Lady Vols to take on Ole Miss tonight

When Vicki Baugh went coast-to-coast for a layup in the Lady Vols' last game, it wasn't the defensive rebound that was important. Nor was it her dribble-weave through defenders who didn't quite know what to do with a 6'4 post bearing down on them. It wasn't even the made layup at the other end that mattered the most. What stood out was the fact Baugh went to the right side of the basket.

"You know what?" Vicki Baugh said. "It felt very good to me because I went on the right side of the basket."

That is significant because it means Baugh launched off her left leg to make the layup, and it's her left knee that has twice been surgically repaired for a torn ACL and once for a torn meniscus. In similar situations in the past Baugh consciously headed to the left side so that she would lift off her right leg on the way up to the rim.

"That just shows that my confidence was there, and I wasn't thinking about my knee," Baugh said, "because normally I cross over so I jump off my non-surgical leg. That felt really good to me, not so much bringing the ball off the way down but just doing the layup on that side."

No. 4 Tennessee (26-2, 14-0) will be back in action this evening in the final road game of the regular season at Ole Miss (10-16, 3-11) at Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford at 8 p.m. Eastern (SportSouth, Lady Vols Radio Network).

Baugh practiced Wednesday and should be available off the bench, although her game status is day-to-day, as sometimes her knee gets fussy and Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, will advise Pat Summitt as to whether or not Baugh is cleared to play. Her medical clearance can range from full go, to use Baugh only if needed, to sidelined.

It was the sideline of Tennessee that erupted when Baugh finished the coast-to-coast play against Georgia on Monday in a game that clinched the SEC regular season crown for Tennessee. The bench rose in unison to give Baugh a standing ovation as she ran back down the court after the layup, a hint of a smile on her face.

"It's awesome because she's been through so much with her knees," senior guard Sydney Smallbone said. "We've seen how hard she's worked and how it's been killing her not to be able to be on the court the past couple of seasons so to see her really play like Vicki Baugh can play means a lot to her, obviously, and to us a team because we've seen everything she's gone through.

"It was awesome. It was really cool. We were all pumped that she was able to do that."

The reaction didn't surprise Baugh.

"We're definitely close," Baugh said. "We're like sisters, and they know what I've been through and the struggle that I've had to deal with, and they have my back. They see someone coming back from multiple surgeries and staying committed to the game. I think that's why they're extra happy when they see me do something."

Baugh logged 16 minutes in the game against Georgia – 10 in the first half and six in the second, when she went on her rim-to-rim romp – and her knee held up well.

"I haven't felt that good in a long time," Baugh said. "It wasn't a problem at all."

Monday's weather was unseasonably warm as temperatures reached into the 60s. Wednesday was slightly cooler but still warm in the 50s. East Tennessee weather is wildly unpredictable, but the closer the calendar gets to spring, the better it is for Baugh.

"That helps, too," Baugh said. "The rain definitely makes it achy, and cold weather. That might be the key."

Baugh was 4-4 from the field and 1-1 from the line for nine points. She also had seven rebounds, three blocks and an assist. Moshak has told Baugh that her knee would likely do more of what she wanted it to next season, but the solid performance Monday caused Baugh to want to always be ready for a repeat this season.

"At first I thought it would just be, ‘Well, next year I can do this,' but after playing against Georgia it's just trying to get my knee feeling the best that it can before a game and I just think that's the best way I can help my team right now," Baugh said.

"It's kind of a day-by-day thing but doing the best that I can to prepare for a game as far as health-wise is the best thing."

Baugh has a presence with the team whether on the court or not. Her medical history and will to get back earned her the respect of her teammates, and they listen to her. The team also has three juniors in the starting lineup – to go with a freshman and a sophomore – so time has also allowed for maturity to develop.

"It being their third season I feel like that group of the team has really matured," Smallbone said. "As far as production-wise I feel like towards the end of the season people's roles are more defined, and I think that's helped, too. But overall I think it's the maturity with the team and how we've matured together."

That maturity will need to be on display Thursday evening at Ole Miss. The Rebels are struggling, but will be motivated to play Tennessee, and the Lady Vols are trying to keep their SEC record perfect and stay on track for a number one seed in the NCAA tourney.

"We're not going to try to pull the rabbit out of the hat. We're not going to blow up some balloons. We're just going to have a very business-like approach like we've been doing and have them mentally and physically ready, and that's all you can do," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said.

"They know (what's on the line). They're in every game at home, and our kids know that. In every game Ole Miss at home, except the LSU game, they've been in. They see those scores. They know that. They know they won on a buzzer shot down there last year so I would be surprised if we go down there and take them for granted."

Baugh said getting Ole Miss' best shot – and everyone else's – is something the team finally understands overall.

"That is something that comes along with Tennessee basketball," Baugh said. "No matter who the team is they are always going to bring their ‘A' game for us. It's funny because watching film you're like, ‘Wow, that team did not look like that when they played us. They looked like All-Americans, every single one of them.'

"When we're playing, no matter who's the competition, they are always going to bring their best basketball so we have to be able to play 40 minutes and bring it every game."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (14.3 points per game overall/11.8 SEC, 2.9 rpg/2.6, 2.9 assists per game/3.6); Taber Spani, 6'1 sophomore guard/forward, No. 13 (8.5 ppg/7.9, 4.1 rpg/3.4); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (12.2 ppg/13.9, 7.6 rpg/8.4); Glory Johnson, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25 (11.2 ppg/13.3, 9.4 rpg/9.9); and Alyssia Brewer, 6'3 junior center/forward, No. 33 (1.9 ppg/2.6, 2.5 rpg/3.1).

Senior 6'0 guard Angie Bjorklund will be available off the bench. She logged 11 minutes and connected on a three-pointer, grabbed two boards and had an assist, block and a steal against Georgia, her first game action in a month after suffering a right foot injury.

"I was excited," Bjorklund said. "I'm nervous before every game but that's just me getting ready. We prepare so much for games, but you're always a little nervous. It was fun to finally be out there with my team. JMo is the best in the country, I think, and same with Heather Mason. She had my conditioning there. With those two combined, they had me ready for the game."

Bjorklund made use of a sports psychologist during her down time to stay mentally ready.

"Since I've been hurt I've been working with Joe Whitney, the sports psych here at UT, and he has helped keep me in my rhythm and keep my mind in the game," said Bjorklund, whose pre-game routine includes a nap and then visualization techniques. "That always helps before a game."

Bjorklund has twice beaten Ole Miss – once at home, once on the road – with a last-second three-pointer.

The Lady Vols will be without Kelley Cain, a 6'6 redshirt junior center, for the second consecutive game as she needs to rest her sore right hip. Cain has been hampered on and off all season by the hip, which she injured in a preseason practice collision.

Summitt intends to increase point guard Lauren Avant's role, but the freshman still has some conditioning goals to meet before she can log extensive minutes.

Ole Miss Coach Renee Ladner is expected to start: Valencia McFarland, 5'4 freshman guard, No. 3 (13.1 ppg/14.4, 3.1 rpg/2.7, 4.5 apg/4.9), hails from Edwards, Miss., 82.0 percent (41-50) from the line in SEC games to lead the team, Ole Miss shoots a league-leading 73.7 percent as a team, first freshman since now Assistant Coach Armintie Price Herrington (14.9 ppg in 2003-04) to average more than 13.0 points per game as a rookie, averages 38.7 minutes per game in SEC contests; Shae Nelson, 5'10 freshman guard, No. 1 (8.3 ppg/9.3, 2.8 rpg/2.2), hails from Cordova, Tenn., has connected on 32 threes in 14 SEC games for an average of 2.3 per game, tied the school record with seven threes against Auburn on nine attempts; Maggie McFerrin, 5'7 sophomore guard, No. 14 (3.1 ppg/2.0, 1.1 rpg/1.3), hails from Tupelo, Miss., grabbed career-high four boards against Arkansas, scored career-high 12 points against Georgia; Courtney Marbra, 6'1 sophomore forward, No. 25 (4.7 ppg/4.1, 5.4 rpg/5.6), hails from Jackson, Miss., tallied at least six boards in five of the past six games, had a double-double against Arkansas with a career-high 12 points, 11 rebounds, one shy of her career high; Nikki Byrd, 6'4 junior forward, No. 22 (7.3 ppg/6.6, 5.5 rpg/4.7), hails from Brookhaven, Miss., tallied double-double against Alabama with 16 points and career-high 18 rebounds, has averaged 14.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in last three games.

Senior guard and team leader Kayla Melson has missed the last five games with a concussion. In her absence, McFarland has accounted for 63 percent of her team's points via either scoring or assists.

Thursday is Senior Night for Ole Miss, and Melson, who has scored over 1,000 career points, is listed as day to day so it's possible she could play against Tennessee if medically cleared. Melson averages 15.5 points per game overall and 17.3 ppg in SEC games.

A key player off the bench for Ole Miss is Kenyotta Jenkins, a 5'10 freshman guard from Potts Camp, Miss., who started the Rebels' last game against Alabama. Jenkins has played in 17 games this season and started three.

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Ole Miss game. Here is her assessment.

When Ole Miss has the ball: The Rebels make use of screening action and penetration with the ball.

"Ball screens and (Valencia McFarland) likes to penetrate and create a help situation and (Shae Nelson) and (Maggie McFerrin) like to stand out there and shoot it," DeMoss said.

The Rebels have had to adjust to the five-game absence of senior leader Kayla Melson.

"Everybody had to step up," DeMoss said. "That was 16 points out of the chunk of things. McFarland has to start shooting it more so her scoring picked up. Nikki Byrd's scoring picked up. Other people had to step up."

Defensively, DeMoss expects to see mostly variations of zone looks.

"Two-three, 1-2-2, will play some man if they have to," said DeMoss, who added Ole Miss will extend the zone at times. "They'll press a little bit."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols want to keep shooting the ball well, especially the 50.0+ plus field goal percentage on display the entire way against Georgia, among other things.

"Push in transition, good ball movement, good player movement," DeMoss said.

Tennessee has depth this season – and has needed it with players in and out because of ongoing injuries – and wants to use it.

"We have a very balanced team," DeMoss said. "You look at our stats and we've got four players in double figures right now. We don't try and say, ‘We've got to have Meighan Simmons scoring 16 points.' Fortunately, we're a team that's very balanced and hopefully if they choose to leave certain people open that they can knock shots down.

"So it's a well-balanced offensive attack, good ball movement, good player movement."

Defensively, the Lady Vols have shown they will mix up schemes in a game or stick with what works. Against Georgia, Tennessee stayed in its matchup zone for nearly the entire game and befuddled the Lady Bulldogs.

The approach is to go with what works, whether zone or man.

"We do," DeMoss said. "Mix it up. You scout, you watch tape, we look and see how we think our team can best guard their team whether it's, ‘Can we guard the penetration better out of zone? Can we guard the shooters better? Can we guard their posts better?'

"Fortunately, we're not locked in to one defense. We're not just a man-to-man team or just a zone team."

Tennessee brought some pressure against Georgia, created a few turnovers and made the Lady Bulldogs start their offense deeper into the shot clock than they would have liked. The Lady Vols might try that again.

"As long as it's working," DeMoss said.

FREE THROW WOES: The one area of concern after Monday's otherwise demolition of Georgia was the free throw percentage, particularly the shots from the stripe of the post players.

Glory Johnson was 1-4, while Alyssia Brewer was 0-2. Kelley Cain, who is a 45.8 percent free throw shooter on the year, didn't play because of her sore hip and is out again Thursday to rest.

Pat Summitt said during her Wednesday media teleconference that if the post players continued to miss more than they make, she would adjust the starting lineup. It's not been a game-determining issue in SEC play – Tennessee's margin of victory has been +24.2 points – but it could become a factor in postseason.

Johnson worked after practice Wednesday on her form and mental approach at the line. Angie Bjorklund, a 77.8 percent free throw shooter, also offered help.

"That's one way we approach it," Mickie DeMoss said of the coaches' concern and response to the free throw shooting.

Johnson can shoot 70 percent in one game and 25 percent in the next, so they are trying to address the erratic swings in performance.

"Another one is getting in the gym and getting a lot of reps," DeMoss said. "Right now our time constraints are so tough (three games this week with one on the road), but they've just got to get reps. They've got to get their mind right. They've got to get their technique right so it's a mind, body, spirit, whole thing.

"Get it all right. Hope it goes in. Get the Ouija board out. Smoke the peace pipe."

Alicia Manning, an inside-out player, is shooting 73.8 percent from the line. Vicki Baugh, a 6'4 post, is shooting 76.9 percent from the stripe. In crunch time, those two could become big factors in the paint if Johnson, Brewer and Cain continue to misfire.

Baugh's approach has been to simplify the process.

"I know they're important, but I don't think too hard on them," Baugh said. "They are a free shot, and I just think that adds extra pressure to the free throw, whether you're home or away, if you're thinking too much about it.

"Just get up there and shoot it."

ON TAP: All 12 SEC teams are in action Thursday. The other matchups are: Mississippi State at Alabama; Arkansas at Kentucky; Auburn at Georgia; Florida at Vanderbilt; and South Carolina at LSU.

ODDS AND ENDS Tennessee leads the series with Ole Miss, 37-7. The Lady Vols are 15-3 in Oxford with the last road loss to the Rebels coming in 1996. … Tennessee is 10-3 in games played on February 24. The last win on this date was against Mississippi State, 72-46, in 2008. The first win on February 24 came against Carson-Newman, 56-50, in 1973, with another win on the same day against Chattanooga, 55-51, in 1973 in postseason play. The three losses on this date were against Maryville, 18-3, in 1906; Sullins, 15-12, in 1923; and Maryville, 20-14, in 1925. … Four Lady Vols average double-digit scoring against Ole Miss. Freshman Meighan Simmons scored 18 points on 8-10 from the field in her first game this season against the Rebels. Junior Shekinna Stricklen averages 14.6 points per game with Alyssia Brewer at 12.0 ppg while connecting at 56.4 percent from the field. Angie Bjorklund averages 10.2 ppg. Vicki Baugh leads on the glass at 9.0 rebounds per game. … Thursday will be "Senior Night" for Ole Miss. Seniors Kayla Melson and Tori Slusher will be honored before the game along with managers Chad Bush and Andrew Manzke. Ole Miss also has a senior promotion with all fans 55 and older receiving free admission. … Ole Miss has out-rebounded its last two opponents. The Rebels prevailed 47-45 against Arkansas and 48-30 against Alabama. … Ole Miss has gone 1-2 against Top 25 teams. The Rebels beat Arkansas, 69-65, and lost to Kentucky, 74-68, and Georgia, 61-56. The Rebels led by double digits in the second half in both losses. Ole Miss shot 59.5 percent against Kentucky, just shy of the program record of 59.7 percent set in the 1982-83 and 1984-85 seasons.

BY THE NUMBERS: Overall stats with SEC figures in parentheses.

Tennessee is averaging 78.6 points a game (76.8 in the SEC) while allowing opponents to score 54.9 (52.6). Ole Miss averages 59.7 points a game (55.3) while allowing 66.7 (68.6).

The Lady Vols are shooting 45.9 percent overall (46.7), 36.3 percent behind the arc (36.5) and 66.4 percent from the free throw line (69.3). The Rebels are shooting 37.5 percent overall (36.9), 26.6 percent from long range (27.5) and 68.8 percent from the line (73.7).

Tennessee makes an average of 6.5 three-pointers a game (5.8) while allowing 5.2 (5.3). Ole Miss makes 4.3 threes a game (4.1) while allowing 7.1 (6.9).

Tennessee averages 46.8 rebounds a game (48.6) for a +12.9 margin (+14.9). Ole Miss averages 38.8 boards (34.3) for a +0.5 margin (-4.4).

The Lady Vols average 14.2 assists (13.7) and 15.9 turnovers (15.9) a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 17.6 times a game (14.9). The Rebels average 11.4 assists (9.1) and 16.0 turnovers (14.1) with foes losing the ball 14.4 times a game (11.4).

Tennessee averages 7.9 steals (5.9) and 5.5 blocks a game (6.7). Ole Miss averages 6.7 steals (5.1) and 2.2 blocks (1.9).

VIDEO COVERAGE: Player interviews before Wednesday's practice and departure to Oxford, Miss.

Angie Bjorklund

Vicki Baugh


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