Vicki Baugh emerges as court voice

A Lady Vol team in need of a leader seems to have found one in Vicki Baugh, who, despite her comeback from knee surgeries that has severely limited her playing time, remains the voice the players are most likely to respond to on the court. Baugh sought out Coach Pat Summitt to ask what she needed from her and the answer could not have been clearer: Seize the team.

Vicki Baugh is expected to be able to play tonight when No. 9 Tennessee, 6-1, takes on Lamar, 5-1, at 7 p.m. Eastern (Lady Vol Radio Network, webcast at Lady Vols website at Thompson-Boling Arena.

It will be Tennessee's first time to take the court since Saturday's 69-58 loss to Georgetown in the Virgin Islands that cost the Lady Vols the Paradise Jam tourney title and its unblemished record and for the second time in as many games, the Lady Vols will face a new opponent. Georgetown and Tennessee met for the first time in program history, as will Tennessee and the Lady Cardinals of Lamar.

Between Saturday evening and tipoff Wednesday, quite a bit will have occurred from an early morning team meeting with the coaches on Sunday hours after the loss, to the players' decision while at the St. Thomas airport Sunday evening to have a team meeting Monday, to Baugh seeking Pat Summitt for a one-on-one meeting to discuss what the team most needed from her.

Role determination played a big part in the players' meeting.

"We got a lot of things cleared up," Baugh said. "There was a lot of confusion about what each person's role on the team was. So we just had to clear that up, and some of us just needed more encouragement and needed to know what we can bring to the team. I think some of us were down on ourselves.

"We just cleared that up, and we talked about our strengths and our weaknesses and hopefully you guys can see a change on the court."

The players often meet on their own – and that can sometimes be used for off-the-court matters such as a player needing a reminder to boost her academics – but Monday's meeting was about what happens on the court. The players will sometimes ask for a coach, too, and this time Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood was present.

"It was just being vocal with the coaches and get the coaches involved and being able to voice their opinion, and a lot of things got solved," junior forward Glory Johnson said.

"The meeting was called among all of us," Baugh said. "We just realized we needed to talk something out. We were in the airport and we were like we have a lot that we can improve on so let's just have a meeting."

In addition to the players' meeting, Baugh had a one-on-one meeting with Summitt that the player requested.

"I just kind of saw a gap between the players and the coaches," Baugh said. "We needed an understanding of one another. They see something different than what we see and vice versa. I just went to Pat and asked, ‘What's your perspective on things? What can we do? What do you need from me?'

"She told me we don't have a leader on this team and we need more of a vocal leader. She told me straight up you can be that but you're not that right now. I just think I needed to clarify some things and that's why I met with Pat."

Baugh is the natural choice as she is respected by her teammates and will use her voice. When Johnson was asked who the team looks to for leadership, she first mentioned the seniors. She also added that Baugh was the player everyone respected, in part because of how hard she has worked to return to the court after three knee surgeries.

Johnson also pointed to an intangible with Baugh that can't be measured on a stat sheet but is invaluable for an athlete, especially one in Tennessee's scorching spotlight.

"She is just really confident," Johnson said. "She knows what she can do. She knows what she can bring to the team. She's confident when she talks to any of the coaches. She has always just had our backs and she has the coaches' backs when it comes to us. If we need to do something and we're not getting things right she is the one to say something. She is just really confident and she is not scared to say anything.

"She doesn't just talk the talk and doesn't back it up. Although she's not on the floor all the time you've got to respect her. For me it's more like I look up to her. She's older than me. She's been here longer, and I like her game. I like her style. So I respect that."

Baugh, a 6'4 redshirt post from Sacramento, Calif., saw her first game action since the season opener in the Virgin Islands against Georgia Tech and Georgetown and showed glimpses of her game, including a bolt down the court with the ball to lead the break. She is still getting her game back after 21 months away and has dealt with lingering secondary pain from the knee surgeries, including iliotibial band and hip discomfort that affected her lateral movement.

The more Baugh plays, the easier it will be for her voice to be heard. In the meantime, Baugh was willing to accept the responsibility now.

"Most definitely," Baugh said. "If that many people see the potential in me then I obviously have it. I just have to search within myself. I am going to do what people are telling me I am capable of doing."

Baugh heard immediately from Summitt when she asked how she could help the team achieve its goals.

"I met with Pat (Monday) and I asked what my role is on this team, and she said, ‘You need to be a leader,' " Baugh said. "Like right away, before we even got to the actual basketball stuff. I feel like I've been a leader as far as on the court, and they can see me, but I haven't been as vocal as I should be, but I'm learning that. I do think that's a role I'm going to have to step in in order for this team to succeed."

Summitt saluted the junior – though she is senior in terms of years on campus and is in the same academic class as Kelley Cain, Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone – for her leadership capability.

"The team met, and she said she felt really good about it," Summitt said. "While she can't play that much I think she's one of the best leaders that we have, if not the best. Her feedback has always been really helpful."

The role has been forced on Bjorklund since she was a sophomore and six true freshmen arrived on campus. Now a senior, Bjorklund has her own methods to help teammates but asking her to be someone who would call out teammates was like repeatedly pounding a square peg into a round hole and expecting it to fit. She wasn't suited to that task.

"I think I've done everything I can to try and be that leader," Bjorklund said. "I've talked to the coaches about how I can be a better leader, but some people just have that natural charisma, that natural leadership, that natural voice where when they talk, people listen. I really do think that's Vicki."

Bjorklund said the team also wouldn't place that full burden on one player.

"I think we have multiple leaders on this team," Bjorklund said. "It's just a matter of listening and responding, too. I think (Shekinna) Stricklen, it's not her natural personality to step up and talk, but when she does people listen. I think Kelley is the same way. She has a tendency to kind of be quiet but at the same time when she does speak up people are like, ‘OK, Kelley's talking, we listen.' I think it's a matter of everyone taking a role.

"Sometimes in the heat of the game I think it's a matter of when to talk. As far as calling huddles, looking up at the coaches and calling plays, I feel like I am that player on the court that does most of that. But as far as the accountability-type stuff, I try to be more of an encourager. It's out of my element to get on someone and yell at them. I am like, ‘Hey, you got it next time.' "

Former Lady Vol Nicky Anosike fulfilled that role for the national title teams of 2007 and 2008. She took care of the accountability issues, even having each player sign of pact of what each one would do for the team.

"I think that's what we're trying to find and I think it's doing it in a respectful way," Bjorklund said. "One on one, I'll go up to someone and I'll tell them, ‘You need to do this. You need to do that.' But we don't so much call each other out in front of people, and I think the coaches don't see us. On the side, ‘I'm like, Glo, I need you to do this.' So it's not I'm in front of everyone calling people out. We're not that kind of team."

Baugh, a West Coast native, might have a more gentle style than Anosike, who was from New York and had equally dominant personalities on the team in Candace Parker, Alexis Hornbuckle and Shannon Bobbitt. Sometimes it was difficult to get a word in edgewise with that talkative bunch.

The players identify Baugh as the one most likely to handle that role because of the respect she already commands.

"That's a compliment," Baugh said. "I think I could definitely become it, but at the same time I am still myself so I am not just going to be Nicky. And I know Pat says all the time, ‘We need a Nicky Anosike,' and we can take some things from Nicky because she was a great leader, but the main thing I learned from Nicky Anosike is that in order to demand respect you have to earn that respect first before you can try to help someone else.

"That is what I respect tremendously about Nicky so I am going to work my butt on off on the court and hopefully do what I need to do and then hopefully I can help more of my teammates, especially the freshmen understand what we need them to do."

Baugh also has somewhere to turn when she needs a boost.

"I am very close with Nicky and Candace," Baugh said. "I text them after every game and get an immediate response. They are all for this team. Everyone sees the potential this team has and Candace even said, ‘You guys kind of needed that (loss to Georgetown). That's going to really wake up and show you guys a lot of things and the work ethic it takes to win championships.'

"I think this will be a different team and although that loss was hard it was a growing point for the team as a whole."

Baugh thinks the team meeting cleared several icebergs in the team's path that needed to be addressed, especially players formulating roles and identifying leadership.

"I think it was very productive," Baugh said. "I even texted Pat and I said, ‘I think we're going to have a great practice.' I think we have an understanding of what we need to do now."

That practice was Tuesday, and Baugh was correct. The players were as loud as any practice in recent memory. Tuesday's cool temperatures and monsoon-like conditions took a toll on Baugh and Cain, but they practiced and should both be available today.

The session was longer and more up-tempo than a typical pre-game session, but the team had been off the court since Saturday because Sunday was a day spent in the Virgin Islands and to travel home that evening, and Monday was an off day, minus the players' called meeting.

Summitt spoke to the media before the session began in Pratt Pavilion.

"I'm still mad and it's going to take me awhile to get over it," Summitt said, though she was smiling. "Hopefully when Lamar comes in here we'll have a good game and if we don't we'll go back to the drawing board, get back on the court and go at it again. That is what we're going to have to do with this team. They played two great games and they thought, ‘Well, we've arrived.' You never arrive in this game, and that's exactly what we're going to tell them.

"Every moment is a teaching moment, so we'll be teaching a lot (Tuesday) and hopefully move on. You can't dwell on it forever. We're going to have to move on at some point in time."

Georgetown played lethargically in a loss to Missouri on Friday – the Lady Vols saw the first half before getting ready for their game against Georgia Tech – and then attacked Tennessee the next night from the opening tip. The Lady Vols never led in the game and the 11-point loss could have been much worse had they not rebounded so well, especially on the offensive end.

Georgetown's players didn't want to leave the island with their coach, Terri Williams-Flournoy, remembering that Missouri game. So instead Tennessee's coach had three days to dwell on the defeat, though she complimented her counterpart.

"I just went up and told her they did a great job," Summitt said. "Because the day before they looked like they were dead in their tracks. I knew exactly what was going to happen but getting it through their head just didn't seem to happen the way we wanted it to happen.

"Talk about flipping a switch. They didn't look that way the day before, but I knew it was coming. But to get that into their – at that particular time – skulls wasn't happening.

"We just fell apart. We played two great games. I watched the tape and our hands were down. We had low energy. It was like all of a sudden we decided we didn't have the mindset that we could push through and with this team that's been an issue all along. Our coaching staff, we're motivated, and I think we're really going to have to push this group as much as we can to get the best out of them."

Breaking pressure was a primary focus of the practice session – along with guarding three-point shooters and help defense – as all three broke down in the loss.

"We were like a runaway car and going in all different directions, and we had no team cohesion," Summitt said. "You've got to pull together, and that's what I was very, very upset about."

Tennessee had worked on press breaks before departing for the island, but it was a particularly intense part of Tuesday's practice.

"I think we definitely do that on a consistent basis," Summitt said. "I think, for whatever reason, we did not show up with great intensity, and it was just very, very, very disappointing, but it's an opportunity for us to learn and I am not going to dwell on it after today. This team has got to get out there and get going and get ready for our next opponent. But it made me sick if you really want to know the truth."

Summitt also realized the game gave teams a script about how to harass Tennessee. Granted, it would take a team as committed to defense as Georgetown was for the entire game.

"We just showed everybody in the women's game how to beat us, but we've got to figure out how we can not let that happen," Summitt said. "You've got to be careful when you show people all your warts and you're not that good. They'll come after us. There is no doubt. We're going to see pressure, pressure, pressure. If I was on that side I would know exactly what I would say."

Summitt also agreed it's better to be exposed early in the season rather than late.

"Absolutely, provided we learn from it, and we grow from it, and we're just ticked off and can't wait to get back out and kick somebody's butt," Summitt said. "That's what we're talking about."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (15.6 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game, 2.3 assists per game); Kamiko Williams, 5'11 sophomore guard, No. 4 (8.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (10.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25 (9.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.7 steals per game); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt junior center, No. 52 (7.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg).

Summitt indicated senior guard Angie Bjorklund was out of the starting lineup for this game by the standard explanation of CD or, coach's decision, and while it was not a performance-based change – every guard struggled in the last game – Summitt did not elaborate to the media about her reasons.

Bjorklund said she respected any decision made by the head coach.

"It comes to the point where I'm the player, she's the coach, and she calls the shots," Bjorklund said. "I respect that and I've learned the longer I've been here you have to trust her in her decisions and work hard when you're in and when you come out encourage as hard as you can and be ready to go back in.

"That's a growing experience for me. No matter what you do, my thing is I want to win. Whatever she thinks is the best to win I am for it. Bottom line, I just want to win."

Stricklen, who took an awkward fall in the final minute of the Georgetown game and left on a stretcher because of severe back spasms, was stiff and sore for the trip home but looked mobile at practice Tuesday.

"She looked like grandma last time I saw her," Summitt said Tuesday. "If she's not walking like grandma then she can play."

During her Wednesday teleconference, Summitt said, "It was a great surprise to see her on the court when we were back for practice. I wasn't sure she (would be back for the Lamar game)."

Summitt said she asked Stricklen, "Are you ready to go?" and she replied, "Yes, ma'am, ready to go."

Simmons struggled at times, too, during the island loss, but the first-year player didn't back down on the court.

"I think she will continue to learn," Summitt said. "There are going to be people who will exploit her if she doesn't. There will be teams that will do that but the one thing about Meighan is she is a great competitor. I think that she brings it. She is not always efficient, but she is always committed. She is committed to trying to do something to help us win as a basketball team. When you get down like that sometimes you over-think, you overdo and that's what happened with her and the rest of our guards pretty much.

"She's got great energy and great passion for the game. I think it took maybe our team awhile that it's OK for a freshman to start because I'm sure we have people saying, ‘What are we doing starting this freshman?' Well, just keep watching, and the whole team figured it out."

Lamar Coach Larry Tidwell is expected to start: Jenna Plumley, 5'3 senior guard, No. 11 (16.2 ppg, 4.8 apg), hails from Red Rock, Okla., played last season after transferring from Oklahoma and sitting out the 2008-09 season, scored 30 points against Texas-Arlington, set the Southland Conference single-season trey record with 110 and won conference player of year honors, ranks eighth in the nation in free throw percentage this season and has made her last 20; Ang Green, 5'7 junior guard, No. 24 (9.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg), hails from Silsbee, Texas, started eight games last season, scored 17 points against Minnesota last season, scored 2,395 points in high school; Jasmin Henderson, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 44 (5.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg), hails from Houston, Texas, entered starting lineup for past two games after Trashanna Smith was injured, hit 38.3 percent from long range last season, played in 31 games, mother Denise Henderson and stepfather Terrul Henderson, a high school coach, played basketball at Howard Payne University; Kalis Loyd, 6'1 redshirt sophomore guard, No, 5 (12.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg), hails from Malmoe, Sweden, born in Denmark, preseason All-Southland Conference Second Team, started all 34 games last season as a freshman, grabbed career-high 14 rebounds last season against Sam Houston State, played for the Swedish National 18U team in 2008 European Championships; Monique Whittaker, 5'11 redshirt junior forward, No. 23 (14.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg), hails from Livingston, Texas, had 19 points, 10 boards in last game against UMKC, sat out last season after transferring from Nebraska, played two season for the Cornhuskers, career high at Nebraska was 13 points against Weber State.

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Lamar game. Here is her assessment.

When Lamar has the ball: The Lady Cardinals will seek to increase the tempo when possible.

"First, they like to push in transition," DeMoss said. "They're going to look to try and get some easy baskets on us. If not, they can run a four-out, one-in motion with a lot of flare screens and back screens and things like that. They run some quick hits with the high ball screen.

"Nothing that is real fancy that we haven't seen. It's just the motion has a lot of movement and a lot of screening in it so we've really got to be ready for that."

Defensively, Lamar will deploy some pressure, but it's by game situation and not constant.

"They're more selective with their press," DeMoss said. "They will do some zone pressing, but it's more situational – after free throws, maybe if they get behind, and it's a zone press back to man to man."

Once the Lady Cardinals are in their half-court defense, it's likely to be man to man.

"It's a pretty scrappy man to man," DeMoss said. "They're athletic."

DeMoss, who was an assistant at Texas before coming to Tennessee last spring, is familiar with the Lady Cardinals.

"They've improved a lot," DeMoss said. "We (the Longhorns) played them a couple of years ago when he was trying to build the program down there. He's been able to recruit a little bit and get some pretty good players in there. With the addition of (Jenna) Plumley it's really improved their overall team offense and defense with her on the floor."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols struggled in their last game to get into any semblance of an offense because of turnovers.

"We never could get into a rhythm after Georgetown because they were pressing after makes and misses, and we were just disrupted really bad," DeMoss said. "We got open looks early but they didn't fall. We had wide-open threes that didn't fall. (Shekinna) Stricklen had a little bank-shot that didn't fall.

"And then we go down and start turning the ball over. It was just one of those things that we just didn't start the game with a sense of urgency and knocking shots down. If we had knocked down those early shots, they might have backed that press off a little bit. But as long as we were missing, they were pressing."

DeMoss wants to see the Lady Vols return to what led to their 6-0 start.

"I think we've got to push the ball against Lamar and do the things that we've done well prior to the Georgetown game," DeMoss said. "We did some great things against Missouri, some great things against Georgia Tech, but Georgetown just got us a little disrupted. We were a little passive."

Defensively, DeMoss wants the players to pay greater heed to the scouting report.

"We've got to guard personnel better," DeMoss said. "They had (Sugar Rodgers and Monica McNutt). Number 14 (Rodgers) shot threes out to where the T is (on Tennessee's court). And we knew that, but our kids were not aggressive enough on the shooter. We needed to turn them into jump shooters, and we didn't. We let them catch and shoot too much.

"We've got to play our scouting report better than what we did and try to take them out of the things they do well."

ON TAP: Six other SEC teams are in action Wednesday in the following matchups: Alabama State at Alabama; Arkansas at Texas-Arlington; Southern Miss at Georgia; Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State; Charleston Southern at South Carolina; and Vanderbilt at Bowling Green.

One SEC team takes the court on Thursday with South Alabama plays at Auburn.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee and Lamar will play for the first time in program history. Lamar, located in Beaumont, Texas, is coached by Larry Tidwell, who is also the school's athletic director. Tidwell, in his fourth season as head coach with a record of 70-33, approached Tennessee and asked to bring his team to Knoxville, as he wanted to upgrade the Lady Cardinals' schedule. Tennessee, which looks to fill a few home dates without a trip back to the opponent's venue, won't play at Lamar. East Tennessee State will play at Tennessee on Dec. 22 and also will not have a return date. … Lamar was picked to win the Southland Conference East Division title in preseason polls of both the conference's coaches and sports information directors. Jenna Plumley, last season's SLC Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, was named a first-team preseason all-conference selection, while Kalis Loyd was a second-team selection.

VIDEO COVERAGE: Pat Summitt speaks to the media before Tuesday's practice.


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