Lady Vols get back to practice

The Lady Vols got back to practice Wednesday and will go again Thursday before taking two days off. Glory Johnson intends to go fishing with Shekinna Stricklen. Go inside with Inside Tennessee for the latest on the team.

Tennessee won't find out who its next opponent will be until Monday evening – and the Lady Vols are prepared to be sent to either end of the country in the NCAA tourney – so practice this week means "working on us," as the coaches say.

On Wednesday that included offensive sets and defensive pressure, free throws and scrimmages against the male practice team.

The senior starting five performed particularly well in one scrimmage segment, continuing what began on Senior Day when Briana Bass, Shekinna Stricklen, Alicia Manning, Glory Johnson and Vicki Baugh started for the final regular season game.

The five availed themselves of the opportunity to open both halves in the three games in Nashville, and the coaches are inclined to stick with it in the NCAA tourney.

The lineup, perhaps most importantly, has the endorsement of the seniors. They want to be held accountable for postseason – they will be anyway so it has put the control in their hands – and they share an uncommon bond in terms of closeness.

Consider Johnson's plans to use one of the three off days this week to go fishing with Stricklen. Johnson, who is from Knoxville, is a high heels and fashion maven, while Stricklen, who is from Arkansas, considers fishing to be the best way to spend an idle afternoon.

So, the two have plans to head to Norris Lake later this week to drop a line. Stricklen knows how intense Johnson is on the court, and she's not sure if she can switch to the laidback patience needed to fish, not to mention hooking a worm for bait.

"This is going to be very interesting," said Stricklen, an avid fisherman. "She doesn't have the patience I don't think. I can't wait to see her put a worm on a hook."

Johnson said she has a little experience with baiting a hook, but she doesn't want to catch any large fish. She also will have to borrow a pole.

"I want the small ones, because I am not going to touch it if the fish is huge," Johnson said. "Like a catfish, I am not going to touch it if it is huge."

For her part, Johnson said she is looking forward to the quiet time on the lake if it's just her and Stricklen. If the team decides to join them, Johnson expects a boisterous outing.

When not fishing, the players will also use the break to get some rest.

"Sleep, but we still hang out with each other," Stricklen said.

The players also are happy to spend the break between postseason tournaments with a winning streak.

"It's great," Stricklen said. "We're getting to work on what we need to improve on and get ready."

The five seniors stood on the sideline at practice Wednesday at Pratt Pavilion and smiled during their interactions as they spoke to one another and pointed out action on the court.

"I love it," Johnson said. "That is what we were thinking about before the senior game. We have the responsibility, we have everything on our shoulders, and it's our fault if we don't start out strong the first four minutes of the game.

"I love it, and I know the rest of my classmates love it. This is the last opportunity we will have to play. We have to play strong. We know how to play defense. We know how to play the Tennessee Way.

"We can play together, and we can play strong, and we can get the job done, so let's go out there and do it."

"We love it; we like it that they're putting the seniors to start out," said Stricklen, who on Wednesday was selected as one of 15 national finalists for the Wooden Award. "The underclassmen are really respecting that. Three of them that are used to starting are coming off the bench now."

One of those underclassmen is sophomore Meighan Simmons, and she seems to have made the adjustment.

"The coaches made the announcement that the seniors would be starting, and they knew they had to take the responsibility and start us off," Simmons said.

Stricklen is seeking a better individual start in the Big Dance, and one concept the team discussed before leaving for Nashville was being intense but not tense.

"Just relax," Stricklen said. "Start the game having fun. My problem is I think too much before the game. I don't want to start the game messing up."

Stricklen indicated the solution was mechanical – follow through better on shots and attack the paint.

Johnson's approach is to leave every ounce of effort that she has on the court.

"I am trying to as much as possible," Johnson said. "If there is something I can do a little bit harder, I will. I am trying to leave everything out there."

Johnson credited her teammates for the MVP trophy that she toted home from Nashville after the SEC tourney.

"I couldn't do anything without my teammates," Johnson said. "I am not a point guard. I don't give myself the ball. My teammates help me so much, and my coaches have been working with me."

Stricklen said the team had discussed the various sites and wondered where they would go in the NCAA tourney with some thinking it would be in the Fresno Regional portion of the bracket.

"Honestly, it really doesn't matter," Stricklen said. "We feel like we are starting to click as a team. We are really getting into a flow. Our defense has improved, and that is what we needed."

The Lady Vols also don't host this year – they will in 2013 – so they will open on the road, as the senior class did as freshmen, when they lost in the first round in 2009.

"We don't think it will be a problem," Stricklen said. "We have five seniors, and we know it's do or die. No matter where we go we want to play hard every time and bring our defense."

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