Lady Vols take break for exams

Two things happened at 11 a.m. Monday – the Lady Vols assembled for a very short practice and the news was released that Pat Summitt had been selected as Sports Illustrated's Sportswoman of the Year for her longtime achievements.

It wasn't mentioned in the team's pre-practice gathering at center court – Pat Summitt has always been low key about any honors that come her way – but senior forward Glory Johnson had somehow already heard about it.

"The only thing that I heard, we were doing the first drill at practice, Pat was standing right next to me and Glory comes back from a rep and Glory said, ‘Congratulations.' And Pat said, ‘Thank you,' Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said.

"That's the only acknowledgement that I heard with my ears."

The assistant coaches had been given a head's up about the award before it was announced Monday morning – SI senior writer Alexander Wolff was recently in Knoxville, which was an indication that something was afoot – but the players were arriving for practice at the same time that SI released the news.

"It was practice as usual," Lockwood said. "We came in and watched tape."

Summitt will share the award with Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who was recognized as the Sportsman of the Year for his lifetime achievements, which including becoming the winningest coach in Division I men's basketball history with his 903rd victory this season. Summitt holds the overall Division I record with 1,075 wins and counting. Krzyzewski is at 907 and counting, so that's nearly 2,000 wins between the two of them.

The college basketball coaches previously selected for the recognition were UCLA's John Wooden and North Carolina's Dean Smith.

"Very deserved, highly esteemed honor in the profession," Lockwood said. "That is pretty heady company. You think of all the great coaches there have been in college basketball, oh my gosh, it's like a hallowed hall."

The award gives Summitt another platform to promote her message that dementia doesn't define her and she can continue to live her life.

However, Summitt has always had a narrow focus, especially when it came to basketball, and her thoughts are with her team, as was apparent Monday when she made no mention of the upcoming SI cover during the practice session.

The only clue for the players would have been those leaving through the lobby of Pratt Pavilion, where local print, Internet and TV media and a reporter from New York were waiting to interview Summitt.

"Pat by her nature is very humble and gracious to deflect (credit)," Lockwood said. "She will talk about the great players and things of that nature. It's hard to know what she really (thinks about the honor).

"I would love, in a quiet moment when she is looking over that back river (to know) what she thinks as she processes this and thinks, ‘Wow,' " Lockwood said. "I do think it is kind of affirmation that, ‘Hey, you know what? It's been a heck of a run so far. Things are different, but things are still good here.' "

Things were business as usual Monday with the Lady Vols on the practice court. It was shorter than usual but that by design with the players in the midst of final exams this week.

"You can always tell when it is exam week," Summitt said. "The players are so focused on finishing up the semester strong. We always take that into account with our practice days and off days this week. This group is very focused academically."

With that in mind, Monday's session lasted a little over an hour, including film, so that the players could devote more time to studying. Tuesday will be an off day to allow a full day away from basketball.

"Two-fold, number one was academics," Lockwood said. "We've got a lot of people with tests that need study time. We don't play again until the 11th (this coming Sunday), so to have a two-and-a-half hour, two hour and 15 minute practice where we pound, pound, pound during exams we thought would be very counterproductive.

"We wanted to get some real crisp, short work in today and then Wednesday, Thursday starts our progression and preparation. We wanted to have a nice ‘us' day today, short, clean, give them a full day off."

Tennessee (4-2) got its second win of the season over a ranked team with Sunday's 73-57 victory over Texas. The first ranked-team win came against Miami.

The coaches were generally pleased after Sunday's game and that remained the case Monday after a review of the game.

"I thought overall our defensive effort was pretty good," Lockwood said. "We've had some spots, we talked about them in film today, where our zone was pretty good overall, but we had a couple of glitches, things that we do fundamentally that we really have to get better at.

"We gave up some middle action, middle catches, driving things, but overall I thought our effort was pretty good."

Senior forward Shekinna Stricklen likely graded out very well on the defensive end.

"I thought Strick at both ends of the floor was tremendous," Lockwood said.

She has been assigned to perimeter scorers in the past two games – Middle Tennessee's Kortni Jones and Texas' Chassidy Fussell. Jones was 6-25 overall and 3-14 from long range. Fussell was 5-12 overall and 1-6 behind the arc. Those are not assignments that Stricklen would have been trusted with in her first three seasons, but she has the defense to match her offense now.

"Her last two games and just watching her when you can really isolate – during a game you're watching a lot of things – she is really working to get through screens," Lockwood said. "She is not quitting on contact. She is making an effort to stay low and to be aware of things."

Johnson and Vicki Baugh also were stout on the defensive end, and all three got standing ovations from the crowd of 13,465 as they left the game for good late in the second half.

"Deservedly so," Lockwood said. "People appreciate honest effort. When you see someone putting out effort and giving honest, authentic, genuine effort, people appreciate it."

It was a solid game for Baugh on both ends with 17 points and 11 rebounds. She logged 35 minutes and was on the practice court Monday.

"She is getting more comfortable now," Lockwood said. "The game is really opening up for her, because she is comfortable and she is more confident.

"The root of it all is her confidence in her physical self – her movements, her jumping, what she feels when she runs and jumps and stops. The confidence level is starting to blossom and because of that the game is starting to open up for her, which is exciting."

Junior guard/forward Taber Spani, who is still in the recovery stages of a left knee bone bruise/sprain suffered in the Virginia game, was held out of practice so that she could rehab instead. With a week between games and an off day Tuesday, it was a good time to rest Spani.

"Why have her come out here when she can get treatment?" Lockwood said. "When you look at our game schedule, those dates are the goal. If it means sitting out a couple of practices, we are fine with that."

Tennessee faces a slew of ranked teams on its next two road trips in No. 20 DePaul, No. 11 Rutgers and No. 4 Stanford. The Lady Vols also will play UCLA while on the West Coast. It will be the second SEC game for the Bruins, who play at LSU – ironically coached by Nikki Caldwell, the coach at UCLA last season – on Dec. 13 before hosting Tennessee on Dec. 17.

The coaches discussed this upcoming stretch of games and the practice schedule two weeks ago.

"We planned this out," Lockwood said Monday after the short session ended. "We didn't just do this last night. We looked at this a couple of weeks ago and said to get the most productive use out of the week we felt like when the exams are hardest, do less early, because we don't play until (this) Sunday.

"Why kill yourself Monday and Tuesday and then they're mental zombies going into exams. Coaches have got to be smart. If their heads are in exams and we have a two-hour practice, eventually we're going to get ticked. Somebody's effort (will wane), and we're going to get ticked, and we all get edgy so why do that?

"Be smart. We're in exams. So let's get a good hour from them. Be sharp. Don't do anything too complex. Give them an off day so the first two days of the week are primarily theirs."

Exams end Thursday with some players being occupied until the final day while others finish earlier in the week. When the team leaves Friday for New York, the academic commitments will be over for a month.

"They need to know Wednesday and Thursday the shop opens for real," said Lockwood, who was happy with Monday's session, calling it "solid, good effort."

Senior forward Alicia Manning will be needed in this next stretch of games. Manning is being deployed more this season at the power forward spot, and the coaches didn't like the matchup against Texas, which has two 6'4 post players in Ashley Gayle and Cokie Reed.

"With Vicki, Glory and Strick playing as well as they were (minutes were hard to come by for Manning)," Lockwood said. "With Cokie and Gayle those were two big bodies, physical, so we thought it might be a little harder for her to operate and defend if she was at the four, five spot. She doesn't have Vicki or Glory's size or Izzy's height."

Freshman Isabelle Harrison, who is primarily backing up center, logged 14 minutes and was 0-4, but she did have two of Tennessee's four blocks. Freshman Cierra Burdick, who is playing mostly on the perimeter, logged 11 minutes and was 0-6. While she didn't score, Burdick had three assists and saw the floor very well.

Lockwood said there were no issues with Manning's play, and her time was coming. Manning is a solid defender and does her work on the glass.

"Just wait, because your time is coming," Lockwood said. "There are going to be plenty of teams on our schedule, and we've got a couple coming up where they are not as big and as physical, but they're still pretty darn good and athletic. That kid, her value becomes pretty important. … The opportunity is going to come again."

FRESHMAN HONORS: Point guard Ariel Massengale collected the first conference honors of her collegiate career Monday as she was selected as SEC Freshman of the Week.

In the wins over Middle Tennessee and Texas, the Bolingbrook, Ill., native averaged 12.0 points and 5.0 assists with just one turnover while playing 25.0 minutes per game. She converted 3-6 shots from long range.

"It was a surprise," Massengale said. "DJ (Denny Jennings, the media relations chief for the Lady Vols) told me after practice. I am happy, thankful."

Massengale has played in just six collegiate games and seems to be getting at ease with each minute of court time.

"I am getting more and more comfortable," Massengale said. "I talk to Coach Holly (Warlick) a lot and the main thing she told me was just to compete. She said that is the best thing I can do."

Massengale, a freshman in her first college semester – she missed summer school sessions because she was with the USA U19 Basketball team and won a gold medal in Chile – needed the upcoming day off.

"I have a paper and a couple of tests to study for," Massengale said. "Let's just say I will be happy when Thursday comes."

With the media's arrival Monday to interview Pat Summitt, the players became aware of the SI recognition.

"It's fantastic," Massengale said. "She deserves it … everything that she's been through and how strong she is and a role model for all of her fans, people all around the world."


Pat Summitt

Ariel Massengale via UT Lady Vols website

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