Lady Vols get back to practice

After a day off the Lady Vols got back to practice Wednesday. Go inside with Inside Tennessee to get the latest news on the basketball team.

With several players having completed exams and the rest scheduled to get done Thursday, the Lady Vols had what Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick called a "high energy practice."

"We had a really good practice today," Warlick said Wednesday after the session ended at Pratt Pavilion. "They were pretty focused. I think a lot of them are done with their exams."

Even the ones who aren't – several players have said they have exams on the final day today – are at the point where the end is in sight.

"I think having a day off (Tuesday) helped them," Warlick said. "They needed a little break. I thought they did really, really well today."

Improvement in practice is vital for Tennessee with the stretch of road games upcoming for the Lady Vols, beginning with No. 21 DePaul in Madison Square Garden on Sunday and followed by No. 11 Rutgers in New Jersey this coming Tuesday.

Wednesday's session was what the coaches call an "us day," with the focus being on the Lady Vols and not the next opponent. Part of that resulted in senior forward Alicia Manning playing at the three on the perimeter and junior forward Taber Spani playing at the four in the paint.

Spani, who is recovering from a knee bruise/sprain, had sat out Monday's practice for rehab. She was back on the court Wednesday.

"She looked very good today," Warlick said. "We ran her at the four a little bit. She hadn't played the four in a while. I thought she looked good.

"We mixed up our groups. A-Town went to the three, and she went to the four. A-Town looked good at the three."

Pat Summitt also was at practice. It was a quick turnaround for the head coach who was in Manhattan on Tuesday evening to accept Sports Illustrated's Sportswoman of the Year award, along with Duke's Mike Krzyzewski who was honored as the Sportsman of the Year.

Summitt will return to New York this weekend with her team for the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden. Tipoff for the DePaul game is 1:30 p.m. Eastern (ESPNU) on Sunday. No. 1 Baylor and St. John's open the doubleheader at 11 a.m. (ESPNU).

Warlick said freshman Cierra Burdick had practiced well in the days leading up to the Texas game, thus leading to 11 minutes for her versus three for Manning. Both players are trying to squeeze in behind the highly effective frontline trio of seniors Shekinna Stricklen, Vicki Baugh and Glory Johnson, but Manning remains a big part of the coaches' plans.

"She is going to help us win ballgames, and we're going to continue to use her," Warlick said.

Tennessee has two more practices scheduled at home – Thursday and then Friday before flying to New York in the afternoon. The Lady Vols will practice Saturday in the big city.

"We'll work on DePaul," Warlick said of the upcoming sessions this week at home. "We've got to guard a bunch of shooters. He runs a five-out motion. He is a very good offensive-minded coach. All of them can shoot.

"The posts are going to have to come out and guard the three. We have got our hands full."

The coach know the next four games – the team is home for a day next week and then heads to the West Coast to play at UCLA and Stanford – have ramifications that could resonate in March in terms of postseason seeding.

"It's huge," Warlick said.

The coaches, however, will narrow the focus of the players.

"We don't look ahead," Warlick said. "We are not going to say this is for seeding. You just can't do that. We do as coaches. We know how important these four games are. It's a brutal road trip. I am glad we are out of school.

"But it is what it is. We are the ones who did the scheduling."

With Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss in earshot, Warlick jokingly said, "We are going to blame it on DeMoss."

Tennessee, through six games, has a +11.2 margin on the boards and has out-rebounded opponents on the offensive end, 112-81. Glass crashing has been an emphasis at practice.

"We worked on it today," Warlick said. "It's important for us. With Vicki playing the way she does, she gives Glory a lot more confidence."

Johnson leads the team in rebounding with 57 total. Stricklen is second with 52. Vicki Baugh, who missed one game, is fourth at 35 boards. Freshman Isabelle Harrison is third at 37.

"We are all over the boards," Warlick said. "It's going to be huge for us against DePaul. It's going to be key for these next two games."

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