Lady Vols get back to practice

After two days off following their SEC Tournament championship run, the Lady Vols were on the practice court more than two hours Wednesday at a time of year between postseason events that the coaches welcome, because they can return to strenuous sessions during the down time while they await an opponent.

"You come to practice and you put them on a court and you teach them and you watch them and you correct them and you challenge them," Coach Pat Summitt said after Wednesday's session.

"That's what today was all about. And you get better. We got better today. We've just got to continue to get better."

While Summitt spoke, a work crew at Thompson-Boling Arena gathered at one end to get ready to dismantle the court – the team will move to Pratt Pavilion the rest of the week – to prepare the venue for a large gathering of churches this weekend. The year 2011 had already been added to the SEC Tournament Champions banner above the court.

"The Summitt" court will be reassembled next week and Tennessee, 31-2, will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, beginning Saturday, March 19.

"I definitely think we have earned a No. 1seed," Summitt said during her weekly media teleconference. "If I got to choose I'd say, ‘Oh yeah let's go to Dayton (regional site). The committee is going to make that decision. They will take into consideration the distance from home. We would travel a lot of people to Dayton.

"We've got to get out of the first and second rounds before we can really (think about that)."

The Women's Selection Show will be this Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN, and Summitt will, once again, host the team and area media at her home for the unveiling of the brackets.

Tennessee will learn that evening which team will be its first round opponent, and the focus at practice next week will shift to game preparation. In the meantime, the Lady Vols will focus on themselves with the rebounding performance in Nashville the first area to address.

Tennessee shot 56.4 percent in the 90-65 win over Kentucky – and a gaudy 76.2 percent (16-21) from behind the arc – so the coaches understood the opportunity for offensive boards was curtailed by that marksmanship in the title game in Nashville.

But Kentucky got an eye-popping 31 offensive rebounds so Tennessee squandered multiple opportunities for defensive boards. Alicia Manning, a 6'1 forward, was the only Lady Vol to reach double digits on the boards with 11.

Alyssia Brewer pointed out the rebounding deficit a few minutes after the game ended, and it was a major point of emphasis at Wednesday's practice. The Lady Vols had rebounded well during the regular season but backslid at the tourney. Other than that stat, Summitt likes her post game.

"The significant thing there is we probably have the biggest post game in the country when you look at Kelley Cain and Lyssi, if she's healthy," Summitt said. "Those two have done a great job for us. We've really got three bigs that can go and so with Lyssi in the mix and Vicki in the mix and Kelley in the mix and then you've got Glory Johnson, who's a great athlete, there's four players who can really do some damage.

"If we can stay healthy, I like our post game. Our guard play is getting better."

Brewer (Achilles tendon), Cain (hip, lower back) and Vicki Baugh (knee) all practiced Wednesday in a lengthy and physical session. Cain wore all of her body armor – pads for her hips, thighs, ribs and lower back – and moved as well as she had all season.

Brewer has made steady improvement in her recovery. Baugh remains a game day decision – her knee was sore Sunday and she was held out of the title game, a decision made before tipoff – but she won't have the back-to-back format of the conference tourney in the NCAA postseason.

Summitt indicated Wednesday in her teleconference that her most important conversation of the postseason would be with Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine.

"Are we going to be healthy? Are we going to be mobile?" Summitt said. "I talked to Jenny (Tuesday), telling her we need to know who is healthy. We have to get us a game plan."

A game plan for Tennessee this season has often varied because of both the health status of the posts and different players emerging.

Sophomore Kamiko Williams has taken a big leap since her freshman year, and Summitt relies on the guard in key games and at crucial times now.

"This year is a whole lot better than last year most definitely," Williams said. "I think me and Pat's relationship, it's still in progress, but it got somewhere this year. I can tell that she trusts me more even though sometimes she'll say, ‘Miko, I don't trust you on this or that,' but she has me in the game when it's a close game or the game is on the line and she needs somebody to handle the pressure.

"She puts me out there so I know she trusts me. And according to Coach D (Daedra Charles-Furlow), she uses reverse psychology to kind of get me motivated."

Williams' spirit is irrepressible and her personality is often the antithesis of Summitt's, as the head coach could maintain focus in the vortex of a tornado, while Williams can easily get distracted – and her body language gives her away.

"That's still a work in progress," Williams said. "Bree (Briana Bass) tries to help me, ‘Miko, you're twiddling your thumbs. Pay attention.' … I can never sit still. Even in class I am always shaking something. I try to stand like a soldier."

Williams does have a military background, as her father is Master Sgt. Vincent Williams, and he surprised the family at the end of February with a visit home to Clarksville, Tenn., from Afghanistan, where he is serving a yearlong tour of duty until next summer.

Sgt. Williams got his daughter's attention at halftime of the last regular season game and she hugged her father and then burst into tears on the bench, a situation Kamiko Williams said "embarrassed" her a little bit, but "it was great."

Williams had said in the past that when she talked to her father she wanted the conversation to be less about basketball – she gets plenty of that – and more about her personal life, and she said he did that for her on this visit.

"And then after awhile it went back to basketball," Williams said. "But it's cool to have my dad around so if that's what I've got to do to talk to him, we'll talk about basketball all day."

She expected her father to make a trip to Knoxville on Saturday – the team is scheduled to be off that day this week – before he leaves for Afghanistan, so that she can see him again before he leaves the country.

Williams can also more readily discuss basketball, as she has now learned the Tennessee system from the point position.

"I know the plays," Williams said. "I found myself talking more on the floor within the huddles trying to make sure everybody is on the same page. Last year I had a problem with the plays. I've gotten a lot more comfortable at the point, too, and my game is coming out more and more."

Williams also is taking better care of herself after a freshman season spent eschewing the advice of the nutritionist and keeping her old eating habits. Her fast-food trips are staggered as a sophomore, and when she eats out she tries to select healthy items on the menu.

"No Taco Bell since January. McDonald's three weeks ago," said Williams, who always gets chicken nuggets and an extra sweet and sour sauce for the fries. "I kind of space it out more. It used to be McDonald's every day."

Better eating habits have improved her practice habits and the ability to play longer stretches in games.

"I have gotten a whole lot better," Williams said. "There have been times in the game where I catch myself and then my second wind will kick in. It's not that bad when you don't think about being tired, you just play.

"I think my mindset has gotten a lot stronger since last year, and Coach is still pushing me to be a mental giant, as she would say."

Williams, a 5'11 combo guard, can jump with Johnson and has the ability to take anyone off the dribble. Her defense can be of the shutdown variety at times, but she entered Tennessee having never been challenged on the court – Williams said she didn't have to play defense in high school – and encountered a coach who demands all effort all the time.

"The hardest thing for me is she's very casual and very laidback, and we're trying to win a national championship," Summitt said. "She's gotten better. We're not there yet."

Summitt will acknowledge the progress, and the two have better lines of communication, a process that has been aided by Daedra Charles-Furlow, the team's director of character development.

"Last year I was like, ‘Coach hates me,' " said a smiling Williams, who seems to have a keen awareness of her own quirkiness. "I am like, ‘OK, she doesn't hate me as bad as I thought,' so let me not be so focused on how she feels about me this year.

"Let me just do what she asks me to do and prove myself. I feel like I have, and our relationship is getting better."

Williams also surprised herself with a defensive hustle play against Kentucky. She dove to the floor to secure a loose ball, snared it and got it to Cain, who fired ahead to Shekinna Stricklen for a wide-open three.

It was noteworthy enough for Stricklen to mention it to the second-year player.

"Shekinna said something, ‘Miko, you know you dove on the floor?' " Williams said. "I was like, ‘It was the heat-of-the-moment type of thing.' You've got to do what you've got to do, because I really wanted that ball because I felt like it should have been ours.

"It kind of shocked me, too, because I dove one time in high school and it hurt really bad and I said, ‘You know what? I probably will never dive ever again.' It took me my sophomore year playing against Kentucky to dive again. A lot (of success on the next play) came out from that."

Summitt will want to see more plays of that variety and especially now the postseason is upon the team, and a loss ends the season. Tennessee hasn't been to a Final Four since 2008, a drought by Lady Vol standards.

"Well, you never have to worry about the coaches. Our focus will be there, and we definitely want to get this team ready," Summitt said. "It's all about what the players do when they step over the line and get ready to compete. I think our depth is a real factor.

"I like our chances but you step over the line and you're not ready to play, you go home. We've got to be as focused as we can in practice for game preparation.

"It's a great time for us. We did some good things, had some good drill work and also had some good teamwork."

Williams has been a key contributor to the team this season and wants to be a factor at the most important time of the year.

"I feel good about my game," Williams said. "I feel good about my teammates' game. I have so much confidence in this team."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Clips from Wednesday's practice session

Kamiko Williams

Pat Summitt


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