Lady Vols prepare for Texas road trip

When the Lady Vols split into post and guard drills Wednesday afternoon, Glory Johnson, Kelley Cain, Vicki Baugh and Alyssia Brewer were all on the floor on one end of the court, a welcome sight for the coaches and especially since Baugh had what the staff called her best practice of the season.

Vicki Baugh, an athletic 6'4 forward, has come back from three knee surgeries and 21 months away from competitive basketball. Her comeback was complicated even more by tightness and pain in her hip and iliotibial band, which tremendously restricted her practice time last month and didn't allow her to get into any sort of rhythm or comfort zone.

Since the team returned from the late November trip to the Virgin Islands, Baugh has participated in every practice and for the past two she has gone the distance in up-tempo sessions.

"I thought Baugh was very good," Coach Pat Summitt after practice ended. "I think she's a lot more confident right now and that means a lot. And she's playing on balance. That's the one thing I am constantly saying. Balance, balance, balance. I said, ‘That's your key word.' "

Baugh had several drives to the rim and rebounds in which she stuck the landing – for the twice-ACL-operated forward that means landing on two feet.

"That's very important for her," Summitt said, "because she can play on one leg a lot, and today I thought it was one of her best days, if not her best."

When the players split up for position drills, the four bigs were all available, plus Alicia Manning. Taber Spani and Manning split their time between the guards and posts since both also play inside and have had to do so even more so far this season with the health issues of Baugh, Kelley Cain (hip soreness) and Alyssia Brewer, who was just cleared Monday after undergoing Achilles tendon surgery last September.

The coaches were happy to see five players on the post side of the court, as that hasn't happened all season.

"Not in awhile," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said.

All three fall right now in the day-to-day category – though Baugh seems to be making a decent-sized leap – and once Tennessee can get at least 10 minutes a game from all three, the Lady Vols suddenly become much bigger and more formidable.

"Oh, gosh," DeMoss said. "Ten to 12 quality minutes, where they can move and they're mobile and can jump."

Cain was noticeably more mobile Wednesday than she was last week and Baugh sprinted the floor, attacked the rim and moved laterally on defense without the difficulties that she had experienced just two weeks ago before the team left for the Virgin Islands.

"That was one of Vicki's best practices," DeMoss said. "They've looked better."

Now, the coaches hope for fewer setbacks and more sessions like Monday and Wednesday for Baugh and Cain.

"Exactly," DeMoss said. "And that they can continue it. We've got to have them. Kelley can't play against a Brittney Griner when she's half speed. It's not fair to her. It's not fair to the team to ask her to do it. She's got to be at least 90 percent to give us 10 quality minutes or 12 quality minutes and the same thing with Vicki.

"Today it was like (Baugh) let go more. She just kind of went after it. What she's been doing she'll get in the game and she'll try to turn it on when she gets in the game, and she hasn't been able to do it in practice and then she's awkward. Your timing goes.

"If you don't shoot and get in the gym – that's a high-skilled situation – you've got to be able to get in the gym and get some reps, so hopefully we can keep them healthy."

Summitt said having Cain and Baugh able to provide at least 10 minutes a game during the road swing against Texas and Baylor, especially against the Bears' 6'8 Griner, was vital.

"To give us an advantage with size those two have to perform for us," Summitt said.

The game-day status still seems to be day by day with both, but Summitt said she thinks "Vicki is a little ahead of Kelley right now. Kelley, it's harder for her to get up and down at that pace where Vicki is light on her feet and can get up and down."

Practice was very up-tempo Wednesday, especially transition defense drills.

"Just watching Texas what I've seen of them they push hard on everything," said Summitt, who intended to watch more film of the Longhorns on Wednesday evening. "They are going to run the ball up our backs. That's why we're working on picking the ball up and turning them and slowing it down. Because they really push tempo."

Tennessee has two more days of practice scheduled for Thursday and Friday. Some players have finished exams while others take their last tests on Thursday evening. With classes over and exams completed for some students, the male practice squad diminishes in numbers this month as they head home for the holiday break.

On Wednesday, former Vol player Bobby Maze showed up again and ran the point for the scout team. His presence was appreciated by the coaches because only four others were able to be there – some also likely have exam conflicts – so the scout team had five players. With Summitt wanting her players to match up in transition defense the practice squad had to push tempo, and Maze was the perfect point guard for that format.

Saturday will be a travel day to Texas with a shoot-around later that day before Sunday's game, which tips at noon local time. Monday will be a travel day to Waco with a scout session later Monday before Tuesday's game, which tips at 6 p.m. local time. That means the next two days are the last chance for up-tempo practices before leaving for the Lone Star State.

"(Thursday) will be another up-and-down and tough day," Summitt said. "And then we'll taper Friday."

Summitt has raised the bar – and her voice – at practice since the team returned from the Virgin Islands and the loss to Georgetown.

"Oh, I'm still mad about the Georgetown game," Summitt said.

But she has seen positive results.

"At this point I've been pleased," Summitt said. "We've talked as a staff. You don't always get what you expect. You get what you demand. As a coaching staff we've got to demand it every time we step over the line."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips from Wednesday's practice.

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