Lady Vols to host No. 1 Baylor

Tennessee didn't adhere to its scouting report on either end of the court in its last game, got rattled on the road and never recovered. At home Sunday afternoon against the No. 1 team in the country the Lady Vols need to follow the script from the get-go.

"It's vital. It's vital," Lady Vol junior Taber Spani said. "It shows trust in what we believe the coaches are doing and that's the trust factor that they have to have with us, that they know we're going to execute, and we know that they've put together a game plan that we know is going to be successful if we do execute.

"That is on us players completely. We've got to hold each other accountable to make sure that that happens."

No. 6 Tennessee (2-1) takes on No. 1 Baylor (5-0) at 2 p.m. Eastern (ESPN) at Thompson-Boling Arena. Gates open at 12:30 p.m. with advance ticket sales exceeding 14,000.

The game is part of the "We Back Pat," campaign in which T-shirts with the slogan were sold to raise money for Alzheimer's awareness, and fans are encouraged to wear them at the game.

Players from both teams will wear purple shooting shirts in recognition of Alzheimer's Awareness Month. At halftime proceeds from the T-shirt sales – $150,000 split between Alzheimer's Tennessee Inc. and UT Medical Center – will be presented to the groups, along with the announcement of a new foundation created by Pat Summitt, who announced last August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia.

The overtime loss a week ago against Virginia was one in which the Lady Vols fired quick shots instead of moving the ball against the zone and then let the offensive struggles erode their defensive effort.

"We weren't ready to play," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "I didn't think we went there with the focus that we needed for whatever reason. Whether we didn't get them ready, whether they didn't get themselves ready, I don't know."

The players put the burden on themselves, primarily for the lack of communication on the road in a noisy venue that got louder the better Virginia played, as the fans got energized for the upset.

"That crowd was loud," Spani said. "We kind of freaked ourselves out. Looking back I think it was a combination of us trying to be calm … it's a balance. You definitely have to talk. We definitely have to encourage and talk on the floor. It was really quiet.

"We've got to find that balance of where we're confident and calm and not freaking ourselves out. Sometimes when you talk too much it gets you too anxious. The talking on the floor can come from Rel, but us captains have got to take that. That is on us captains."

Ariel Massengale is a point guard and thus she has the ball in her hands a lot. But she is a freshman and needed upperclassmen to provide some soothing words on the road when she got off to a rocky start.

"Rel got down a little bit, and we didn't go talk to her," senior Shekinna Stricklen said. "She's our point guard and that's a mistake I take on my own. I played the spot. I should have talked to her and tell her, ‘You're alright. Stay positive.' We've got to keep each other up."

Spani, a junior, is a team captain, as are seniors Glory Johnson and Alicia Manning.

It is a veteran team and one that should be expected to maintain its composure on the road.

"It definitely was (surprising)," Spani said. "A lot of us were trying to calm everybody down. They got on a roll, and we let their momentum carry them. The seniors and myself, as a captain, we've got to step up and we've got to stop that. There's no excuse."

Redshirt senior forward Vicki Baugh watched the game from the bench because of tightness in her left leg that kept her on the sideline.

"We were playing scared," Baugh said. "I think the crowd got to us a bit. We weren't attacking their zone. We were hoping that all our shots were going to fall, and we can't depend on that. We still have to crash the boards, and we weren't.

"I don't think we looked comfortable the whole game. We were uncomfortable from start to finish. I think the crowd got to us and also they weren't expecting for me not to play that game. But you never know what is going to come our way. We have players who can play multiple positions. We have to be ready for that at all time."

The lineup change did seem to unnerve Tennessee with Baugh out, but a fluctuating list of available players should be expected from a team that has dealt with injuries to key players for the past three seasons.

"When have we had a full roster start to finish?" Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "I can understand their thinking but we had better not be surprised at that again."

Baugh's presence inside was missed because of her size, but her voice, which seems to have a calming effect on the court, likely was the bigger loss in a game in which lack of execution torpedoed the team.

"I try to be a vocal leader and I like to think I am somewhat of a presence inside," Baugh said. "It changed the way we normally do things. There is still no excuse for that. We didn't play our game. We were uncomfortable. We had jitters and never overcame that until it was too late."

Both Baugh and Stricklen used the term "wakeup call," while also acknowledging it shouldn't be needed.

"Every year is a new year," Baugh said. "You have new players. Now, we have a starting freshman point guard, and she did great in attacking those gaps in the zone. But I just think we got a little rattled and didn't play our game."

Stricklen noted tangible results – not just talking – are needed, too.

"You can talk it but someone has to step up and make a play," Stricklen said. "We had two seniors out there, and one of us should have stepped up."

The road doesn't get any easier for Tennessee, but at least the Lady Vols are at home against Baylor. The Lady Bears present a balanced team led by the 6'8 Brittney Griner.

"Arguably the biggest difference maker in women's college basketball that there has ever been," Lockwood said. "She is a factor you have to deal with."

Tennessee shot a program-worst 25.0 percent from the field in last season's 65-54 loss to Baylor in Waco. The previous record was 27 percent against North Carolina in the 2007 Final Four. The 6'4 Baugh was extremely limited in the last Baylor game because of her left knee and logged four minutes. Her presence will be needed in the paint for the rematch.

"She's a huge post presence and it's time to bust out our post moves," Baugh said. "It is time to play basketball and step it up. Posts need to work on their high post jump shots. Teams are going to expose that if we don't shoot it, and they're going to test us to shoot it. We need to be able to knock it down."

Baugh said players also need to realize that Griner is a shot-blocker and not let a swat affect the next shot.

"It's all about the next play," Baugh said. "It is unusual playing against someone taller than you, especially being 6'4. We see our guards get by people that are taller than them. Now it's time for the posts to step it up."

The coaches are aware that the offense needs to be diverse when going against someone whose length exceeds what any team is accustomed to playing against.

"We are going to have to hit some outside shots," DeMoss said. "You have just got to. She does not give you anything easy in the paint.

"You can get her on help side and drive it, but she's so long she can stand over on one block and block a shot on the other block."

Lockwood used analogies about boxing (getting a shot blocked) and football (diverting the offense) to describe the matchup.

"The true test is when you see it happen," said Lockwood, referring to how a player reacts to a block and comparing it to a fighter's reaction after getting knocked to the mat.

As far as offensive strategy, he likened it to the side of the field that an NFL quarterback limits his throws because of the shutdown corner or a running game that avoids a run-stuffing defensive lineman.

"We pick our spots," Lockwood said. "I feel good about them. Better than I did a year ago."

Lockwood said the players have to adjust how they try to score in the paint.

"Number one she is going to block some shots," Lockwood said. "You can't be gun shy about getting your shot blocked. Some players are fine but some players that can do something to you. You've got to go into that game knowing that she's going to get some blocks. That's part of it. You've got to be able to play through that.

"Number two, you have to be wise about when you challenge. To try to pin and seal her in the low block and try to go over her is probably not going to happen a lot. You have to be a little bit more unconventional in how you attack her. You have to involve her away from the ball, pull her away from the basket.

"Bottom line is there are certain things that you are not going to be able to do that you can do against every other post player that we will face. … I don't know of anybody that has taken her to task on the low block."

Baugh seems eager to get a gauge on her comeback by going against a game-changer in the post.

"It's a matter of playing your game and being comfortable," Baugh said. "You're going to play against people that are taller than you sometimes. It's a matter of just playing basketball at this level.

"She moves very well, and she is physical. That is college basketball at the D1 level. About everyone is physical that you're going to play against. We need to be ready to play defense, be smart and don't foul."

The Lady Vols have had a week to stew over the loss in Virginia. Typically, another game comes in a few days but in this case Tennessee had to wait awhile.

"Looking back it's probably been good, because you can't ever get it out of your mind," Spani said. "Usually the next time you play it's over. But this one we've had to really think about it. I think that's good because there were a lot of things that we had to learn from this loss."

Topping that list would be the need to pay attention to the scouting report, the failure of which to do so led to a loss to a then-unranked team a week ago.

"We shouldn't (need a wakeup call)," Baugh said. "But it happened. We've just got to get on the same page."

Part of the plan against Virginia, which deployed various zone defenses, was to penetrate the soft spots with forays into the paint.

"Get inside with the pass or get inside with the dribble," DeMoss said.

For that to happen, the ball had to move to make the zone shift. Instead, Tennessee took early shots in the first half and often misfired. With Baugh watching from the bench, the rebound usually fell in Virginia's hands.

The teams each scored 29 points in each half, ending regulation in a 58-58 tie. Virginia went on an 11-0 run in overtime to seal the win. Spani accounted for all of Tennessee's six points in extra time.

"I think our confidence was shaken a little bit," DeMoss said. "It has kind of been the mark of this team for several years. Nobody wants to step up and take that responsibility. Taber is the closest thing that we've got."

Massengale also took a step forward in the second half. The freshman was rattled in the first half but got in sync with the coaches in the second half.

"One of the reasons we came back and took the lead she was finally getting in the gaps of that zone and not playing on the periphery of it," Lockwood said. "She got great looks for shooters by getting in the gap and driving the ball.

"A good guard can take a zone and once you shift the ball once or twice there are going to be gaps and a good guard can pick the weak gaps and go at them. That's what she did."

Before that happened on the court, Massengale took a seat on the bench and had a chat with DeMoss.

"We sat and talked on the bench for a good four minutes about what she had to do when she went in there," DeMoss said. "At halftime we told them you have got to get the ball inside whether it's on a post touch or dribble penetration.

"She translated verbally what we told them to do. The other ones didn't translate it and put it into action. I thought Ariel got us back in the game with that very thing. We had other guards that would not do it."

Spani wasn't one of those. She scored from long range and weaved through traffic to attack the zone.

Spani "got in there a few times and shot layups," DeMoss said.

It was imperative that the guards get to the paint because post entry passes weren't finding their mark. With Baugh out, Stricklen started at the four spot and didn't present a target for the guards.

"She would float around that zone in the back," DeMoss said. "You've got to find a body to pin, and we weren't doing that so it's hard to make a post pass in there."

In the second half Stricklen also started to maneuver better, which freed up space for Johnson to work. Johnson attempted one shot in the first half. She got five in the second.

Sophomore guard Meighan Simmons struggled in the game and forced shots. Simmons can put the ball on the floor and will need to add that to her regular repertoire with teams expecting her to launch from long range.

"There is no magic dust we are going to sprinkle on her," DeMoss said. "It's just a matter of her settling down a little bit. She was pressing. She tries to do too much."

Spani was known mostly as a shooter in her first two seasons, and injuries prevented her from using the off-season to diversify her game. That changed this past summer when she was finally recovered from the foot issues. Being able to take defenders off the dribble was a top priority.

"I worked on that all summer," Spani said. "I wasn't able to show it the first couple of games because they didn't get out on me. If they're going to give me the shot, I'll take it."

Virginia crowded Spani at times so she put the ball on the floor, a move she now feels confident to use.

"Absolutely. Right or left," Spani said. "That is what I worked on all summer."

Spani is a legitimate 6'1 so if a defender sags off, she doesn't need much space to loft the shot. She might even be a smidge taller.

"With the bun it makes me a little bit taller," Spani said with a smile.

Both Spani and Massengale use the same word – basics – when discussing the upcoming Baylor game.

"You have to go back to the basics, Massengale said. "This program has been built on defense and rebounding. When things got tough we weren't hitting our shots on offense, we let that dictate our defense.

"We let them do whatever they wanted. In situations like that you've got to lock up and get stops."

"I think it goes back to the basics, the simple stuff," Spani said. "If we keep them as much as possible to one shot that limits Griner on second-chance opportunities. We respect them. They're a great team, but it's all about us and being who we are."

"I feel like we have been putting in work and that day we didn't play to our full potential," Massengale said. "Any day we don't play to our full potential, we are slighting the game.

"Every time we step on the court we have Tennessee across our chest so everyone is going to bring their best game against us. Anytime you lose it's an eye opener to see what you need to work on, what you need to get better at. I feel like that helped us, and it got us refocused.

"We are not going to be able to walk on the court and lace them up and go play and expect to win a game. We can't expect a team to lay down and give us the W. We've got to go out there and take it."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5'6 freshman point guard, No. 5 (5.0 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game, 7.0 assists per game, 2.3 steals per game); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 senior guard/forward, No. 40 (14.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg); Taber Spani, 6'1 junior guard/forward, No. 13 (17.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.7 apg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 senior forward, No. 25 (16.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg); and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 redshirt senior forward/center, No. 21 (7.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.0 apg).

With Baugh back in the starting lineup and Spani cleared to play, Stricklen will start on the perimeter instead of at power forward, and sophomore guard Meighan Simmons will come off the bench. Simmons was very effective in that role against Miami and played extended minutes.

Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey is expected to start: Odyssey Sims, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 0 (18.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 6.0 apg, 4.2 spg), hails from Irving, Texas, tallied 13 assists versus Yale in last game, tallied 25 points against Notre Dame with six assists and six steals; Jordan Madden, 6'0 junior guard, No. 3 (4.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg), hails from Lepanto, Ark., tallied career-high seven assists versus Chattanooga this season, had seven points and five boards against Tennessee in 2010 postseason game as a freshman, brother Ky is a freshman basketball player at Arkansas; Kimetria Hayden, 6'0 junior guard, No. 1 (8.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg), hails from Dallas, Texas, missed one game this season with a toe injury and then came off bench against UCLA to score 10 points with six rebounds; Destiny Williams, 6'1 redshirt junior forward, No. 10 (13.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg), hails from Benton Harbor, Mich., double-double versus UCLA with 16 points, 14 boards, transferred from Illinois; and Brittney Griner, 6'8 junior center, No. 42 (24.4 ppg, 11.8 rpg), hails from Houston, Texas, has reached double-figure scoring in 45 consecutive games, holds the second spot on school career list with 441 made free throws. Steffanie Blackmon (2001-05) holds the record with 517, her wingspan is 88 inches (7'4), and she wears a size 17 shoe.

A key player off the bench for the Lady Bears is Brooklyn Pope, a 6'1 redshirt senior from Fort Worth, Texas, and transfer from Rutgers. Pope has started one game this season and is averaging 9.8 points and 6.8 rebounds.

Terran Condrey, a 5'7 senior guard from Eufaula, Ala., has started two games this season and is averaging 4.6 points and 4.0 boards.

SCOUTING REPORT

Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Baylor game. Here is her assessment.

Offensively, the Lady Bears rely on point guard Odyssey Sims as much as post Brittney Griner.

"They don't rely on pounding it inside to Griner," Warlick said. "They've got a pretty good balance on their offensive end. Everything pretty much goes through Sims. She has something to do with a half-court set.

"I think Sims has gotten better. Adding (Destiny) Williams gave them more depth because now (Brooklyn) Pope is coming off the bench. And Griner has gotten stronger and a lot smarter. She's got the body now to take it.

"The physical (play) doesn't seem to affect her like it did the last two years. They are athletic and (Kim Mulkey has) kids in the right spot for her team and what she wants from them."

Warlick indicated that trying to stop Griner wasn't an effective strategy.

"Griner is going to get her points," Warlick said. "We can't allow the other people to get their average. We've got to focus on Sims and Williams. They are rebounding the basketball and getting second and third chance points. We've got to be better on the defensive (glass)."

Baylor also will push the ball in transition, so the Lady Vols will need to get back on defense.

"They love to get out (on turnovers)," Warlick said. "They'll throw it ahead and run it down."

Defensively, the Lady Vols can expect Baylor to play a suffocating style.

"Physical man," Warlick said. "Get after it. They are going to get up in your grill."

The perimeter players can gamble on defense and overplay passing lanes because they know Griner is patrolling the paint behind them.

"If you get beat, there is somebody back there," Warlick said. "You talk about the ultimate help? She is the ultimate help player."

The keys for Tennessee, especially in lieu of the Virginia outcome, are to hold onto the ball and grab defensive boards.

"We have to take care of the basketball first and foremost," Warlick said. "For us defensively we've got to make sure they get one shot."

The Lady Vols also have to hit from outside to stretch the defense and create some room for the posts to operate inside.

"That's a given," Warlick said. "We have to do that. And we can't just hit threes. We've got to hit midrange jumpers."

SEC PLAY: Five other SEC teams are in action today in the following matchups: South Carolina Upstate vs. Auburn; Georgia vs. Georgetown; Mississippi Valley State vs. Kentucky; LSU at Ohio State; and Presbyterian at South Carolina.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee and Baylor are tied at 2-2 in the series, which began in 2004. The Lady Vols won the first two matchups in 2004 and 2009. Baylor has won the last two in March of 2010 and December of 2010. … Tennessee is 7-1 in games played on November 27. The last win on this date was against George Washington, 88-57, in 2001. The first win on November 27 was against Eastern Kentucky, 91-67, in 1978. The lone loss on this date was to Georgetown, 69-58, in the Virgin Islands in 2010. … The Lady Vols have a 38-game home win streak, the third longest in program history. The school record was 69 wins from Feb. 2, 1991, to Jan. 6, 1996. Tennessee is 14-18 overall when playing the top-ranked team in the country. … Baylor's success in the polls extends beyond women's basketball. It is the only school in the country to have women's hoops (No. 1), men's basketball (No. 9) and football (No. 21) to be ranked in the AP Top 25. … Baylor plays in the Big 12, along with Oklahoma State. OSU lost its head coach, Kurt Budke, and an assistant, Miranda Serna, in a Nov. 17 single-engine plane crash while the pair were on a recruiting trip to Arkansas. Baylor will wear an orange ribbon patch on its uniform to pay tribute to the sister school. …Brittney Griner has had a huge effect on how opponents attack Baylor offensively. In 2008-09, the year before Griner's arrival, opponents attempted 570 three-pointers. In her first season in 2009-10, that number jumped to 740. Last season opponents lofted 750. Through five games this season, teams have attempted 103 treys against Baylor. ... Juco player Ugu Ugoka, a 6'2 guard/forward who is from Nigeria and plays for Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Fla., is in town this weekend. Other recruits expected to be in Knoxville for Sunday's game are 2013s Tyler Scaife, a guard from Arkansas, and Diamond DeShields, a guard/forward from Georgia.


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