Vicki Baugh delighted to be on court

Vicki Baugh has a simple message for her teammates: The time to talk has long ended; get it done on the court. It's also a message that's easier to deliver when she's on the court with them, and the redshirt junior forward took another step in that direction in Sunday's win over Auburn.

The Tennessee players listen to Vicki Baugh, partly because they like her, partly because they respect her and mostly because they admire her for overcoming considerable adversity to get back on the basketball court.

Baugh has the potential to be a vocal leader for the Lady Vols, but that position of peer authority is more effective when it comes from a player on the court and it's usually one entrusted with a vital role. With that in mind Baugh's time to lead is more likely to happen next season when she expects to be better adjusted to playing again, but that doesn't mean she can't have some impact now.

"Most definitely," Baugh said. "It's always hard from the sideline because all I can do is tell them. But when I finally get to be out on the court I can lead by example. I don't have to talk as much, because they'll see that I'm doing the things that I need to do with my game.

"I just think that we've talked (about goals and improvement) far long enough. We have all the answers, but we need to apply it to our game."

Baugh, fellow redshirt junior Kelley Cain and seniors Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone are the last connections on the roster to the 2008 national title team, and Cain was sidelined that season because of knee surgery. The other players haven't been past the Sweet 16, and those four have to relate to the current team what it takes to get to a Final Four and win a championship.

"Most definitely," Baugh said. "We experienced it a year and we thought it was tough then, but jeez it just takes playing 40 minutes every game and not playing to the other team's potential but to yours. And I think that we struggle with that. Sometimes we'll play at their level and not necessarily what Tennessee basketball needs to be.

"So, we've been finding that lately."

Tennessee's defense was somewhat improved Sunday and that was partially due to the presence, albeit limited, of the 6'4 Baugh and the 6'3 Alyssia Brewer, who held their own in the switching defense – even venturing to the sidelines to set traps. A deeper post rotation – especially the agility of Baugh and size of Brewer – is another step to returning this Tennessee team to the stout defense of its predecessors.

"Oh, most definitely," Baugh said. "I think once me and Lyssi are completely healthy and as a team we understand the principles of defense … Tennessee basketball is defense and rebounding. Once we take that and use it to the best of our abilities I don't think anyone in the country is going to be a problem, but it's a matter of applying that on the court, and we struggle with that big time."

Both Brewer and Baugh are working their way back midseason so they are in catch-up mode in terms of court comfort, but both can immediately help, and both want to be on the floor with their teammates. Brewer worked overtime to accelerate her conditioning, and Baugh, after having to take a break from some weight exercises because of knee pain, is able to lift again.

That work off the court for the past eight weeks got them on the court in January.

Baugh is wearing her old knee brace with some new straps – they will wear out over time – and seems more comfortable with it.

"It definitely supports my knee," Baugh said. "Some of the twisting and stuff that I used to feel it doesn't do it as much. Last time I was just wearing it because I had to. This time I really feel the difference when I don't wear it compared to when I am.

"But I think a lot of that is building my quad back up. I just got back in the weight room last week. I think that's been a big help."

Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, said the hamstring issue that Baugh dealt with earlier meant taking a break from the weights. Of course, the unwanted but unavoidable side effect was some loss of quad strength. So Baugh put out one fire and another popped up.

"Exactly," Baugh said. "I think it was just hard. I had so many things done."

Baugh had two ACL surgeries within one calendar year in 2008-09 and then needed meniscus surgery on the same left knee in 2010 to repair some damage.

"I think the (getting back in) the weight room was the key," said Baugh, who noted she felt great all summer when she lifted and played pickup but then had the flare-ups when playing full-scale basketball again.

The key for Baugh and Moshak was to strike the right balance.

"We stopped lifting for awhile because that hamstring was acting up," Moshak said. "That helped to calm it down and now we're back to the lifting phase. Ebbs and flows of post-surgical stuff."

When Baugh checked in the game against Vanderbilt on Jan. 15 and then Sunday against Auburn, her teammates always smile. When she scored against Auburn, they erupted in cheers. Their reaction resonates with Baugh.

"Most definitely," Baugh said. "I love my teammates. We love each other like sisters. It's just great. We all support each other no matter what. They've been there, and they know the struggle I've been facing. It's just been great. They've had my back, and I am looking forward to playing with them."

Her teammates also were in stitches Sunday when Baugh, in her zeal to get to the scorer's table, shed her warm-up shirt, tossed it behind the bench and inadvertently pulled off her jersey, too. Baugh had to retrieve the No. 21 jersey from a rather amused manager. Her teammates were trying to stifle their laughter after they realized what had happened.

"I was laughing too hard to see (them)," Baugh said. "I just felt like a gust of air and was like, ‘What? Oh, my jersey.' I just didn't have it tucked in. I usually have it tucked in. But off with my shooting shirt and off it goes."

Baugh entered in the second half Sunday of the 73-53 win over Auburn and scored nine points in seven minutes with two boards. Baugh said she transferred her comfort level from practice to a game.

"I've been very happy with her in practice," Moshak said. "It takes her longer to warm up. That's going to be par for the course."

The Lady Vols were back on the practice court Monday afternoon for a relatively short session and then a weight workout. Tuesday will be an off day for the team. Cain was able to take the court the day after the game, a positive development stemming from having post depth for the first time all season.

Senior guard Angie Bjorklund missed practice, received sideline rehab and was wearing a walking boot. Moshak said Bjorklund had a right foot sprain and was listed as day to day. Moshak opted for the boot over crutches because she said student-athletes are likely to shed crutches when walking to classes as an inconvenience but will keep on the protective boot.

Tennessee's next game is Thursday at home against Mississippi State before a road game Sunday at Arkansas.

"If we don't have to play her, I don't think we need to play her," Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said. "If we don't have to, we won't."

Bjorklund didn't report any specific incident that caused the foot pain.

"I just think it's been over time," Moshak said. "She doesn't remember landing funny."

Bjorklund had some discomfort last week, played in Thursday's game against South Carolina and then practiced for part of Friday's session before seeking treatment. She played Sunday for 25 minutes and was 3-6 from the field with three assists, a steal and a block.

Moshak said the injury is more problematic for Bjorklund on defense because of lateral movement.

"Defense is more an issue (than shooting, though) you (do) need her to be on balance," Moshak said. "Pat and I talked. We're going to do this and rest her a little bit. We've got three months of the season left still."

If Bjorklund doesn't play Thursday, two candidates to replace her in the starting lineup on the perimeter are Alicia Manning or Kamiko Williams. Or Summitt could opt to move Shekinna Stricklen from the post and start Glory Johnson inside. Summitt said Monday she hadn't yet fully considered what she would do.

Freshman guard Meighan Simmons, a three-point threat along with sophomore Taber Spani, can help compensate for the loss of long-range firepower. Summitt watched film before practice with the first-year player, whose performance has been uneven of late.

"She's pressing. She's just pressing," Summitt said. "She's pretty much played by herself (in) high school. But there's no doubt she's one of the best, most athletic guards that we've had. I think she's just trying to do a little too much.

"We had a really good film session. We watched the game tape. She just was playing 100 miles per hour, playing by herself and out of control, and she saw it all. One thing, she's got a pretty good (basketball) IQ. She understands the game. She just got all carried away in that environment and was kind of out of whack."

A spirited crowd at Auburn Arena, which included some vocal Lady Vol sections, got excited late in the game when Johnson broke for the basket with the ball on a fast break. Johnson considered dunking – Baugh teased Johnson that she "kind of punked out on that" – but didn't want to risk a miss.

"As long as it goes through I don't care how it goes there," said Summitt and joked that if Johnson grabbed 15 boards – she had 13 on Sunday – a missed dunk would be forgiven. "If she wanted to dunk it and could do it, fine. I think she was probably thinking, ‘What if I don't make it?'

"That is probably smart. It's only two points either way you take it."

VIDEO COVERAGE:

Glory Johnson

Vicki Baugh

Practice clips


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