Lady Vols getting game ready

The Lady Vols are one week away from their first exhibition opponent and seem ready to face someone else on the court besides themselves and the practice guys. They aren't season ready yet, but the team is well on the way to being prepared for its first game.

Tennessee also is getting closer to being at full strength with a roster of 10 available players. Freshman point guard Ariel Massengale remains limited – no contact allowed under the program's concussion protocol – but she was able to participate in some drills Monday.

"We'll be very happy when 10 are completely cleared," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said after Monday's practice.

In Massengale's absence, senior Briana Bass and sophomore Meighan Simmons have gotten a lot of repetitions in practice at the point guard spot. Massengale is the heir apparent at the position, but she is a first-year player and will need assistance to get acclimated to the college game.

"It's good for other people to get those reps," Lockwood said. "I can carry that argument so far. Then, you'd really like to have the person that you envision as your primary point guard (on the court)."

The nearly three weeks of preseason practice have been saturated in defense – the number of taped fingers on the squad is a good indicator of the renewed commitment to that side of the ball as hands are getting in passing lanes – but the coaches also have put in specifics on both ends of the court. Baseline in-bound plays have been added, as have pressure defensive schemes. The offensive drills have emphasized passing and movement with an up-tempo attack.

"We do need to tweak a few things," Lockwood said. "We need to review zone attack (offensive strategy against a zone defense) a little bit. We need to put in a side out-of-bounds play. Special situations we want to keep reviewing.

"Give us one more practice, and we'll be game ready. We still have a couple of things to put in to be what I call game ready. If we're going to roll them out right now, any situation that comes up we're at least covered. We're going to add a side out-of-bounds play, and we might add one more baseline out-of-bounds play. When you do those things you're also focusing on execution.

"And a lot of times you have to play a game to see what you've got a little bit. We just want to see us against a real live opponent."

Tennessee returns a veteran team but it is also working in new faces, especially at point guard, where Massengale is expected to take charge once she is fully recovered. Also, while Vicki Baugh is a fifth-year player, she was very limited last season after a redshirt year to recover from her second ACL surgery, and need repetitions to get in the flow with teammates.

Two other freshmen, forward Cierra Burdick and post Isabelle Harrison, also are expected to play major roles this season, so they need court time to adjust to the college game and a new team.

The emphasis continues to be on man-to-man defense – a staple of Tennessee's tradition – with the matchup zone not yet installed, but it will be later.

"Our zone will eventually go in obviously, but right now we want to be grounded in man-to-man stuff," Lockwood said.

Tennessee began practice on Oct. 5 and has had at least two days off each week since that time, including this past weekend. That trend continues this week with off days on Thursday – that is also SEC Media Day in Hoover, Ala., with Baugh being the player representative for the Lady Vols – and on Sunday.

The Lady Vols' local Media Day is next Monday, Oct. 31, with the first exhibition game on Tuesday, Nov. 1, against Carson-Newman at 7 p.m. Eastern at the arena.

"We're ready to play somebody else," Lockwood said.

The team will be in Pratt Pavilion for the rest of this week, minus the two off days, and the focus for the coaches is to fine-tune what has already been installed.

"Clean up what we're doing right now," Lockwood said. "I think defensively we have to continue to get better. I think our rebounding has to get better. We want to execute better with what we're doing.

"We have to pay attention to the little things and how things work. Those are things right now we want to clean up."


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