Lady Vols open season today

The regular season officially gets underway this afternoon against Pepperdine but don't expect Vicki Baugh to treat Sunday any differently from the hundreds of other days she has spent on Tennessee's campus.

"The beauty of Tennessee is everything counts," said Vicki Baugh, a fifth-year senior who missed the exhibition game earlier this week to attend an evening graduate school class – because education counts, too – and is expected to be in the starting lineup at 4 p.m. Sunday (Fox SportSouth, espn.go.com/watchespn, Lady Vol Radio Network) against the Waves of Pepperdine.

"Every little thing counts. Yeah, we are starting up and now it goes down in the books, but our exhibitions are just as important. Every day in practice is just as important. Even if we have a W after a game, and we know we didn't put out the way we should have, we're going to pay the price for it.

"That is just what it takes when you put on the Tennessee jersey. You have to work hard no matter what. Give it your all every day."

Baugh has received an education on and off the court – she earned her bachelor's degree last May and will graduate this coming May with a master's degree in sports psychology – and is finally healthy after one missed season and two truncated ones because of two major knee surgeries.

She is a team leader that has earned both the admiration and respect of her peers.

"I've been here the longest," Baugh said. "I have won a national championship (as a true freshman in 2008), and I just think they look up to me for that. There is someone who has been there telling them what it takes. The coaches can push it and say it, but it's different when it's coming from your teammate."

The Lady Vols, and especially the four true seniors who have yet to reach a Final Four, have been clear that their intention this season is to win a national title. The coaches have made it clear that the journey is day by day.

"Miami hasn't come out of our mouth, which it shouldn't," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said after practice Saturday, referring to the No. 7-ranked team that comes to town Tuesday. "Not one bit (looking ahead). We watched film today and told them this is the beginning. This one game is the beginning of this season.

"I think they will be focused, and I think they are ready to play. We have been pushing them pretty hard. Today was probably the lightest day they've had all year."

Tennessee enters the game with a roster of 10 players – the 11th, junior guard Kamiko Williams, is rehabbing a knee injury – and used all of them in the two exhibition games with no player averaging fewer than 16.0 minutes per game.

All three newcomers, guard Ariel Massengale, forward Cierra Burdick and post Isabelle Harrison, have had significant contributions in their debuts. Harrison used the exhibition games to get acclimated to the college game and recorded per game averages of 8.0 points, 6.0 boards, 4.5 blocks and 2.5 steals.

"I am glad I got the jitters out before we played a real game," Harrison said. "First game I was pretty nervous, but this game I talked to my dad about it."

Harrison's father is Dennis Harrison, who played for 10 seasons in the NFL.

"He said, ‘This is just another game, and you've got to play it like that. Don't put too much emphasis on it. Don't overthink it. Go out there and do what you are supposed to do, and you will be fine,' " Harrison said.

Harrison, who played at Hillsboro High School at Nashville, has been a pleasant surprise for the staff, because of a rapidly developing skill set and her work ethic. Harrison stays after every practice to get extra shots with Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood.

She also has been effective on defense, which has been particularly beneficial because the coaches have stressed that side of the ball throughout preseason, so much so that they held a defense-only practice Oct. 31, the day before the first exhibition game.

"That was beautiful," Lockwood said.

The practice was a direct result of a sluggish scrimmage, and, if needed, more such sessions will be held. Right before that practice began, the players circled without the coaches while Baugh spoke briefly to the team. It appears the message hit the mark, but the coaches are still watching.

"You show us that you believe in this," Lockwood said. "Show us that you've embraced some of these principles and values. If they're doing that we may still have a bad night here or there but if their effort is there and they're doing those things, we won't have a problem with that. We're going to correct the things from a technical standpoint.

"But if we've got to go back and we're saying the effort isn't there and the passion isn't there and the hunger, you will see more of those practices. You haven't seen the last of them but how many is going to depend on what we see on the floor. The team very much has control of that."

In hindsight, always an easier guide, the coaches have pondered if they should have hammered the 2008-09 team with a preseason menu of defense. That team was young – one redshirt senior with hobbled knees in Alex Fuller and 11 underclassmen – and had a lengthy to-do list. Defense was on it, but not an early top priority, and the effects of the lack of immediate emphasis still linger with that class sometimes.

"Second guess might be too strong a word, but you always do look back as coaches and if you're willing to be brutally honest with yourself one of the things you can't be afraid to do is look at how you allotted your practice time, what you emphasized, what you taught," Lockwood said. "I think all coaches it's natural to do that. One of the things that maybe we could have done with this (now senior) group as freshmen, almost abandon offense for two weeks and put in defense. Obviously there is a balance there because then you are going to get to a point where your offense is horrendous.

"We ask ourselves all the time as we look at it now, the time distribution and the emphasis rather than getting close to a balance we might have needed to have teetered-tottered that thing. We have said that on occasion. It might have helped them to embrace the process."

Another method is to recruit players who enjoy playing defense, such as Massengale; have been entrenched in it, such as Burdick; or are willing to learn, such as Harrison.

Harrison also was willing to get out in space and play defense in high school if needed.

"Being the biggest post I always had to be back but when I did play defense I did, so it helped me when I came in here," Harrison said. "I knew (in college) I wasn't going to be the biggest post. I am going to be playing up with the guards and guarding some guards and not posts all the time.

"So listening to Holly because she is defensively minded, listening to her and taking whatever she says and doing it. Staying low. That's the main thing. And keeping my hands up. Because I could be low all day and my defender can see around me. Holly and Dean emphasize that a lot. Talking, too. That helps a lot."

That attitude officially puts Harrison ahead of most freshmen.

"People that love defense, they are going to embrace defense," Lockwood said.

For those who don't, breakdown drills provide instruction and repetition.

"Sometimes you can make people tougher to a point, but then there is a point where they have to have responsibility for that," Lockwood said. "But I do think spending time on it will emphasize to them how important it is."

Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss had the vantage point of having been away from the program for seven years before returning. The drop-off on the defensive side of the ball was readily apparent to her.

The staff's approach was to restore that defensive culture.

"We just stay with it," DeMoss said. "Are you emphasizing it every time down the floor? If you don't do it, you're taken out." When they feel that success, they buy into it. They want to do it."

Junior Taber Spani is one of those players who has experienced some success. Spani, who wasn't a strong defender in her first two seasons – partly because of injury and partly because she was still learning the schemes and footwork on that side of the ball – started the last exhibition game because Baugh was in class. She will stay in the starting lineup in place of sophomore Meighan Simmons, who is trying to accelerate her defensive learning process. As a freshman, Simmons moved out of position to play point guard on offense, and she is in catch-up mode on defense.

Overall, the coaches like the path the team has taken on that side of the ball in preseason.

"We're pleased with the progress," Lockwood said. "You'll never get a coach to say I'm pleased completely. You're always going to say there's more to go. It's like I am going to tell you about our trip. I am driving from Florida to Michigan, but I am in Kentucky right now. I am happy that I am in Kentucky, but there is a lot more road to go. We are pleased with what we are seeing right now.

"Since October 5 (when practice started) we have made progress defensively, so we're happy with that, but we're far from having a complacent mindset. We see plenty of areas we need to address.

"But right now we are very happy with this group's commitment to the defensive end and the progress they have made thus far."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start (with stats from the exhibition games): Ariel Massengale, 5'6 freshman guard, No. 5 (4.5 points per game, 3.5 assists per game); Taber Spani, 6'1 junior guard/forward, No. 13 (19.0 ppg, 5.5 rebounds per game); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 senior forward/guard, No. 40 (14.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 senior forward, No. 25 (8.0 ppg, 8.5 ppg); and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 redshirt senior forward/center, No. 21 (10.0 ppg, 14.0 rpg).

Pepperdine Coach Julie Rousseau is expected to start (with exhibition game stats): Lauren Bell, 5'8 junior guard, No. 32 (18.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 6.0 apg), hails from San Bruno, Calif., scored 18 points in the team's exhibition win Oct. 25 over Westmont, tallied 78 steals in the 2010-11 season; Jazmine Jones, 5'9 senior guard, No. 5 (18.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg), hails from Oakland, Calif., 2011 West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year, fourth all-time for the Waves with 191 career steals, mother Trina Jackson played basketball for San Francisco State and was a two-time All-American; Katie Menton, 5'10 redshirt senior guard, No. 23 (4.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg), hails from Coarsegold, Calif., has 175 career made treys and needs 62 to claim the school record, tallied a career-high 29 points with five three-pointers against Oklahoma State in season-ending game last season, ; Skye Barnett, 5'11 senior forward, No. 15 (6.0 ppg, 13.0 rpg), hails from Albuquerque, N.M., averaged 6.3 rebounds last season, tallied a double-double against Gonzaga with 10 points and 10 boards; and Jade McNorton, 6'3 redshirt sophomore center, No. 20 (0.0 ppg, 4.0 apg), hails from Boise, Idaho, missed her freshman season in 2009-10 with a foot injury, played in 25 games last season, mother Lesley McNorton played basketball for Boise State, father James McNorton played basketball and football for Boise State.

The Waves compiled an 18-12 overall record and 9-5 mark in the WCC last season.

Pepperdine requested a year ago to play at Tennessee in what is known as a guaranteed game – the Lady Vols get a home game but don't make a return trip – because the Waves had a player from the area.

The roster lists two players with ties to the South: Grace Leah Baughn, a 5'11 freshman guard from Norcross, Ga., and Shay Cooney-Williams, a 5'6 junior guard from Frisco, Texas, who was born in Little Rock, Ark.

Rousseau, a former assistant at Stanford, is entering her eighth season as the head coach of the Waves.

SCOUTING REPORT

Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Pepperdine game. Here is her breakdown of the Waves.

Offensively, Pepperdine, doesn't present a lot of size – "the big kids don't have a lot of game experience," Warlick – but they have some savvy guard play, led by Jazmine Jackson.

"They do a lot of one-on-one stuff," Warlick said. "They are going to run a couple of set things, but they like to spread the floor and go one on one.

"I don't think they are going to live and die by their set plays. I think they are going to rely on their one-on-one ability to make plays. And they are good at it, because their kids can shoot threes and penetrate. It is going to be a good challenge for us because they are going to spread the floor and make us play them one on one.

"That's something we are getting better at, but it will be a great challenge for us."

Defensively, "They are going to press us a whole lot," Warlick said. "They are going to random trap us. They like to press from what I have seen. They like to go full court press. They are pretty aggressive out of their full court press.

"They are going to sag off some kids, get up on some players. They'll trap on ball screens, switch on ball screens."

In the 2010-11 season, Pepperdine was ranked fourth nationally in steals with 12.8 per game. The Waves' turnover margin of +8.00 ranked second nationally.

SIGNING UPDATE: The third and final member of Tennessee's high school class of 2012 inked her letter of intent on Saturday evening in a celebration in Georgia.

Andraya Carter, a 5'9 guard from Buford High School, now joins forwards Bashaara Graves (Clarksville, Tenn.) and Jasmine Jones (Madison, Ala.) as official members of the Lady Vols signing class.

Carter celebrated her 18th birthday on Saturday and timed her signing ceremony and party at her school with that event. One of Carter's best friends, Kaela Davis, a 2013 commit to Tennessee, also plays for Buford, and the team held a scrimmage Saturday before the party. Carter, who is in knee rehab, didn't participate on the court.

The Lady Vols could still add to the class as they need reinforcement in the paint. Tennessee could sign a post player or two from the juco ranks. The regular signing period – and when jucos usually ink their intent – is next April.

ODDS AND ENDS

This will be the first game ever between Tennessee and Pepperdine. It will be the Lady Vols' 186th all-time opponent. Tennessee has a 34-3 record in season openers under Pat Summitt and currently has a 36-game win streak at home. … Tennessee is 4-0 in games played on November 13. The last win on this date came against Portland, 94-57, in 1998, the same day the Lady Vols raised the 1997 national title banner. The first win came on Nov. 13 came against Kentucky, 107-53, in 1976. ... If UT freshman Ariel Massengale starts this afternoon as expected, she will be the 61st Lady Vol all-time to earn a starting nod in her rookie season and the 14th to do it in her debut. The others, in reverse chronological order, were Taber Spani (2009); Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen (2008); Angie Bjorklund (2007); Candace Parker (2005); Shyra Ely (2001); Ashley Robinson (2000); Gwen Jackson (1999); Kyra Elzy (1996); Chamique Holdsclaw (1995); Tiffani Johnson (1994); and Bridgette Gordon and Sheila Frost (1985). <


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