Lady Vols return to practice

Tennessee returned to the basketball court Monday evening after a five-day Christmas break. Go inside with Inside Tennessee for the latest on the Lady Vols.

Tennessee had a practice scheduled for the court Monday evening, but the team had a couple of other matters to take care of first – a meeting and a film session.

"We talked as a team and then we watched about 30 minutes of tape," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said.

The coaches spoke during the film portion – a rather lengthy one compared to regular viewing sessions – and the players spoke during the meeting.

"Basically, they said they've got to hold each other a little bit more accountable," Warlick said. "They've got to make defense and rebounding a priority."

Warlick saluted the leadership of fifth-year player Vicki Baugh, who shouldered the blame for the 97-80 loss at Stanford – she got in early foul trouble and struggled in the second half, which underscored her importance to the team, especially when going against a team with both size and outstanding post play.

"She took total responsibility, said she didn't play well," Warlick said. "She can't pull a no-show, and she knows it. She got up and said, ‘I did it.' And she can't. We thrive on her energy, and she didn't have any energy.

"She said that she was a no show, and we can't have her do that again. We rely on her."

It was the team's first time to reassemble since the Dec. 20 loss to the Cardinal on the West Coast. The players scattered home afterwards, though the Stanford game apparently stayed on Baugh's mind while she was in Sacramento, Calif., with her family and friends, about 30 of whom had made the relatively short trek to Maples Pavilion to watch the game.

"Vicki said the Stanford game bothered her throughout the whole Christmas break," Warlick said.

Warlick didn't have a festive holiday either, as she queued up the tape and revisited a game in which Tennessee's offense was very good – the Lady Vols shot 53.6 percent, but Stanford's was even better behind the career highs of Nneka Ogwumike (42 points) and Toni Kokenis (26 points).

"I watched it several (times)," said Warlick, who laughed when it was noted that was no way to spend Christmas, and added, "I wanted to be miserable the whole time."

"No, that's what you have to do as a coach. You watch them if you win and get better, and you have to watch and learn from your losses as well."

Warlick called Coach Pat Summitt over the break, and her mood was sour, too.

"All of us and then when you watch the film … ," Warlick said.

The coaches were pleased to get the team back together – all 11 players reported on time and were on the practice court, except for junior Taber Spani, who spent most of the evening getting treatment on her sprained/bruised knee. Fellow junior Kamiko Williams practiced but wasn't full go yet, as she remains under ACL comeback protocol.

The Lady Vols play Old Dominion on Wednesday (7 p.m. Eastern, SportSouth) at Thompson-Boling Arena with a road game at Auburn (3 p.m. Eastern, CSS) on New Year's Day. In between the coaches intend to make use of the practice court and film room.

The East and West Coast road swings were beneficial for Tennessee in terms of exposure to different styles of play and defenses, but it also meant the team had very little practice, as gym time was used for specific game preparation.

"We hadn't been able to really practice the way we really wanted to," Warlick said. "We had been traveling and had three games on the road and then you go against Stanford, which is playing really well right now, and you have to be on your ‘A' game.

"We weren't quite ready for that battle, and they were great."

Monday meant the coaches could get back to the basics and that always starts with defense. School is out of session for the next two weeks, so the staff can plan daily basketball activity and add additional time for one-on-one film study.

"It's huge," Warlick said. "It's a learning process. We're going to watch a lot of tape as a team and individuals. And then get us on the court and get us back conditioned on what we want to do defensively, offensively.

"When you're on the road and you're getting ready to play somebody you do a lot of scouting report defense. Now, we're back to basics. … We're taking advantage of the break."

Monday's session was weighed heavily to defense. The team played against each other so one side played offense, but the focus was on stopping the ball.

"Today was all defense," Warlick said after Monday evening's session. "We didn't even shoot a free throw. We've got to get better. We've got to compete. At times we get down and we stop competing. That's not good. We've got have a little bit more of a sense of urgency.

"I am not saying we didn't battle. We had four tough games (on the cross-country road swings). We're OK that we went 3-1, but as a coach you're never satisfied."

Had the coaches been told they would finish 3-1 before the coast-to-coast journey even began, they likely would have been thrilled since Tennessee lost its starting point guard, Ariel Massengale, to a dislocated finger two days before leaving Knoxville for New York.

A rusty Massengale returned in the second half against Stanford – Tennessee didn't intend to play her unless absolutely necessary – and she logged 11 minutes despite being off the court for two weeks.

Massengale was back at practice Monday and will presumably move right back into the starting lineup, where her ability to settle the team into its offenses and defenses will be beneficial.

"She brings a positive feel to the floor," Warlick said. "Meighan (Simmons) did a heck of a job, but we can't rely on Meighan going 40 minutes a game.

"Massengale, she pushes the ball a little bit more than Meighan, and she'll help Meighan out."

The coaches will take a wait-and-see-approach in terms of the starting lineup, but the road trip made one thing clear: Tennessee needs Meighan Simmons and Spani on the court and playing well on both ends to be successful as a team, so both will log minutes, regardless of who opens the game.

Tennessee will return to practice Tuesday to prepare for Old Dominion. The tone for the week was set Monday.

"It was a hard practice," Warlick said. "It was difficult. We were pretty tough on them."


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