Lady Vols get back to practice

It's officially game week for Tennessee, and Monday's practice reflected that sense of urgency in a crisp two-hour session that had even Pat Summitt smiling afterwards. The head coach said she intends to start the same five at Louisville this coming Friday that started this past Sunday – that means the bigs come off the bench – as she doesn't want to change what worked.

Pat Summitt did indicate, however, that the starting lineup could change during the season depending on matchups, especially the size of opponents. She also said she would like to settle into a pretty steady lineup – last year the starters changed 13 times, though several were one-and-done lineups and based on player availability – and she was keeping an open mind this early in the season.

Starting the season by bringing Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh off the bench is indicative of three things – it allows Baugh some transition time to get back in basketball shape after two ACL surgeries, it limits the early season pounding on Cain's knee, and it rewards Glory Johnson for an outstanding preseason.

"She's earned that right," Summitt said. "She's been so efficient. Her defense has gotten a lot better. I think she's just doing a better job on both ends of the floor. She's been in the gym, and she's gotten in a lot of reps. She's shooting the ball better. Not that I want her to shoot the three. I said, ‘You better be glad you made that.' "

Summitt was still smiling about it Monday, but it's doubtful Johnson, who hit a 20-footer against Union, will loft again from long range.

"Her pull-up game is better," Summitt said. "I do think we'll definitely experiment with her playing some (defense) on the perimeter."

Cain has shown she doesn't need a lot of court time to put up numbers. She had 10 rebounds, six points on 3-4 shooting from the field and five blocks in 18 minutes of play in Sunday's 86-53 exhibition win over Union University.

"I'm as healthy as I'm going to get," Cain said Monday with a smile in response to a question of whether she was 100 percent – and considering the fact she had her right kneecap realigned, a rehab recovery that is longer than an ACL, that has been pretty good of late.

The answer wasn't as cryptic as it sounded. It was just an acknowledgment that Cain has to be aware of past knee mishaps and manage any issues as they arise.

Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, has said that the approach with Cain – and any other player with assorted aches and pains – needs to be one of quality over quantity, especially when it comes to repeated pounding.

Both the 6'4 Baugh and the 6'6 Cain looked very good in Monday's session, so the rotation of posts could change over the course of the season – it would be a surprise not to have one or both on the court for the opening tip when Tennessee plays Baylor and 6'8 Brittney Griner in December – but for now Summitt will go with a frontline of Johnson, Alicia Manning and Taber Spani.

After Sunday's win, Manning was asked about the dual type of posts – the smaller version of Johnson-Manning vs. the super-sized model of Baugh-Cain.

"I think that we both bring our strengths," Manning said. "Obviously Vicki and Kelley have the size. Glory and I bring in a little more, I won't say quicker, but we're a little smaller. I think it works really well because we can use our speed, and they can use their size up against teams. Add Vicki and Kelley in there, and that's pretty deep."

They can also be on the court in assorted combinations and having versatile posts allows Tennessee to get its high-low game in gear. Baugh, a good passer who sees the floor well, found Manning under the basket in the second half against Union.

"Working the high-low game works really well for us," Manning said.

If Tennessee wants to run, Johnson and Baugh are ideal true posts. If the Lady Vols want to set up more in a half-court offense, Cain can get position in the paint and overpower a lot of defenders to the rim.

"Kelley is Kelley," Summitt said. "She is not going to sprint the floor like Vicki Baugh is going to sprint the floor. But there is a place for her. She can block shots. She's good around the rim. We just have to play to our strengths. That is something that we talk about from the bench and then decide what we want to do, what we want to run and who we want to sub in and out."

Cain is very effective when her teammates allow her time to get deep position in the paint, a process aided by a few passes, especially ball reversal. Several times on Sunday a jump shot was being lofted before Cain could get to the low block.

"We've got a lot of people that like to shoot," Summitt said.

Outside of letting Union's best three-point shooter get loose too often – Kayla Hudson was 5-10 from long range – Summitt was relatively pleased with her team's performance Sunday, and the game film confirmed what she saw live.

"I thought we did some good things," Summitt said. "Glory had a very impressive night. We saw a lot of progress, and I thought we had a really good workout today. I think they're really excited about our road trip."

That would be in a few days – Tennessee will practice Thursday at home and then depart by bus for the state of Kentucky – when the Lady Vols take on Louisville to officially christen the KFC Yum! Center for the first official basketball game on Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern (9:30 p.m. tape delay on CBS College Sports).

"I am glad we get to be the first," Cain said.

Louisville announced Monday that the game is a sellout at 22,000. The Cardinals played at Tennessee last season and specifically asked for the Lady Vols to return this season in hopes of selling out the opening game at the new downtown arena.

The jersey of former Louisville All-American Angel McCoughtry, now a standout in the WNBA for the Atlanta Dream, will be retired before the game. The gates will open at 5 p.m., two hours before tipoff with the jersey ceremony set for 6:45 p.m.

"We're all super excited to go on the road and play a team like Louisville because I know they're definitely ready to play against us," Cain said. "This game probably will tell us a lot about our team."

That is exactly what the coaches hope – and they want those lessons to be good ones, for the most part.

Summitt was already ready Monday to discuss the starters for the game, and she intended to stick with the same group as Sunday. That would be Shekinna Stricklen, Angie Bjorklund, Spani, Manning and Johnson.

"We'll start the same lineup unless I change my mind, and I don't plan on it," Summitt said.

The Lady Vols will take off Tuesday and then return to the court Wednesday for a full practice followed by a walk-through-type session Thursday and then shoot-around Friday at the arena several hours before tipoff.

Starting Stricklen at point guard makes the most sense since she has the most experience, and Tennessee will be playing in a raucous and hostile environment. The staff used the exhibitions to get minutes at the position for Briana Bass, Lauren Avant, Meighan Simmons and Kamiko Williams, but those were home games against overmatched opponents.

"I wanted to get everybody quality minutes, get a look at them and then decide what we want to do," Summitt said.

The freshmen won't be tossed into that fire on the road, and Williams remains better suited to play on the wing unless she expands her grip on the playbook from the one spot. Similarly, Avant, who just recently returned to practice after missing two weeks because of a hand injury, said she is more comfortable with the plays from the one spot than on the wing right now.

"With Lauren and Meighan they just need lots of reps, not that I am going to play Meighan at the point but I might slip her in there a little bit," Summitt said. "I think those two are both going to help us. Now, are they going to help us at Louisville? May not. ... Bree will get some playing time."

Summitt was speaking specifically about the point guard spot at Louisville, as she would like to get the freshmen on the floor in some capacity, but the rotations – 12 players on the roster are expected to be good to go for the season opener – will depend on how the game plays out.

Summitt also noted this is the season opener, so there is a lot of time to settle into a rotation and make adjustments to the starting lineup, as needed.

"I want to be a little more consistent as to who we're starting but if we have injuries or somebody has foul trouble, (the lineup could adjust)," Summitt said. "It's subject to change. If we stay healthy, we're going to have much better depth. It's all about who comes on the court and brings what they need to bring.

"It'll take us a little while to sort all that out. I don't have it fixed right now in my head. "It's all a feel during the game."

The tone and tenor of Monday's practice session was upbeat, and the entire coaching staff was smiling afterwards.

"I think everybody is excited," Simmons said. "We've got to play hard, be prepared for practice, coming ready for practice."

The players worked on defense and offense in the half-court and in transition. They also got in a lot of shooting repetitions and free throws and held full court scrimmages against the male practice team. Baugh ran the floor particularly well and was active on both ends.

"She still sometimes goes off one foot. That worries me," Summitt said, (but) "she was more mobile in that second (exhibition) game than she has been (since freshman year)."

Part of Baugh's rehab focused on balance and footwork, specifically landing on both feet. She is much better now, but still has times where one foot gets down before the other.

Both Cain and Baugh made their season debuts Sunday. They had been held out of the first exhibition game to rest some aches and pains.

"Just to finally get to play with her is a huge deal to all of us," Cain said. "When we first got out there I was like, ‘Vicki, look we're playing together.' We had that little moment before the game started."

OH SAY WE CAN SEE THEM: The SEC has instituted a new rule this season that conference teams must be on the court for the national anthem. Tennessee's participation had varied during the regular season depending on venue, but the players and coaching staff will be present each time now.

The Tennessee players had been shooting and remained on the court Sunday, while the coaches came from a back hallway to line up near the home bench. Afterwards, they all departed for the locker room.

The national anthem is now played about 12 minutes before tipoff at home games – it was close to the eight-minute mark last season – with the time varying for road games depending on that program's pre-game setup.

The coaches adjusted the pre-game locker room routine – and coaches are creatures of habit – to comply with the new league rule at home.

"Now we know what we've got to do, so we'll do it," Summitt said. "A lot of times we go other places and they do it the same."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips of Monday's practice in Pratt Pavilion.


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