Practice session pleases coaches

When the coaches walked in the locker room Monday, the players were ready for them with their own critiques of the performance against Vanderbilt – well below par in their assessment – and although they'll take the win the Lady Vols said they should not have let the Commodores back in the game.

"Today in film when we walked in before we even watched tape we said, ‘Were you happy with your performance?' " Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "They all went, ‘Absolutely not.' That's maturity.

"We won the game, awesome, but we should have been better. They said it; we didn't. And then we watched the tape and we came out and had a great practice."

Monday was a school holiday in observation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day but it wasn't a day off for Tennessee – that comes Tuesday as the team settles into its SEC routine – as the players went through a two-hour practice after that film session and efficiently covered every item on the coaches' itinerary.

"Absolutely what we got done," Warlick said when asked what the team wanted to accomplish Monday. "We got through everything we wanted to achieve today. We did it and more."

That included transition defense, ball pressure, denial defense, box-out drills, offensive efficiency, free throws and a six-on-five session in which five Lady Vols had to account for six male practice players and stay on the court until they got a stop.

"We did a lot of stuff today," Warlick said.

The session was impressive, too, because the team had a day off Sunday and has sometimes returned to practice the next day rather lethargic. That wasn't the case Monday and the players did well enough to earn Tuesday off and stay within the framework of an SEC workweek schedule.

Tennessee plays two road games this week – at South Carolina on Thursday and at Auburn on Sunday, and classes also have resumed.

"We've got a full week," Warlick said.

Tennessee had a full court Monday, too, as Vicki Baugh, who has been outfitted with a tailor-made knee brace, participated in the entire session – notable because it was up-tempo with a lot of full court drills – and was noticeably more mobile and comfortable.

Baugh played three minutes in Saturday's 68-56 win over Vanderbilt and Coach Pat Summitt wants to sneak her into as many games as she can, depending on how the redshirt forward's knee feels that day.

"Absolutely," Summitt said. "I told her it's the best day of the whole year. She's on balance, rebounding. She's doing a good job, a really good job."

Junior forward Alyssia Brewer continued her comeback from Achilles tendon surgery and was a full participant, as usual, in the session. Brewer is unlikely to accompany the team on the road trips this week so that she can complete extra cardio workouts to accelerate her conditioning level.

"I think she is getting better," Summitt said. "She just needs more time on the floor and more cardio and get herself in tip-top shape."

If the 6'4 Baugh and the 6'3 Brewer reach the point where they can take the court on a regular basis, it makes the Lady Vols' post game gargantuan with the 6'6 Kelley Cain already in the paint.

"A lot better," Summitt said. "But Lyssi right now is not near where Vicki is."

Baugh was crashing the boards and motoring up the court and although winded, she stayed with the pack.

"Vicki Baugh had a great practice today, great practice," Warlick said. "Best she's had in two years."

One player missed the last part of practice. Glory Johnson got scratched in the eye during a drill and needed treatment in the locker room from Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine. Johnson returned to the sideline later wearing an eye patch – her teammates called her "pirate" – and was expected to be OK.

Warlick liked the attitude in practice Monday, and, as usual, the coaches raised the temperature, so to speak.

"It is a lot higher," Warlick said. "Hopefully their maturity level … it's got to carry over. We control practice. If we do something on (a drill), and they don't do it, we stop and run. You can't do (that) in a game.

"We play harder in practice than we do in a game. We played harder today than we did against Vanderbilt. You can't let up on them. You can't do that on a well coached team and you saw them get back in the game."

Warlick said halftime score of 29-17 concerned her because the Commodores had shot just 18.9 percent in the first half after entering the game second in the SEC in conference play in field goal percentage. Warlick also thought Vandy had some open looks in the first half and just missed them, and she didn't expect that to continue.

A 22-point lead, 50-28, with 11:27 to go after Angie Bjorklund hit her fourth three-pointer of the game – giving her 281 treys for her career – dwindled to just eight points, 64-56, with 1:03 left.

However, the coaches didn't have to say much about that in Monday's film session. The players noted the mistakes before they saw the clips. Bjorklund, Johnson and Meighan Simmons were also already pointing out issues in the post-game press conference.

"When they can do that and we don't have to come in here and (point it out), when they can look at it and understand it and have an answer for it then you've made progress," Warlick said.

Alicia Manning has been a spark off the bench since SEC play started – fourth on the team in rebounding and third in assists – but she had just one board in 12 minutes of play on Saturday when the Lady Vols played the evening game after the Vols, who also beat Vandy, tipped at noon as part of the GameDay double-header, the first time the on-campus ESPN show featured the men and women's teams.

"I don't know what it was," Manning said. "GameDay was a really big deal. Some of us were here since 9, 10 o'clock (in the morning). I don't know if that had anything to do with it or having the quick turn-around, too, (after playing at Florida on Thursday). It's like the SEC Tournament. You've got to be able to do that. It's just one of those things.

"Vanderbilt just took us out of our game but the fact we stuck it out and we pulled away with the win shows our maturity level, and the fact that we can finish games."

Tennessee's 5-0 start in SEC play has been stellar and the Lady Vols are atop numerous every statistical categories in league games, including scoring offense at 84.0 ppg and scoring margin at +33.6 – for comparison the No. 2 spots are held by Auburn at 69.6 ppg and +8.8 margin.

Through five league games, Tennessee also leads in field goal percentage at 48.3 percent; scoring defense at 50.4 ppg; free throw percentage at 76.5 percent; field goal percent defense at 27.1 percent; three-point field goal percentage defense at 25.0 percent; rebounding offense at 51.6 per game; rebounding margin at +14.2; blocked shots at 8.2 per game; and three-point field goals made at 6.8 per game.

Tennessee is sixth in rebounding defense with SEC opponents averaging 37.4 per game. Kentucky is first, allowing just 31.0 rebounds per game for league teams. That would explain Summitt's post-game remarks of late that Tennessee's board play needed to improve, as she has felt as though her players have missed too many box-outs, thus the emphasis in practice Monday.

Despite leading the league in overall field goal percentage, Tennessee is fourth in the league in three-point field goal percentage at 34.3 percent. Georgia leads at 43.1 percent.

Summitt, although she salutes the long-range shooters on her team, has watched some shots get lofted too soon in the offense for her liking, especially in the half-court offense because the ball never moved into the paint, via either entry pass or penetration. The Lady Vols were 5-16 (31.3 percent) from long range in the first half against Vandy, and she called a timeout specifically to address the quick triggers.

It's a tricky balance because Tennessee is seventh in the league in turnover margin versus opponents at -0.2 – Kentucky leads at +7.0 – and will sometimes force the ball inside when Cain or another post is not open, as happened against Vandy, and cause a turnover.

Tennessee is second in assist/turnover ratio at 1.0 with an equal number of turnovers and assists at 67. Vandy is first at 1.1 with 76 assists to 71 turnovers.

One stat the coaches particularly want to address is steals. Tennessee is tied for last in the league with LSU with just 24 steals. Auburn leads the league with 47 thefts. Given the athleticism and length of the Lady Vols, it's a glaring area for improvement.

"We've to get more deflections," Warlick said. "The other night (against Vandy) we only had 15. You've got to have at least 25 to 30. I don't think we were aggressive. Maybe part of our game plan, defending screens, brought that on.

"But we've got to be more aggressive. We've got to get more steals, got to get more deflections. We've got to create more offense out of our defense, and we didn't do that against Vandy."

As far as individual leaders in league play, Johnson and Cain are tied for third at 9.0 boards a game. Kentucky's Victoria Dunlap is first at 10.0, following by Alabama's Tierney Jenkins at 9.6. Shekinna Stricklen is sixth at 7.8 rebounds a game.

Johnson is third in the league in field goal percentage at 57.4 percent. South Carolina's Ashley Bruner leads the league at 63.4 percent followed by Vandy's Hannah Tuomi at 58.8 percent.

Bjorklund and Simmons are fourth and fifth in made three-pointers at 2.6 and 2.4 a game, respectively. Arkansas' Lyndsay Harris is first at 3.2.

Cain is first in the league in blocked shots at 3.2 a game. Kamiko Williams and Ole Miss' Catina Bett are tied for second at 2.0.

Cain and Johnson are second and third in defensive rebounding at 6.6 and 6.0 per game, respectively. Dunlap leads at 6.8.

Manning leads the league in free throw percentage at 100 percent as she has gone 13-13 from the line. Kentucky's A'dia Mathies is second at 84.6 percent (11-13). South Carolina's La'Keisha Sutton is third at 84.2 percent (16-19).

"I'm happy to hear that because the past few years I don't why my free throws haven't been very good," Manning said. "I can hit 1,000 in practice. It's all mental."

Manning also has made it a point to get in the gym and loft extra shots. Bjorklund said after the win at Florida that teammates are now calling her to meet in the gym, not her having to reach them. Summitt had asked Bjorklund to do, because she knew the senior always found her way to the court, and she wanted Bjorklund to take recalcitrant teammates with her.

With school back in session the players will have to find that balance between class work and extra shots.

"Especially at the beginning of the semester and you're trying to figure out your hours and where you can get in some shots," Manning said. "I think it's really good that people are calling Angie.

"I think this year we're finally realizing what all needs to be put into it and how hard we need to work and the extra time and the extra shots, how critical they are. It just shows our maturity level and hopefully it will pay off in games."


Practice clips from Monday

Pat Summitt's remarks Monday

Inside Tennessee Top Stories