Kelley Cain to start against Rutgers

Pat Summitt liked the way the second half started so much in Tennessee's last game that she has decided to stick with that starting lineup for the next game against Rutgers this Thursday afternoon. That means Kelley Cain will be on the court for the opening tip, her first start since the Paradise Jam at the end of November.

"Unless I change my mind," Pat Summitt said with a smile, as it's not unusual for the head coach to tinker with her lineup.

The change is an indication of the improved mobility of Kelley Cain, who has battled hip and lower back issues but has looked noticeably more nimble at practice Monday and Tuesday. Cain still goes through an assortment of stretching exercises before, during and after practice, but she has gone the distance in two sessions that were up-tempo and demanding by the staff.

"My throat is killing me, but that's OK," Summitt said.

Summitt's volume has been rather high since the loss at Baylor, as she has challenged the team as a whole and individuals.

That is also partly the reason for the lineup change. Cain will replace Glory Johnson, and Summitt said the intended message is for the junior forward to spend more time in the gym working specifically on her offensive game. Johnson's ability to defend is not an issue.

"She plays 100 miles per hour. She's got to slow down," said Summitt, who indicated she wanted to schedule some one-on-one time with Johnson and get her back in a regular routine of extra workouts, which seems to calibrate the speed of her offensive game and keep her from reverting to old habits of rushing shots at the rim. "We will figure it all out."

Summitt also intends to find minutes for junior forward Alicia Manning, who came back from the holiday break energized and hitting shots more consistently from midrange and inside.

"A-Town is going to get a lot of PT," Summitt said, referring to playing time. "She's earned it. I can tell she's been in the gym over the holidays."

Summitt indicated Manning would relieve in the post for the most part, a position that suits her skill set of board play and relentless pursuit of the ball. That allows Taber Spani to start at small forward on the perimeter where she is more comfortable and also is a threat to hit from long range.

Shekinna Stricklen will start inside with Cain – she worked out with the posts on Tuesday but also got in some three-point shots – and Angie Bjorklund and Meighan Simmons will handle the shooting and point guard spots.

That is the same five who started the second half last Wednesday against ETSU and doubled the 14-point lead in less than seven minutes with a combination of stifling defense and an inside-out attack.

Cain, a 6'6 center, is vital for Tennessee's preferred style of play – ball movement, player spacing, inside-out – because she is often doubled inside and can pass out of those situations to an open shooter. Cain also sets screens that swallow defenders.

If Cain can go Thursday and play effective minutes, it's good news for Tennessee's post game, which remains hobbled. Vicki Baugh has yet to practice this week and is getting treatment for her assorted ailments that have cropped up because of her left knee surgeries. Her status remains day to day.

Alyssia Brewer felt some discomfort Tuesday and was pulled from practice. She is coming back from Achilles tendon surgery and is using practice to gauge her recovery level. She also is day to day.

"After a tough practice (Monday), Lyssi had some swelling in her Achilles, and we held her out as a precaution," said Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine.

Freshman guard Lauren Avant bumped the back of her head on the court after taking contact on defense and was a wee bit wobbly after practice. She also will be evaluated.

Freshman guard Meighan Simmons will get the nod at point against Rutgers, a team that puts a premium on pesky defense.

"Get ready, they'll get up in your grill," Summitt said of her advice to Simmons. "They're physical, they're tough."

It will be a stiff test for a young point guard, especially one who is learning the position on the job.

"It will be good to see," Summitt said, referring to how the youngster will react.

Simmons said the adjustment process starts in her head.

"It's always a mental thing," Simmons said. "I am going to go out there and do my best to not turn the ball over, I am going to do my best to get my teammates the ball before I take any crazy shots or jack up shots. Everybody has to have the mentality that we're going to go at them and make them work twice as hard in order to stop us."

Simmons was recruited as a combo guard and has learned the point spot so that Stricklen could shift off the ball. That turned out to be fortuitous because the 6'2 forward has been needed inside because of lack of post depth.

"I have always been more comfortable with the two but the one is coming a little bit more naturally to me," Simmons said. "The two is natural but the one is becoming just as natural. I just have to continue to work towards that as well."

Simmons hasn't resisted the move and although the coaches weren't expecting a smooth process because of her first-year status and lack of experience at the position, the fact that the freshman embraced the challenge has made it easier on everyone.

Bjorklund said Simmons' teammates also need to step up their communication on Thursday.

"I think just helping her with calling the plays," Bjorklund said. "We need to echo that on the court and help her out. When you have a great defender zigzagging you down the court it's tough to think about, ‘Is my team set? Is everybody in the right spot?'

"So I think that goes to the two and three guards to get everyone set up. We'll definitely help her out there."

Tipoff is 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday with a webstream available on the Lady Vols website. Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer agreed to the time change from 7 p.m. so the game would be completed before the football Vols kick off in the Music City Bowl at 6:30 p.m., and Tennessee fans wouldn't have to choose between the two games.

The last time the Scarlet Knights came to Knoxville was in February of 2008 when Tennessee won 59-58 after Nicky Anosike hit two free throws with less than a second remaining. In a controversial ruling, the officials determined she was fouled before the clock went to zero. The fallout reached the New Jersey state legislature.

"It was bizarre," Summitt said. "It haunted us for awhile."

Still, when Tennessee played at Rutgers the next season, the fans applauded as Summitt walked to the bench, and some gave her a standing ovation.

"They know that Vivian and I are really great friends," Summitt said.

She also expects Rutgers to have this game circled. Tennessee completed the greatest comeback in program history to defeat Rutgers in January of 2009 and then won again in Madison Square Garden last season in the Maggie Dixon Classic.

"They'll come in fired up and motivated," Summitt said. "That's what you expect."

Bjorklund was a freshman for what became known as the clock game, but she doesn't remember much about it now.

"I just remember winning the game," said Bjorklund, who had a memorable freshman year that ended with a national title in Tampa in 2008. "In any close game with this program it can go either way. You still have to take a step back and look at what you did and how you could have played better."

RECRUITING NEWS: Alexis Jones, a 5'9 combo guard from Texas, made an unofficial visit to Tennessee last week for the ETSU game. Jones, who is from Irving, Texas, plays for MacArthur High School and is in the class of 2012.

Pat Summitt was in attendance Tuesday evening with Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood at the JumpOffPlus.com Holiday Invitational in Duluth, Ga., to watch Andraya Carter (class of 2012) and Kaela Davis (class of 2013) play for Buford High School, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Davis and Carter have verbally committed to play for Tennessee.

FUNERAL SERVICES: Funeral arrangements by Unity Mortuary in Knoxville have been finalized for former Lady Vol basketball player Melissa McCray-Dukes, who passed away Monday after her second valiant battle with breast cancer.

The family will receive friends on Thursday from 11 a.m. to noon with services to follow at Payne Avenue Missionary Baptist Church in Knoxville with Elder Phillip Hamilton Sr. officiating and Reverend Dr. Harold Middlebrook as the eulogist.

Entombment will be Friday at 11 a.m. at Highland West on Sutherland Avenue. The service will conclude with the release of doves.

The guest book for McCray-Dukes can be signed online at Legacy.com.

The current Lady Vol players learned of McCray-Dukes' death either from the coaches right before practice started or in the training room before they took the court. McCray-Dukes, while fighting cancer the second time in 2009, spoke to the team, which was then freshman-laden and struggling, about what it meant to wear orange at Tennessee.

"We all definitely look up to her," said Angie Bjorklund, who was a sophomore when McCray-Dukes came to practice and is now a senior. "We all walked out of that meeting when she met with us just motivated, inspired. For me her faith and the spiritual side of it and how that got her through it, too, I really looked up to her.

"It was tough on everyone (Monday). It was definitely tough on the coaches. It was a hard time for them and losing a loved one and still coming in, they just went into practice mode. That's tough to do but I think that set a great example for everyone that no matter what you're going through you've got to come and still work. But (Pat Summitt) was definitely emotional. I haven't seen her like that."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips of Tuesday's practice.


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