Lady Vols meet, outline pact

Tuesday was an off day for the Lady Vols, but the players got together on their own to discuss basketball and develop their own pact, with former Lady Vol Alberta Auguste also meeting with the team, prior to preparations for Saturday's Sweet 16 matchup with Ohio State at the Dayton Region.

Lady Vol pacts were rather common when Nicky Anosike was on the team – she came up with written ones in 2007 and 2008 – and senior guard Angie Bjorklund, who organized the meeting, took a page from her freshman year.

"We kind of made a pact," Bjorklund said before practice Wednesday. "I think the Marquette game was a little wakeup call. Teams in the past have done this before, and I remember my freshman year we did it. … We need to make a pact, what we're going to commit to as a team on the court, a solid five, six things."

Tennessee prevailed on its home court Monday evening with a 79-70 win over Marquette and while the Lady Vols managed to never lose the lead it was a one-point game with 6:15 left to play.

Junior guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen said the other basic premise of the meeting was that an overall effort such as that against Marquette could end the season. Tennessee, once again, shot well, but the defense was porous.

"We just can't really have a game that we had against Marquette," Stricklen said. "We've really got to commit to play defense as a team. We've really got to have each other's back. That was the main thing we were talking about. We've got to have each other's back if we're going to make it to the Final Four.

"We're really going to have to start playing great defense, boxing out and knowing each other's role and just knowing what you've got to bring to the team."

The ball getting inside – or rather not doing so – also was a topic of conversation. Tennessee has shot very well this season from the perimeter – the Lady Vols need two treys to tie the best season ever (2007-08) of 237 three-pointers – and that means the post doesn't always get fed. Against Marquette on Monday, it was nearly five minutes into the game before Glory Johnson scored at the rim.

The lack of inside touches for the post players to open the game also was a topic of discussion among the players.

"We did," Johnson said. "We can trust the guards with the ball and know that they're going to make a move or a pass that's going to benefit the team rather than just individually, ‘I want to take shots. I want to get mine.'

"Having posts trusting guards, having guards trusting posts, that was a lot of the meeting. The trust issue, making sure that was out of the question, that we both trusted each other."

A corollary to that conversation was that Stricklen – who along with Johnson made the 40-member cut that is eligible for the 10-player 2011 NCAA Division I State Farm Coaches' All-America Team – had to play more aggressively, even when somewhat out of position in the post. Stricklen noted she had gotten reps in the paint all season so it wasn't new to her.

"That is one of the things that came up in the meeting," Stricklen said. "Some of my teammates told me I have to demand the ball, because I can create a lot of things, especially being able to play multiple positions.

"We've got to start the game getting the ball inside and then working it out. We talked about it. We've got to have great shot selection. It was stuff like that."

Coach Pat Summitt indicated the starting lineup could change Saturday to return to a bigger frontline. The bigs must be, no pun intended, big against Ohio State and the 6'4 Jantel Lavender, who was recruited by Tennessee.

"Absolutely," Summitt said. "Kelley Cain had better be ready to play. Vicki Baugh has got to be ready to play. Lyssi Brewer has got to be ready to play. We have an advantage because of the number of bigs that we have."

Baugh has said her thrice-operated knee responds better in warm temperatures, and the high in Dayton on Saturday is expected to be just 44 degrees.

"We're playing indoors," Summitt said with a smile.

"We really need Vicki, Kelley and Lyssi," Stricklen said. "We're really going to need them inside."

Tennessee has options that, outside of the blowout Stetson game when 13 players logged minutes, it hasn't really implemented yet in the NCAA tourney – size in the paint, depth and pressure defense in the full court.

"It's all a wait and see," Summitt said. "As a coaching staff we'll determine that when we get there. We're still doing some things that we think will give us an advantage."

Tennessee came out of a media timeout and set up in full court pressure, but it was with its starters – reserves Kamiko Williams and Alicia Manning are better in that scheme – and Marquette got a layup on the other end. The Lady Vols used it again late in the game – much to the crowd's delight – but it has fully been shown yet, either.

"I am sure we will try again and again and again," Johnson said. "Sometimes teams kind of freak out when you press them randomly so even if it doesn't work the first time, try again later on in the game."

Johnson summed up the nip-and-tuck nature of the Marquette game as one in which the Lady Vols had to realize what they did wrong.

"It was just really making dumb mistakes and the little things that really hurt us in the Marquette game, like not picking up the ball or not sprinting back or not knowing who your man is when matching up in transition," Johnson said.

"Marquette's transition game hurt us the most, them getting shots in the paint and us starting with jump shots, and we had the post advantage. Little stuff like that that we weren't really being too smart, but we picked it up in the second half."

Tennessee's perimeter shooters can sometimes connect too well for their own good. When so many shots find the net – the Lady Vols are shooting 53.9 percent through two tourney games and 47.0 for the season – the guards and wings feel the urge to fire away.

"That's a shooter's mentality," Johnson said. "When you're a shooter you know that you'll be confident enough to take any shot. That's what comes with a shooter's mentality. They also have to be able to know when it's your shot and when it's someone else's."

Freshman Meighan Simmons started the Marquette game with a long three attempt that fell well off the mark, and for a second Summitt was too startled to even speak. She stared at the freshman with her mouth open, found her voice and called the name of Simmons, who hesitated to look at the bench. Johnson, who can relate to being an overeager rookie, patted Simmons on the back, smiled and offered some words of encouragement.

"She just wanted to get that out of her system," Johnson said. "She has the confidence to take it."

Simmons did settle down and was 4-6 from the field in the first half. She finished with a team-leading 18 points.

Another freshman could see the floor Saturday in Lauren Avant. Avant, who didn't log minutes against Marquette, plays outstanding on-ball defense and could be needed to help with Ohio State's point guard, Samantha Prahalis, who has 208 assists on the season and averages 14.3 points per game.

"There is always the option there," Summitt said. "I wouldn't say that she's not going to have an opportunity to be on the court. It's all about a feel and talking to the staff. I know Mickie (DeMoss) is really high on her. She seems to be shooting the ball better now. It helps when you can play both ends and be efficient."

Summitt was happy to hear of the players' meeting, but she also wants to see the results on the hardwood.

"I think they definitely had good communication and talked about what they needed to do," Summitt said. "At this point in time it looks like they're taking ownership. But we'll wait and see when we get to Dayton, and that's when it matters the most."

The Lady Vols worked in Pratt Pavilion on Wednesday afternoon, including one-on-one defense.

"It's the toughest thing to do in the game," Summitt said. "It's kind of been a hit-and-miss, but I do feel like that we've got a better understanding of what we have to do and if we don't do it, it's not going to be good.

"Yeah, we can mask some things by going and playing zone and mixing stuff up. But the bottom line, when we have to get down and defend one-on-one, that's where the biggest challenge is in the women's game."

It is difficult to defend – Williams has pretty much gotten to the rim at will all season for Tennessee – and it was a point of emphasis to open practice. The coaches also worked on specific parts of the game plan for Saturday on both sides of the ball.

"I thought today was a good day," Summitt said after Wednesday's session ended. "They had the day off (Tuesday), and I think they got their heads all together and had a good workout today. But at this time of year you shouldn't have to motivate your players or your team overall, individually or collectively, but this was a solid workout.

"Put in some specific things that we wanted to work on and get up and down. I think what we added to our package was good, and I thought overall they were pretty focused."

Tennessee tips off Saturday at noon against Ohio State with Notre Dame and Oklahoma squaring off at 2:30 p.m. The winners meet Monday evening for the right to go to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Ohio State is coached by Jim Foster, who is in his ninth year after 11 seasons at Vanderbilt.

"Obviously, Jim Foster has done a good job with this team," Summitt said Wednesday during of media teleconference, the full transcript of which can be read here. I think he's got a really good, solid team. Jantel Lavender is their go-to inside. The guard play is pretty solid too.

"They do a great job of getting the ball inside. They'll push when they can. Just from watching them, they prefer more of a half court (set), just because they execute more in the half court. They are very schooled in that and they do a great job with ball and player movement."

The Lady Vols will return to practice Thursday and then depart for Dayton. The four teams in the region will meet with the media Friday and practice on the Dayton Arena court. Those sessions are closed to the public with the media being allowed in for just the first 15 minutes.

Former Lady Vol Alberta Auguste was on hand Wednesday – she also attended Monday's game – and practiced with the scout team. Auguste, who stayed at Summitt's house while in town, was set to return to Louisiana later Wednesday. Auguste was a shutdown defender and left Tennessee with two national title rings earned in 2007 and 2008.

"She's been great," Summitt said. "She's been staying over at my pool house and having a big time. It's great when you have former players talking. She was really good with our team and talking individually to them.

"She gets it. She knows what it's like. She's been there. She's won two championships so let's just pay attention."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Clips from Wednesday's practice

Shekinna Stricklen

Alberta Auguste


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