Lyssi Brewer opts to play this season

Alyssia Brewer debated whether or not to sit out for the year, came to the conclusion that she could help the team this season and decided to go ahead and resume play in the SEC and postseason. She smiled and said she was baffled about her missed shots in games, and she expected that to change soon but in the meantime she would focus on defense and boards.

Alyssia Brewer, a 6'3 junior forward who can provide depth in the post, injured her Achilles tendon last August when a candle base shattered in her apartment and sliced the back of her left heel. She needed surgery in September to repair the damage and didn't return to the court until December.

Brewer used the last month of 2010 to test her repaired tendon – she made limited appearances in three non-conference games and one SEC game in early January for a total of 19 minutes – and to determine whether or not to continue to play this season. She considered taking a redshirt year but decided not to and expressed the desire to come back during the second half of the season to the coaching staff.

"I did think about that, and it wasn't an easy decision for me to make but how I saw myself doing in practice and how I saw that I was going back to how I was doing last year, I was thinking I really can do this and I can help the team out," Brewer said. "If I didn't think I could help the team out this year then I definitely would have considered (a redshirt year)."

The coaches honored her request to play and set conditioning goals that she needed to meet before she took the court again in a game. Brewer missed two road trips and instead got extra workouts in the month of January after last playing Jan. 2 against LSU.

She returned Jan. 23 for the Auburn game and got three rebounds and a block. She also logged time in the next two SEC games against Mississippi State – a season-high 11 minutes – and Arkansas.

Tennessee (21-2, 9-0) is off this week and then will play three games next week – at Kentucky, at home against Florida and at Vanderbilt.

The team will get two off days this week, including a coveted and rare weekend day on Saturday, and use the others for practice sessions. The down time will help players like Brewer, who can get extra repetitions, and Angie Bjorklund, who can get extra rest for her injured right foot.

There was no definitive status for Bjorklund in terms of a return date – she remained out Monday and in a walking boot – and while Summitt expressed hope that the senior guard could return next week, she also said the situation would not be rushed and a cautious approach would be taken.

"We're not going to rush anything," Summitt said, "because what happens later on is going to be more important to us. If she's ready, she'll go, and if not, we're not going to force anything."

The game break also will be good for players who have been under the weather. Redshirt junior center Kelley Cain is still not completely well, and freshman guard Lauren Avant was not at practice Monday because of illness.

Players like Brewer and redshirt junior Vicki Baugh, who had a solid performance Sunday on defense – even tracking Arkansas guard C'eira Ricketts across the court and blocking her three attempt – can use this week to get practice repetitions and extra shots.

Brewer has eight rebounds on the season but has gone 0-8 from the field, a stat that is galling for her.

"I don't know what is going on in games," Brewer said. "In practice I am seeing things that I did last year and how I used to play and then in games … . It's here. It's coming. It's just doing it in the games."

The first step for Brewer was getting over the frustration that followed a freak accident last summer. The large glass candle base had been in her apartment for two years without being moved. When it toppled, a shard of glass sliced the back of her heel. The injury initially was thought to be minor, but the pain worsened, and her mobility didn't return.

"I have to," Brewer said when asked if she had gotten past the frustration. "But every now and then I kind of think, ‘Wow, this really did happen, and wow, we're in the middle of SEC play.' It's been a blur but (at the same time) it hasn't been, because I had to work the hardest since I've been here to be able to get to where I'm at right now."

Tennessee's post depth has been tenuous all season because of the physical limitations of the three true bigs – Brewer, Baugh and Cain.

Glory Johnson, a slender 6'3 forward, has been, as Pat Summitt said after Sunday's 72-53 win over Arkansas, a "workhorse" for the Lady Vols in the paint.

Johnson was selected Monday as the SEC Player of the Week – her third honor this season – after averaging 17.0 points, 16.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.5 steals per game in victories over Mississippi State and Arkansas.

Cain has dealt with hip and lower back issues and Baugh's knee is literally day-to-day with her playing status not known until shortly before tipoff.

Given those reoccurring ailments, Brewer is sometimes the healthiest of the three bigs - though Cain has been durable lately - but is adjusting to so much time away from live game action.

"It was almost nine months before I played in a game," Brewer said, referring to the time from postseason in March of 2010 to last December. "It's definitely hard, but it's kind of exciting in the same way because you take yourself to a level that you haven't been before. The pain is there but I really don't think about that when I am out there."

Brewer said the tendon is completely healed, but she has some residual pain around the surgical site.

"It's just the nagging soreness and stuff like that," Brewer said. "It's not a pretty scar down there."

What Brewer sees as downright ugly is her 0-8 line from the field.

"When I am out there I feel great," Brewer said. "I can't tell you why I haven't made a field goal. It kind of baffles me. It (is bothersome) to an extent because if you look back to last year when I first started out at the beginning of the year I wasn't necessarily scoring, and I didn't start scoring like I did until SEC play last year.

"So it really doesn't bother me, because I am not the person who has to revolve my game around that."

When Brewer and Baugh enter a game, their first thoughts are on defense and boards – though Baugh hit a nifty reverse layup against Arkansas on Sunday and scored on another drive – and the more reps they get in practice and games, the better they feel on the court.

"It's definitely game reps and Vicki, clearly her confidence is back, but mine is just confidence out there on the court," Brewer said. "I've never had to come back from something like this and it's kind of interesting seeing this path that is being made.

"We don't necessarily think we have to be instant offense. With me right now it's defense and rebounding and eventually my offense is going to come and that's how it's going to happen. Coach always talks about defense and rebounding win championships and so I am primarily focusing on what I can do now until I can get better in another area.

"I think more will come. I think time is definitely a factor in this as well."

Brewer could have taken a lot more time off but she weighed her options and decided she didn't want to miss out on this season.

"Definitely because I do feel like there is something very, very special about this year," Brewer said.

Summitt said the staff's reaction to Brewer's desire to play was, "(We've) got a choice, say no or OK, you can do that, but I don't know how much playing time you can get (this season)."

The staff opted to accept Brewer's decision and also require that she focus on conditioning.

"Realistic for her to help is to be in the best possible conditioning she can be in," Summitt said. "She is closer than she has been and that is going to determine the amount of playing time that she is going to get (going forward)."

Brewer said she is not focusing on number of minutes but what she does with the time she gets.

"I look at it like I'm going into the game, and I need to do at least one or two good things, because I don't know how long I am going to be out there," Brewer said. "It's kind of like I've switched roles. I'm not a person that has to revolve around offense or anything like that so primarily I focus on, ‘OK, I'm going to go in there. I'm going to get a rebound. I'm going to get a stop.'

"If the offense comes then it comes. It's not on my shoulders to have to go in there and score because we have so many people that can score on our team, which I think is great. I think that's a big part of our team."

Arkansas guard Lyndsay Harris said after Sunday's game that the players coming off the bench for Tennessee are just as good as who they replace. Brewer agreed with that assessment.

"Anybody that comes off the bench for us is as good as what comes out," Brewer said. "I think that's 100 percent true for this team."

As the players headed Monday to the weight room for a workout after practice, Brewer, a trick shot specialist, grabbed a ball, stood at center court, turned her back to the basket and, while cradling the ball with one hand, lofted the ball over her head.

The first attempt drew glass but missed. The second shot whistled through the net, bringing shouts of disbelief from her teammates and even a smile to Summitt's face as Brewer sprinted to catch up with the players as they left the arena.

She won't need that shot in a game – but if Tennessee needs one launched from nearly the length of the floor, Brewer should take it – but she will get as many shots as possible in the paint.

"Just more and more reps," Brewer said. "I am getting a lot in practice. I am doing a lot better in practice. I've got to do it in games.

"I really honestly do think that I can benefit the team in some way this year. It may not be what people perceive as of last year, but if I can become a defensive player or a rebounder I am fine with that."


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Interview with Pat Summitt

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