice work will also likely include identifying and closing out on three-point shooters.

"I thought we did a lot of good things today," Summitt said. "Obviously, we had a little trouble defending a couple of players from Union. I just think that we've got to do a better job. When we know that we have to identify the best shooters on the floor, then we've got to limit touches. That was probably the one thing that concerned our coaching staff the most, but they are so well coached and so disciplined. You have to give them an enormous amount of credit for how they played the game. I'm glad we had this game, because I think we can learn from this game as well."

Union, 2-0, will next play Vanderbilt on Tuesday in an exhibition game before returning to NAIA play.

"We appreciate that Tennessee allowed us to come up here and play," Campbell said. "It's a little different than what we are used to, and I can tell you that. There are not many times where I watch tape in preparation where I ask the question after it's over and say there is nothing we can do. To a certain extent that was true, and I am proud of my kids tonight.

"We pride ourselves on being able to play emotionally on the same level no matter what's going on during a game, and I was really proud that we competed the entire night."

Tennessee separated itself before halftime with a flurry of scoring to take a 39-21 lead into the locker room.

"I think we expected going into this game that it was going to be a challenge," Summitt said. "I think they really bought in. I told them, ‘Don't take this team lightly. They know how to win championships.' They're here for a reason.

"I think that they were very focused, and that's exactly what we expect all the time. I knew this game would make them get the focus they needed to have to do what they needed to do throughout the course of the game, and we got better and better as we went along."

The Lady Vols also dominated on the boards and had a 21-12 lead at halftime. Manning and Johnson combined for nine of those first-half rebounds.

Bjorklund, who was playing in her first game of the season, was 0-5 from long range to open the game but hit her first attempt after the break, and Tennessee led by 21 points, 42-21, just 14 seconds into the second half.

The Lady Vols got their inside-outside attack on track in the second half as Stricklen connected from the corner and Johnson got buckets inside by cleaning up the glass and also on a feed from Manning to put Tennessee up 49-29 with 16:43 remaining.

"Glory had one of her best games," Summitt said. " I just hope that we can do it when we start for real."

That would be this Friday at Louisville when the Cardinals christen the new KFC Yum! Center along the riverfront downtown.

"Union's a really good team," Manning said. "I think coming off of last game we really wanted to focus on our defense. I think we did a pretty good job of that. We still have areas that we can improve.

"Obviously, Union showed that they can shoot the three-ball really well. That's one of the things we're going to go back to work on in practice. I think overall we did a pretty good job, and we're ready for Louisville."

Louisville lofted 13 three-pointers in the second half and connected on six of them. Joining Hudson in double digits was Lavanda Ross, who was 6-11 from the field for 16 points.

"It's fun," Ross said. "I just enjoyed myself competing, and I came out and played hard."

Hudson and Ross are NAIA All-Americans and part of a core of five returning players that Campbell is relying on this season.

"Hudson and Ross were terrific," Summitt said. "We didn't go a great job of identifying and closing out long. They are players, and they play so well together as a team. This will give us some good video to look at and hopefully get some of our younger players to really take note of how they can get better."

Union wasn't able to get its post game going, which is led by NAIA All-American Zeinab "Sara" Chan. She was 2-10 from the field for four points and five rebounds. Chan had to contend with Johnson inside and then 6'6 Kelley Cain and the 6'4 Baugh off the bench.

Campbell said he watched film of Tennessee and didn't see an area of weakness.

"I had no idea, and I didn't think we could exploit anything," Campbell said. "We had to make shots from the outside, and we did. I thought Sara had to get some presence in the post, which I don't think we ever established all night. As far as score is concerned I had no expectations. Like I told them we've got pieces of the puzzle. I don't know where they go yet, and this is just part of the process."

Baugh and Cain played sparingly by design – 11 total minutes for Baugh and 18 minutes for Cain – but they combined for 12 points on 6-9 shooting. They also had 12 rebounds – two for Baugh and 10 for Cain – and seven blocks with Baugh rejecting two and Cain swatting five.

The two are both redshirt juniors and have dealt with knee injuries at different times, thus they have rarely been on the court at the same time until Sunday.

"We've been on the same team, but we never really got to play together," Baugh said. "It was a pleasure to be out on the court with her. Just to see Kelley out there at the same time was cool. We've been here together since freshman year and been hurt at different times and so it was fun to play with her."

Bain and Cain change the tenor of the game in the paint on both ends. Cain's five blocks came in a variety of ways – a driver ran into her outstretched arms without Cain leaving her feet, a swat in mid-air and also a smack-down of a three-point attempt, after which the shooter grabbed a fistful of Cain's jersey as she headed down court with the ball.

"I was scared for the other team," Manning said. "I am serious. I would not want to drive up against them, because we have some big bodies in there, especially on defense and rebounding. They were huge in there."

On another Union possession, Baugh's player spun away from her inside, but Baugh spun the other way, took one step back and still blocked the shot.

"Kelley and Vicki if we can play the two of them together, we can have a very imposing post game at both ends, because they can both score," Summitt said. "Vicki, very, very mobile, and it was just good to see her mobility today. Kelley was very active. I think those two are difference-makers for our team. There is no doubt about that. We saw some positive things from both of them today."

The game isn't official, but it was Summitt's first career win over Union. She lost to the Lady Bulldogs three times in 1975, her inaugural season, and was denied a postseason berth with the third defeat. It was the first and only time a Summitt team has not made the postseason in 36 years.

"I know we lost to them three times in 1975. So why did you bring that up?" Summitt asked with mock anger. "They're good. They're so well coached and disciplined and they just play so well together. I even caught myself watching them play."

Summitt had plenty to watch from her team, too. She was able to use all 11 players with nobody logging more than 27 minutes, which Johnson tallied, the result of limited minutes for Cain and Baugh as they ease their way in to live action as both have dealt with some aches and pains in preseason.

She also got a look at both freshmen, Avant and Meighan Simmons, who showed plenty of reasons why the coaches intend to get them minutes this season.

"Meighan was great and at other times she was not very good, and that's typical of a freshman," Summitt said. "We just call her ‘Speedy.' She is pretty quick. I think she's going to really come along and help us."

Simmons had eight points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and several highlight moments.

Simmons hit Stricklen in stride with a bounce pass on a fast break to give Tennessee a 51-31 lead with 15:40 left in the game.

Tennessee got its high-octane running game going in the second half and was either scoring in transition or finding Cain inside. Cain's back-to-back blocks in the second half led to easy baskets for Tennessee from Johnson and Simmons for a 67-43 lead with 7:34 remaining.

Simmons followed with a steal and a layup for a 71-43 lead with 6:38 left and then followed that with an outstanding defensive play in which she went for the steal and landed on the floor out of bounds on the right side and scrambled to her feet and to the far left side to block a shot.

Simmons wasn't done making clips for the video highlights. Manning cleaned the glass and got the outlet to Simmons, who scooted down court and hit a reverse layup for a 79-50 lead. Simmons and Manning connected once again and the freshman again converted the layup.

In both cases Manning got the defensive board and fired the pass to Simmons.

"You mean the ones that Glory didn't have to worry about?" Manning said of her board work.

"Ha-ha," Johnson said.

"That's how I love to play every time," Manning said. "One pass, shoot a layup and go get back on defense. Get the rebound, get your head up and launch it. I trust that Meighan will go get it and finish it."

Johnson was on the bench by the time Simmons had turned on her afterburners and the former Tennessee state sprint champion can appreciate the speed and potential of the freshman's game.

"She is so quick, and she can do so much with her game," Johnson said. "Once she's in control – like the same problem I had when I was going too fast – she has it. She can control the ball really easily. A lot of teams, other players that are defending her, they think that's as fast as she can go and she goes into third gear and she goes three times as fast as she was going before. She can work with that.

"She can also hit the shot. She can hit the three really easily. Her defender has got to watch out, and they've got to know she can do a lot more with her game."

Manning also can finish on the other end. When Briana Bass saved a ball going out of the bounds – she got the ball to a teammate and ended up in the front row – Spani threw a one-handed football pass to Manning, who completed the layup.

Manning also had a hand in finishing up the scoring for Tennessee as she got doubled deep in the paint and found Baugh, who had sprinted from near the top of the key, on the other side for the basket.

That gave Tennessee an 86-50 lead with 20 seconds left. McLaughlin hit a three-pointer for Union, rather apropos considering the long ball accounted for slightly more than half of the Lady Bulldogs' points, and Simmons dribbled out the clock for the final 86-53 score.

Avant tallied three points – she hit a soft pull-up jumper in the second half and connected on 1-2 from the line – and also tallied three assists. She found Spani in transition for a three in the first half, had the lob pass to Baugh and also connected with Sydney Smallbone, who hit the three.

Avant showed the ability to pressure the ball-handler and had zero turnovers. She lost the ball on one possession but got it back before Union could secure the ball. Avant missed two weeks of practice to heal a nerve contusion on her right hand, but she was able to get into the flow of the game relatively quickly.

"Lauren Avant just hasn't had the reps," Summitt said. "But I think overall we got a lot of good play off of our bench."

Stricklen started at point guard and scored 10 points with three rebounds and three assists. She played 19 minutes in the game – and logged some four minutes in the second half – as Summitt got reps at point for Bass and Avant.

Bass logged 12 minutes and was the only perimeter defender to not lose Hudson behind the arc. She didn't connect from long range when Bass was guarding her. Bass was 0-1 from the field with one assist in a case of the box score not reflecting the fact she did what the coaches asked in terms of managing the game.

"I thought Bree had quality minutes," Summitt said. "She knows her role. She's not trying to be somebody she's not. She's just trying to push the tempo. She's a great communicator. Worked hard on her defense."

Tennessee also rebounded on the boards in the second exhibition with a 49-23 advantage on the glass. Johnson and Cain reached double figures with 11 and 10 boards, respectively, while Manning added eight and Spani and Bjorklund had four each.

The Lady Vols controlled the offensive glass with 20 boards coming on that end – Manning got four on offense with Johnson grabbing five and they converted several putbacks of teammates' misses.

"We didn't do a good job (not giving up) offensive rebounds, which Coach Summitt prides herself in," Campbell said. "I believe that's why they've won so many championships. They're just a lot bigger and a lot stronger than us."

Tennessee had 23 assists on 33 baskets – led by five from Bjorklund – and shot 49.3 percent (33-67) for the game.

Four players were in double digits led by Johnson's 20 points and followed by 13 for Manning and 10 each for Spani and Stricklen.

Unlike Tuesday evening the Lady Vols didn't start off connecting from outside – they misfired from behind the arc and shot 28.0 percent (7-25) for the game from long range – but they recovered to shoot 43.8 percent overall in the first half and 54.3 percent overall in the second half.

"We've talked about defense and board play," Summitt said. "There are nights that the ball is not going to fall for you, but how can you overcome that? You can do it by committing to your defense and your board play.

"That's the thing that we have really built our program on, because we know we don't always show up and shoot the ball the way we want to. That is something that we have tried to instill in our teams over the years but certainly with this team. And having two freshmen that we think can help us we're going to challenge them along the way as well."

Tennessee is a veteran team but has started one sophomore in Spani, has the sophomore Williams who is one of the team's most athletic guards and anticipates significant contributions from Simmons and Avant.

"They can do a lot," Johnson said of the youngsters. "They've shown us they are really diverse, and they can do a lot with their game. Wherever we need them, the same as us, our roles might be rebounding or playing defense or scoring, wherever we lack they come in and they've fit in so far really easy.

"I know all they want to do is help our team and that's all we want to do is fit in and help our team however we can and be successful. They've done that so far, and we're thankful for it."

Getting Baugh back also will be a boost to the team. The forward from Sacramento, Calif., is a favorite not just among her teammates but the Lady Vol fans as well.

"You've got to love Vicki Baugh," Summitt said. "Think what she's been through, and she's been really working in her rehab. She was more mobile today than any time that we've seen her up to this point. She just seemed confident. She didn't hesitate.

"I know, for me, it's hard sometimes to watch because I never want anything to happen to her but now she's playing more on balance and she's aggressive, because I think she has gained a lot of confidence from her rehab work and being in the gym with us."

Baugh barely cracked a smile during pre-game warmups and she was all business once she took the court.

"I felt great," Baugh said. "I was just trying to concentrate on my team and the best way I can help them and not so much on myself. I'm cleared for a reason so just all positive thoughts about my knee."

Baugh did smile when she was asked if she heard the crowd's reaction when she entered the game.

"Yeah, I did. It was awesome," Baugh said. "It was just a pleasure to be back on the court. I said that I felt like one of the veterans coming back to play with the young kids. It's just been too long since I've been back on the court."

Summitt likely spoke for every Lady Vol fan in her post-game press conference.

"Vicki Baugh looked good," Summitt said. "It was good to see her out there."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Clips of pre-game warmups.

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