Tennessee, Baylor meet in Top 10 tilt

TEMPLE, Texas - The Lady Vols had all 13 players on the court for Monday's practice the day before the matchup with Baylor but just how much the bigs can play remains very much in question. Alyssia Brewer, who just returned from Achilles tendon surgery, feels a sense of urgency right now to give her team whatever she can, even in limited minutes.

No. 7/6 Tennessee, 9-1, takes on No. 2/3 Baylor, 9-1, at 7 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2, Lady Vols Radio Network) Tuesday at the Ferrell Center with a large crowd expected for a matchup of top 10 teams that last played in a Sweet 16 in Memphis. The first 10,000 fans will receive a Kim Mulkey bobblehead, and the likeness includes black pants and a gold jacket.

The Lady Vols are coming off Sunday's 92-77 win over Texas. Baylor last played on Dec. 5 - a 103-56 win over Minnesota - and then took a hiatus for final exams. Baylor hasn't left Waco since a mid-November trip to play Connecticut, the Bears' lone loss of the season.

Tennessee left Austin on Monday morning by bus, stopped at Temple College off Interstate 35 to practice at the campus gymnasium and then continued to Waco, where Pat Summitt said the coaches and players would conduct a film session at the hotel. The team will hold a shoot-around Tuesday before the Baylor game.

Tennessee is in a tough stretch of the season starting with the game at Texas followed by a trip to Waco and then hosting Stanford on Sunday. Baylor and Stanford played in last season's Final Four and are top contenders to return in 2011.

"I love it," Summitt said. "It's going to be very telling. We will learn a lot more about ourselves and that is what you want to do. We're in December, so we've got a lot of games left. This will be good. I will be glad to see how we respond.

"I like what we did (Monday) in practice. I thought we had really good preparation. It's going to be important that we can rotate some bigs in the paint."

The overall health of Tennessee's post players has been an ongoing issue all season. Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh both looked good early in preseason, but Cain suffered a hip injury - aggravated even more Sunday when she got clipped on a box-out in the second half - and Baugh has had soreness and tightness around her knee and in her hip area.

Both players were on the floor for the scout preparation of Monday's practice, which was observed by the Temple College women's basketball team and the softball team, along with several coaches.

Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, is likely to spend considerable time Monday and Tuesday with Baugh and Cain, who were allowed to participate in the walk-through.

"I think they'll be ready to go," Summitt said. "We just wanted them to be on the floor (Monday) and go through everything because we anticipate that they are going to play.

"We've got some different options. We're going to still start the same lineup, but I think Kelley can come in and help us, Vicki and Lyssi. We've got some size."

Alyssia Brewer was cleared just last week and played four minutes in the Texas game with two assists - she has retained her passing ability - and a steal. With Baugh and Cain limited Brewer said she feels a responsibility to give her team as much as she can, even after three months off the court.

"Definitely," Brewer said. "I think my eagerness to get back on the court is going to be another motivator for me. I feel like anything that I can do will be able to help my team. I may not come back scoring however many points but if it's getting assists or a defensive stop that's what's going to be my go-to to be able to do at first.

"I am going to give it full effort no matter what. I told Coach that. I said if I can give you from a minute to five minutes to 10 minutes on the court I am still going to give you as much as I possibly can and that's what I plan on doing (Tuesday). No matter if it's 30 seconds on the court I know that I can help my team out."

Realistically, it could be some time in January when the reigning Sixth Woman of the Year in the SEC is back to form. For now Brewer is thrilled to be back in uniform. By getting a few minutes against Texas, that meant Baylor and the stiff post test of 6'8 Brittney Griner wasn't Brewer's debut.

"I was just so excited to be able to step foot on the court," Brewer said. "My teammates were cheering me. It was a joy to be out there honestly. It's going to be a process for me to get back, but baby steps is what we're taking right now and I hope to be coming back from how I was last season some time hopefully in January."

Brewer was on the floor for extended minutes the last time Baylor and Tennessee played because Cain picked up two quick fouls, and Brewer had to handle the paint on both ends. Baylor had a 30-28 lead at halftime, but Tennessee managed a 55-50 lead with just under eight minutes to play in the Sweet 16 matchup in Memphis.

But Baylor went on a run unanswered by Tennessee, the sharpshooters fatigued and the Bears secured the game from the free throw line down the stretch to claim a 77-62 win.

"Definitely whenever another team makes a run that we need to make a stop," Brewer said of the lessons learned from that game. "I think that's something that caught us in the butt last year is that they made a run and they never looked back. I think our defense has improved tremendously since that game.

"We've got to remember the right things and the wrong things that we did in that game."

Summitt added, "Compete harder. I thought she just had her way with us."

Summitt was referring to Griner, and she did with 27 points and an 11-13 performance from the free throw line. Griner also had 10 blocks, and Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said that swatting ability can't affect the team's mentality.

"That's part of the game," Lockwood said. "You have to be willing to persevere and press through that and if something as small as simple as that can defeat you, one of my mentors always said you're a poor specimen if you can't handle adversity, and I do believe that.

"You've got to be able to get through that. It's like the little kid that has three big brothers. The more you get jerked around and beaten and tossed around at the end of the day you've got a pretty hard-nosed kid there."

Tennessee - and its opponents for that matter - has to prepare for games without knowing exactly who will be available at tipoff time. How do the coaches get the game plan ready under those circumstances?

"That's a great question," Lockwood said. "The health of Vicki and Kelley right now, Lyssi is limited, she's just coming into the fold, we kind of gauge that, we go along with the feel and the flow of the game. That's a feel-as-we-go situation.

"We do need something (from the bigs). There's no question."

Brewer is healed from her surgery and fully released, but her four minutes versus Texas was her first competitive basketball game since last March against Baylor, and she just returned to practice last week.

"She's a smart kid," Lockwood said. "She's a smart player. How quickly the rust comes off things is something nobody knows with any certainty, but I am hoping because of her two years of experience and because she is an intelligent player I am hoping that it does go quicker."

Her comfort level will increase with game repetitions and court time.

"Don't underestimate the value of practice," Lockwood said. "That's getting out there, and it's muscle memory. You build muscle memory in practice. That is where your habits are built."

Brewer does already feel a certain comfort level with the team - conditioning is a bigger hurdle for post players, especially - because she played a major role last season.

"I think even from the first day of practice I think I flowed in there pretty well," Brewer said. "Even though I haven't been running the plays I still remember some from last year. I played with these people, except Lauren (Avant) and Meighan (Simmons), for the last two years and so it's not like I lost the chemistry with them. I still kept it intact with me."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (16.9 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game); Kamiko Williams, 5'11 sophomore guard, No. 4 (9.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 senior guard, No. 5 (11.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.8 apg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (11.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.3 apg); and Glory Johnson, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25 (9.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg).

Simmons and Williams are likely to share point guard duties, though Williams handled the bulk of those responsibilities against Texas and logged 37 minutes, a stat that surprised Summitt when she checked the box score, because Williams has had issues in the past where fatigue affected her play.

"Kamiko was playing well," Summitt said. "I just let her go. She was playing well so I wasn't going to pull her."

As far as point guard duty, it depends on how the Lady Vols want to run their offenses. Williams rarely runs a predetermined play and instead will get to the paint or dish out of different looks. Simmons can do that, too, and also dig into the playbook.

"We've got combo guards, so it's a matter of what we're running," Summitt said.

Summitt is thrilled with the play of Stricklen, who moved from point guard to power forward.

"She's getting to the paint," Summitt said. "She's got a good pull-up game. I am really pleased with what she's bringing."

Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey is expected to start: Odyssey Sims, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 0 (10.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.1 apg), hails from Irving, Texas, came off bench first nine games of season before starting last contest against Minnesota, scored career-high 17 points against UConn, shooting 45.9 percent behind the arc, nickname is ‘O,' lefty was rated top point guard in class of 2010; Kimetria Hayden, 6'0 sophomore guard, No. 1 (9.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.9 apg), hails from Dallas, Texas, moved to the two spot in the starting lineup when Sims started at point in last game, had a season-high 17 points against Minnesota, also matched career high of six steals in that game, nickname is "Nae-Nae," leads starters in free throws percentage at 90.3; Melissa Jones, 5'11 senior guard, No. 5 (11.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.0 apg), hails from Thornton, Colo., is 218 points short of 1,000 for her career, serves as team captain for second consecutive year, grabbed 14 rebounds against UConn; Brooklyn Pope, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 32 (9.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg), hails from Fort Worth, Texas, sat out last season after transferring from Rutgers, had 20 points, 14 boards against Notre Dame on Dec. 1, named 2010-11 Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year; and Brittney Griner, 6'8 sophomore center, No. 42 (22.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 5.2 blocks per game), hails from Houston, Texas, Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, preseason All-American, dunked four times as a freshman, has an 88-inch wingspan, standing one arm reach is 9'2, needs 127 points to reach 1,000 for her career, already holds school record with 275 blocks, recorded nine blocks against UConn, scored career-high 35 points against Liberty, also serving as a team captain this season.

SCOUTING REPORT

Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Baylor game. Here is her assessment.

When Baylor has the ball: The focus is, of course, on Brittney Griner, but the Lady Vols need to identify all personnel on the floor, according to Warlick, and take care of the ball.

"They really love to get out and score off their defense," Warlick said. "They're super quick with the ball. (Odyssey) Sims has been a great addition to them. She handles the ball. She's quick. But they get out. (Brooklyn) Pope gets out. She's been a good addition for them, too.

"They run the ball quite a bit and they can run off their break. They do go to Griner and then (Melissa) Jones she's the X factor. When they need a rebound, she gets it. When they need a shot, she gets it. She's been a really strong leader for them."

Warlick said Griner has become a better shooter, checking in at 56.8 percent.

"She's more consistent on her shooting," Griner said. "She is more disciplined on the defensive end. Her timing is a little bit better blocking shots."

Defensively, Baylor has stayed in man so far this season.

"I have not seen them run a zone," Warlick said. "They're man to man. They're going to get after it, and Griner is going to stay in that paint.

"I think they're going to press us a little bit, but I haven't seen them press a lot. But when you watch us play against Georgetown, (teams should want to press). That was Texas' game plan, too. I am sure that is what Baylor will do, too. They are going to try and press us, trap us, make us give up easy buckets."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols are not an easy team to scout because opponents don't always know who to expect in the starting lineup. Tennessee is not being coy. Sometimes its own coaches don't know until game day who will be good to go because of the fragile health right now of the bigs.

Shekinna Stricklen has moved from point guard to the four spot to help the inside game. But she has long distance range so teams have to guard her to the arc.

"I think Shekinna being at the four has helped her extend a little bit more on the perimeter end," Warlick said. "Glory (Johnson) didn't get a lot of touches the first half (against Texas), because we were playing well on our perimeter game. If we're making shots from the outside and guards are in the paint then we've got a good thing going on.

"In the past we had to have two low post players and we don't now," Warlick added. "That's not the makeup of our team so we've kind of learned to play with four guards and one inside post player."

Tennessee still wants to get paint points but it doesn't have to be generated by post entry passes.

"It doesn't have to be pounded inside, absolutely," Warlick said. "Glory settled down and made some good plays. Kelley Cain gave us a great spark (Sunday)."

Tennessee has to hit outside shots as it did in the first half in the Sweet 16 game. Angie Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen logged extended minutes in that game and wore down in the second half with neither getting a break.

Warlick said the Lady Vols are aware of Griner but still need to stick to what has been working.

"We know she's there, but we're going to keep our same game plan," Warlick said. "Hopefully our guards can make plays midrange, and we're going to have to pull up a little bit more like we did (against Texas).

"We've got to move her. We can't throw it on the block and think we're going to make a move over her. It's not going to happen. We've got to move her a little bit, come away from the paint, screening on the ball and off the ball. We've just got to move her around."

Defensively, Tennessee will have to do two things it didn't do in Memphis - pressure the perimeter to disrupt passes inside to Griner and not let the 6'8 center set up where she wants to in the half-court offense.

"Our ball pressure has gotten better," Warlick said. "I thought our defense was better (Sunday). We're still not defending the dribble drive as much as we should, but the second half we were more aware of where (Kathleen) Nash was. Griner, hopefully we can affect her, but we can't let anybody else get off. We can't let Jones get free, Sims gets free for a three-point shot."

The Lady Vols likely will use the matchup zone and man looks.

"We're going to mix it up," Warlick said. "We're going to play a little zone, little man."

TOUGH STRETCH: Tennessee is in the middle of a three-game stretch that featured a top 25 opponent in Texas - which is No. 23/24 even after Sunday's loss - and next offers No. 2/3 Baylor and No. 3/2 Stanford, who flip places in the AP and coaches' polls.

"It's a hard deal," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "It's going to be interesting. Down the road we may have to evaluate playing so many teams in a row, because it's tough. Teams are better. There are not easy teams now."

On one hand, Warlick has expressed in the past her opinion that Tennessee's schedule needs more breaks interspersed between tough games, but on the other she noted the team is out of school and has time to focus on basketball.

"I think this is great for us," Warlick said. "We're on break. They can focus on basketball. I think it does prepare us for the NCAA Tournament. I think we can use it to our advantage."

Facing two top five teams - one on the road and one at home - back to back is rather unusual. Although Tennessee does play a tough schedule year in and year out, Dean Lockwood, who came on board in 2004-05, doesn't recall such a setup in the regular season.

"Since I've been here, no," Lockwood said.

Warlick recalled that after Tennessee lost to North Carolina, 75-63, in a regional final in 2006, Summitt commented that the Tar Heels speed was tough to prepare for when seeing it for the first time. She added UNC to the schedule, got beat again in December of 2006 and then defeated North Carolina in the Final Four in 2007.

"We weren't ready for the quickness up and down," Warlick said. "Pat said, ‘We're going to play them,' so it wasn't going to be a surprise. That's what we're doing with some teams."

Stanford has been a regular on the schedule. Baylor is a new addition, and the Lady Vols will pay Tuesday in Waco for the first time in program history.

"This will teach us a lot about where our team is right now and part of the reason Pat does this is she wants to be exposed," Lockwood said. "She wants to know where we're at and what we've got to do to be a Final Four team. This is going to be great for that."

The next two games are Final Four-worthy with Baylor and Stanford both favored to get to Indianapolis next April. Having one day between the Texas and Baylor games created a regional-type format.

"That's how we keep these young women focused," Summitt said. "They have to come back and be ready and they know it."

Summitt has often said that she does not schedule for an undefeated season. However, she also despises losing.

"That's a tough dichotomy isn't it right there? Not very good for the mental health," Lockwood said with laughter. "That's why at times we go home and want to watch ‘It's a Wonderful Life,' six times in a row. It's a different thing. You do it to yourself."

ON TAP: Only one other SEC team is in action today with Texas Southern at LSU. On Wednesday three SEC teams take the court in the following matchups: Auburn at George Washington; Mississippi Valley State at Ole Miss; and Mississippi State at Southern Miss.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Baylor, 2-1. The teams have met twice in the Sweet 16 - Tennessee won in 2004 and Baylor won in 2010 - with one regular season meeting last season in Knoxville, which was won by the Lady Vols. This will be Tennessee's first trip to Waco. … Tennessee is 4-3 in games played on December 14. The last win on this date was against Stanford, 70-66, in overtime in 2003. The first win on December 14 was against Ohio State, 69-59, in 1978. The three losses on this date were to Louisiana Tech, 80-64, in 1982; Stanford, 96-95 in overtime in 1991; and Texas, 73-59, in 2008. … Pat Summitt and Kim Mulkey are both Women's Basketball Hall of Fame coaches, and they both have basketball-playing children. Tyler Summitt, who was a Lady Vol practice player last season, is a walk-on this year for the Vols. Mulkey's daughter, Makenzie Robertson, is a freshman guard for the Bears and has logged minutes in nine games this season with 12 points scored against both Rice and Southeastern Louisiana. Both Tyler and Makenzie wear No. 14. Tyler wears 14 because it was his mother's 1976 Olympic jersey number. … Tennessee has played 11 of the Big 12 teams with the exception being Iowa State. The Lady Vols have a 49-15 record all-time against the conference. Three Big 12 teams are on the regular season schedule - Missouri, an 82-44 win in the Virgin Islands; at Texas, a 92-77 win on Sunday; and at Baylor this evening. … Baylor is 62-2 in the month of December under Coach Kim Mulkey. That includes a 39-0 record at the Ferrell Center. The two losses in the month were to Penn State in 2003 and Stanford in 2007. … The sideline Tuesday evening with have five WBHOF staff members. Both of the head coaches, of course, but also Daedra Charles-Furlow, the Lady Vols' director of character development, and UT Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick, plus former Louisiana Tech Coach Leon Barmore, now an assistant for Baylor. Barmore coached Kim Mulkey in college, and she served on his staff.

BY THE NUMBERS

Tennessee is averaging 80.2 points a game while allowing opponents to score 56.1. Baylor averages 87.9 points a game while allowing 50.7.

The Lady Vols are shooting 46.3 percent overall, 36.0 percent behind the arc and 61.7 percent from the free throw line. The Bears are shooting 49.9 percent overall, 38.5 percent from long range and 75.0 percent from the line.

Tennessee makes an average of 7.3 three-pointers a game while allowing 5.1. Baylor makes 6.0 threes a game while allowing 4.4.

Tennessee averages 43.5 rebounds a game for a +9.8 margin. Baylor averages 45.7 boards for a +12.3 margin.

The Lady Vols average 15.3 assists and 16.8 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 22.2 times a game. The Bears average 18.4 assists and 13.4 turnovers with foes losing the ball 19.5 times a game.

Tennessee averages 11.0 steals and 4.6 blocks a game. Baylor averages 9.2 steals and 7.4 blocks.

VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips from Monday's practice at Temple College with remarks from Alyssia Brewer and Pat Summitt.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories