UT hosts Bama in SEC home opener

Glory Johnson's scorching play in the past two games is directly related to the time she got to spend in the gym with Dean Lockwood. The court routine of the junior forward and assistant coach has become a vital part of her performance, something both recognize and work to schedule as often as they can.

Dean Lockwood is indefatigable and makes himself available for extra work at any time with any player who asks.

Candace Parker, the all-star of additional gym reps at Tennessee, had Lockwood programmed into her cell phone. When the two crossed paths in Austin, Texas, last month Parker showed Lockwood a new move and sought his opinion in an exchange similar to a baseball player seeking out the person most familiar with a batting swing.

It's a routine so important that lengthy road trips – when gym time is limited – and even the short Christmas break can disrupt a player's game flow. In Glory Johnson's case she has a tendency to revert to old habits, and her extra court time with Lockwood restores her new ones.

"She's so instinctive and that's not entirely a bad thing but one of the things you want to combine instincts with are good habits," Lockwood said. "If you can get habits and muscle memory where you're doing sound things fundamentally with good instincts, now you're really on track."

Johnson, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, is likely to come off the bench tonight when No. 5/6 Tennessee (13-2, 1-0) takes on Alabama (11-3, 0-1) at 7 p.m. Eastern (CSS, Lady Vol Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena in the conference home opener for the Lady Vols.

"This kid, whether she starts or doesn't start, is a very, very important component to this team," Lockwood said. "We have to have her playing at that full throttle level."

Kelley Cain is likely to start in the paint with Shekinna Stricklen, but Johnson has to stay ready because of the tenuous nature of Cain's hip health – Cain could be pulled on game day – and the fact she is likely to be one of the first players off the bench.

"I've got to be prepared," Johnson said. "I've just got to work with it. I've got to be ready to play no matter what. A couple of minutes or 20 minutes, just be ready to play and put it all out there when you're are on the floor."

Johnson is a slender post having to back up the three traditional "bigs" in Cain, Alyssia Brewer and Vicki Baugh. Baugh (knee) and Cain (hip, lower back) can be game-day decisions in terms of playing status and available minutes and Brewer (Achilles tendon surgery) is easing her way back and catching up on conditioning. Brewer has played in just four games this season while Baugh has appeared in nine.

Ideally, Johnson can be paired with one of the bigs and that is what happened in the win over LSU when Cain and Johnson shared minutes together on the court and dominated the paint.

"It's great with me and Kelley playing together," Johnson said. "That's two bigs, and they've got to decide who they want to play, who they want to guard and who they want to put their big girl on."

Johnson and Cain provide different looks in the paint, too. Cain is a classic back-to-the-basket center. Johnson is an agile and athletic forward.

"I know I definitely wouldn't want to play against myself or Kelley," Johnson said.

Cain is a low block presence that can set human-absorbing screens for the shooters and then roll to the basket. Most of her points will come around the rim. Johnson can move around the paint and is more effective when she faces up to the basket and can size up the defense before making a post move.

"That's something me and Dean have been working on, and he loves it when I do it," Johnson said. "It kind of controls my body at the same time and slows down what I'm about to do and gets me thinking about my next move instead of just doing it with my back to the basket and not knowing where the defense is. When I face up I know where it is."

Lockwood works with Johnson on a variety of post moves and shot fakes, so that she has options when she's in the paint instead of making up her mind as soon as she gets the ball.

"Sometimes she predetermines," Lockwood said. "I said, ‘Glory, you make up your mind (before the move).' She said, ‘Yes, I do.' I know it because I see it. If she can get to that (level of composure) and keep getting closer to that with what she can give us energy level wise, defensively and rebounding, that is something we don't get from any other player right now."

Johnson earned the SEC Player of the Week honors for a 12-rebound, nine-point performance against Rutgers in just 19 minutes of court time and a 19-point, 15-rebound performance against LSU in 32 minutes with the double-double nearly in place by halftime. Both stat lines came off the bench, and Pat Summitt is inclined to leave that in place for now.

Several of her rebounds in both games were the kind in which the crowd can audibly be heard catching its breath because of how high she gets off the floor for the ball.

"I do. I hear that," Johnson said. "It's more motivation. Rebounds count, and it's something that I enjoy doing. It's not the same as scoring by any means but I think it's just as important. When I focus on my rebounding, I can help my team. Every time I get a board it's our turn to play with the ball."

Johnson leads the team with 140 boards. The next closest is Stricklen with 97. Johnson has a knack for getting to the rim, and Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said she is doing the necessary work ahead of the play.

"Glory is at her best when she is a rebounder, and she follows it up with a score," Warlick said. "That is as simple as an offensive player that you can be, but you get a lot of points by getting early rebounding position.

"Get early position on the rebounding so it makes it look easy. I know it's not but at times when you do your work before the ball gets there – and that's what Glory did – she makes it kind of look easy because she did her work before she got the ball. I was proud of her (against LSU)."

Johnson's per-game rebounding stat stands now at 9.3, less than one away from averaging double figures, something that has been done only once at Tennessee. Patricia Roberts averaged 14.2 rebounds in 1976-77. Parker came the closest at 9.8 in 2006-07.

"She's (less than a rebound) away from averaging double-digit rebounds, which hasn't been done in this program with the exception of one time," Lockwood said. "It's so hard to do."

Johnson's method of operation on defense is that any lofted shot is statisitically more likely to miss than be made.

"I look at every shot as a miss on the other team so that's why I will go for every rebound," Johnson said. "Right after I get the ball we're playing offense. We love to be on offense. Don't get me wrong. Defense is part of the game, too, but if we have the ball we have the advantage."

When Johnson has the ball with Lockwood on the court she gets the benefit of repetitions and a regular routine with someone who can become increasingly familiar with her game, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses and help her to refine the positives and smooth out the negatives.

"It's really important because you want to be consistent with every part of the game," Johnson said. "The more work you put in outside the game, the more consistent you get and you make good habits.

"So stay in the gym with Dean and focus on what I'm good at and what I like to do and how I can help my team. That's what I've got to concentrate on and start doing it more consistently."

For six of the past eight years, the SEC regular season championship has gone through Tennessee and LSU so a road game in Baton Rouge to open conference play – Tennessee closes it by hosting LSU on Feb. 27 – was an important win for the Lady Vols.

"It was huge," Johnson said. "I think we reacted well, and I think we played well."

Tennessee's SEC debut at home is Thursday against Alabama. After the game last season at Tuscaloosa, Summitt was asked by a TV media member to please test the microphone for audio purposes.

"My voice will go throughout this room, especially tonight," Summitt said after that game a year ago.

Summitt felt like her team didn't take the Crimson Tide seriously enough – the pre-game warmups were so loose that the Alabama players noticed – and subsequently played a lackluster game in which they won, 74-67, but were out-rebounded by 12 and taken to school by Celiscia Farmer, a freshman guard who went 10-15 in her first start and got to the rim without resistance.

"We've got to respect every opponent," Johnson said before Wednesday's practice and scouting session. "Don't worry about the other team. Worry about ourselves."

Tennessee plays its next two games at home against Alabama and Ole Miss and then goes to Florida next week with one day between that game and the double-header with the men against Vanderbilt in Knoxville as part of ESPN's GameDay.

Johnson said the Lady Vols needed to set the tone for the SEC this week.

"It's huge," Johnson said. "Two home games. Let's win them. Let's win them big and play to our potential."

Johnson, who is from Knoxville, has plenty of family support for home games.

"I love playing at home. I love the atmosphere. I love the fans, my family," said Johnson, whose first name was selected by her mother, Mercy, who wanted her five childern to have biblical names. "A lot of people get it mixed up and think Glory is short for Gloria or call me Lori."

Lockwood just wants Johnson to keep calling him for extra sessions.

"I know this: For this team to go as far as it wants to go and would like to go that kid has to be integral to what we're doing. Bottom line," Lockwood said.

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (16.2 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game, 2.1 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (11.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.7 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 sophomore guard/forward, No. 13 (8.5 rpg, 4.5 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior forward, No. 40 (10.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.1 apg); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt junior center, No. 52 (8.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg).

Two key players off the bench are the aforementioned Glory Johnson and Alicia Manning, a 6'1 junior forward with the versatility to play inside or out.

"The thing about Alicia, when you watch Manning play – let's say a year ago and now – it's clear and obvious that she has been in the gym," Summitt said during her Wednesday teleconference.

"That's the cure and solution for players that want to play. In order to play, repetition is the best thing you can have going for you. Clearly she has been in the gym. She's much more efficient on the offensive end. She's always bought into defense. I think she thrives on that."

Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick sensed that Manning had gotten frustrated – her minutes were limited on the Texas road swing – and she delivered a pep talk.

"She was struggling," Warlick said. "I went to her. When she starts thinking about her game, she doesn't play well. I just told her to relax. Take what comes to you. She doesn't have to go in the game and make an immediate impact.

"Just go in there and play the way she plays. Play hard. She makes things happen when she just plays the game."

Manning said Wednesday that the talk helped – that and getting in the gym a lot before and after Christmas – and got her back on track.

"I think a couple of weeks ago there was definitely a lot of frustration and confusion and why I wasn't playing," Manning said. "You can't let that stuff get to you. You can't always be asking why, why, why. It's the coaches' decision and what they say goes and I've just got to work on what I do.

"Holly talked to me about it a little bit, and that helped a lot. She cleared things up and she told me, ‘Keep you head up. Stay focused. Do what you do best.' "

Manning was instrumental in the 73-65 win over LSU with eight points, five rebounds and lockdown defense in 24 minutes of play.

"I think the thing about her is she plays within herself," Summitt said. "She's not trying to do too much, and I like that. She doesn't mind doing the dirty work. She doesn't mind battling the boards and playing great defense.

"She is an unselfish player and so she is going to hit the open player. I look at her as a utility player. That's a tremendous asset to have to the team."

Manning has worked on her offensive game with repetitions in the gym, and she had a key drive and finish late in the game against LSU when the Lady Tigers were threatening again.

"That was the first time I felt like I was back in high school (and looking to score)," Manning said. "If I want to go to the next level I have to be some kind of offensive threat, and I realize that. I have to get in the gym and change my mindset about taking the shot if it's open. When you get your opportunity, take it."

Still, Manning said, "I would rather have eight assists than 20 points."

Manning also can be counted on to hustle and scrap on both sides of the ball.

"As far as I am concerned that is more valuable compared to what I score, but in the end Coach does look for people for scoring so if I can develop eight to 10 points a game on top of what I already bring as far as hustle and rebounding then I am pretty set," Manning said.

"My defense really carries over to my offense. The more energy I bring on defense, the more energy offensively and confidence. I haven't changed much except for getting in the gym more."

Alabama Coach Wendell Hudson is expected to start:Jasmine Robinson, 5'7 freshman guard, No. 3 (9.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg), hails from Memphis, seven starts this season, SEC Freshman of the Week in November, tallied career-high 19 points against N.C. State, one of 13 players chosen to play in Japan for the Adidas Candace Parker Aces Global Travel Team; Ericka Russell, 5'7 junior guard, No. 23 (10.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg), hails from Tuscaloosa, Ala., has started all 14 games this season, tallied 18 points in win over N.C. State, 29 made treys leads team this season and has 132 for her career, scored in double figures in nine games this season, made All-SEC Freshman team in 2008-09; Katie Hancock, 5'11 senior forward, No. 31 (3.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg), hails from Tupelo, Miss., has started all 14 games, grabbed six rebounds against N.C. State, brother Josh Hancock, now deceased, pitched for Auburn and the St. Louis Cardinals; Kaneisha Horn, 6'1 freshman forward, No. 40 (8.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg), hails from Birmingham, Ala., has started nine games this season, tallied 14 points against Florida State, named Freshman of the Week in November, named to 2010 Junkanoo Jam All-Star Team, first McDonald's All-American to play for Alabama, also named to WBCA All-American team in high school, 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year in state of Alabama; and Tierney Jenkins, 6'0 senior forward, No. 21 (18.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 3.0 steals per game), hails from Mt. Juliet, Tenn., leads SEC in scoring and rebounding, has started all 14 games, has 11 double-doubles this season (tied for first nationally) and missed the mark in three games by just two rebounds each time, preseason All-SEC Second Team, ranks ninth on Alabama scoring list with 1,288 points and is 22 points away from passing Shalonda Enis for eighth place.

LaToya King, a 5'4 senior guard from Stuart, Fla., has started seven games at point this season and averages 5.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Another player who has started this season is Alicia Mitcham, a 6'2 junior forward from Balch Springs, Texas, with four starts who is averaging 6.3 points and 4.0 rebounds.

Shafontaye Myers, a 5'8 freshman guard from Newbern, Ala., was a spark off the bench against Auburn with three 3-pointers, the only Crimson Tide player to connect from behind the arc.

Alabama had won three games in a row prior to starting SEC play and then fell against Auburn after Russell and Robinson combined to go 0-25. Despite a career-high 31 points from Jenkins on 12-21 shooting, the Crimson Tide couldn't overcome the overall 28.2 percent mark from the field (8-50 minus Jenkins' effort) – and 3-20 mark from behind the arc – and fell 66-55.

"I do not think we played all that bad against Auburn, but our shots were just not falling," Hudson said. "We are sticking to our game plan for this matchup with Tennessee and are focused on the things we need to do in order to be successful."

SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Alabama game. Here is her assessment.

When Alabama has the ball: The Crimson Tide will likely want a fast-paced basketball game and the ball will often end up in the hands of Tierney Jenkins.

"They play a lot of one on one," Warlick said. "They're extremely athletic. They score a lot off their defense. They turn you over. They like to run the ball. They're going to press us for 40 minutes if they can. They're going to press us all over the floor."

Defensively, Alabama forces an average of 26 turnovers per game and wants to bring pressure throughout the game. Warlick said the Crimson Tide's style has "a little bit of a Georgetown flare to it" with the constant pressing. Alabama uses man and 1-2-1-1 zone presses.

"They're going to face-guard us, they're going to take away the point guard, they're going to double the point guard," Warlick said. "If they get in a zone they're going to quarter-court press us. "It's a little bit of a difficult matchup for us because they can all step out, they all handle the ball, but I think we're a difficult matchup for them because we have power inside so it's going to be interesting. They want to get up and down. Auburn slowed them down. They (Auburn) got in a 2-3 zone and they (Alabama) just kind of put on the brakes a little bit, and their go-to kids didn't make shots."

Ericka Russell and Jasmine Robinson were a comined 0-25 against Auburn. That is unlikely to ever happen again.

When Tennessee has the ball: Warlick said the top priority was to keep it.

"Auburn took care of the ball," Warlick said. "We've got to take care of the ball."

Given the fact that Alabama wants to press, Tennessee will want to beat the pressure and score in early offense without having to set up.

"Absolutely," Warlick said. "We're going to have to beat the press. They get after it. It's going to be an interesting game for us."

If the Lady Vols do set up they want the ball running through the inside as it did against LSU with scoring options starting in the paint before shifting to the perimeter.

Defensively, Tennessee intends to use its man but will be ready to show zone, too.

"We're not going to be able to play man the whole game," Warlick said. "I just don't think we will. But we could. We're going to get after them to. The mistake we made at Baylor is they were athletic and we didn't get after them. We're going to get after them and then adjust.

"We're going to press unless we're just not good at it due to us or due to them and then we adjust."

ON TAP: Eight other SEC teams are in action Thursday evening in the following matchups: Kentucky at Arkansas; Florida at Auburn; LSU at South Carolina; and Mississippi State at Vanderbilt.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Alabama, 43-2. The Lady Vols are 18-0 in Knoxville and have won the last 36 games against Alabama. The Crimson Tide's last win over Tennessee came March 3, 1984, an 85-66 victory at a neutral site at Athens, Ga., in the SEC tourney. Alabama gave the Lady Vols all they could handle last season in Tuscaloosa on Feb. 18, 2010, when the Lady Vols led by just six at halftime and never separated in the second half but prevailed, 74-67. … Tennessee is 8-1 in games played on January 6. The last win on this date was against Connecticut, 70-64, in Hartford in 2007. The first win on January 6 was against Marshall, 114-39, in 1977. The lone loss on this date was against Auburn, 67-59, in 1989. … The SOS and RPI rankings are out, and the Lady Vols are among the leaders, as usual. Tennessee is No. 1 in SOS and No. 2 in RPI. Thursday's foe, Alabama, is No. 223 at SOS and No. 97 in RPI. … Tennessee is 14-2 in home openers in the SEC. The Lady Vols' overall home record against SEC teams is 178-12 and only six teams have managed wins in Knoxville – Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU and Ole Miss. Tennessee was undefeated last season in league play at home with the lone SEC loss coming at Georgia. … Alabama received two votes in the AP Top 25 poll on Monday. Dec. 6, 2010. That was the first time since Nov. 9, 2000, that the Crimson Tide had been mentioned in the rankings. The last time Alabama was ranked was March 8, 1999, at No. 22 in the AP poll and March 30, 1999, at No. 25 in the coaches' poll. … Alabama scored 95 points Nov. 17, 2010, against N.C. State, the most points given up by the Wolfpack in a regulation game since Dec. 21, 1997, against Washington. It was the most points scored by the Crimson Tide since 102 tallied against Savannah State on Dec. 2, 2006. … Alabama was picked ahead of four other SEC teams in the coaches' preseason poll. The Crimson Tide was selected at No. 8, ahead of Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas and Mississippi State.

BY THE NUMBERS:

Tennessee is averaging 80.0 points a game while allowing opponents to score 57.8. Alabama averages 74.4 points a game while allowing 63.5.

The Lady Vols are shooting 45.5 percent overall, 35.2 percent behind the arc and 65.0 percent from the free throw line. The Crimson Tide is shooting 39.9 percent overall, 28.4 percent from long range and 60.5 percent from the line.

Tennessee makes an average of 6.7 three-pointers a game while allowing 5.2. Alabama makes 4.0 threes a game while allowing 3.6.

Tennessee averages 44.8 rebounds a game for a +10.8 margin. Alabama averages 43.6 boards for a +0.7 margin.

The Lady Vols average 14.3 assists and 16.0 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 20.0 times a game. The Crimson Tide averages 11.6 assists and 16.8 turnovers with foes losing the ball 26.0 times a game.

Tennessee averages 9.6 steals and 4.5 blocks a game. Alabama averages 11.5 steals and 2,9 blocks.

VIDEO COVERAGE: Pat Summitt discusses the upcoming game against Alabama.


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