Lady Vols get up and down court

The Lady Vols held an up-tempo practice in Pratt Pavilion on Tuesday, and Inside Tennessee was on hand for coverage. Go inside for the latest on the women's basketball team.

Head coach Holly Warlick has emphasized throughout the preseason that the 2012-13 team would have to play an up-tempo offensive game and a smothering defensive one.

The local media got to observe part of Tuesday's session on the court – head coach emeritus Pat Summitt still prowls the sideline – and Warlick's assessment was spot-on; this team will need to run.

On Sunday, senior Taber Spani said the preseason practices were the toughest of her career and that likely was a reference to the amount of running the team does within the drills. If there was any slack in the pace, the players heard about it immediately Tuesday from Warlick or one of her assistants.

The majority of the scorers from last season have departed by way of graduation – with Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen taking their talents to professional basketball – and while identifying where the offense will come from is a legitimate question, the Lady Vols will also have to be able to stop opponents.

With that in mind, the coaching staff has emphasized defense since full practice officially started. Several of the full team sessions in September and early October were oriented to offense, but the focus has now shifted.

When the Lady Vols do get the ball, it is apparent they intend to run with it.

Some general observations from Inside Tennessee about the returning players:

Senior guard Taber Spani is healthy. The Lady Vols need for her to stay that way. A healthy Spani is a difference maker. Fellow senior guard Kamiko Williams also now seems fully recovered from ACL surgery.

Junior guard Meighan Simmons has matured. This style of play will suit a guard nicknamed "Speedy," because she can get up and down the floor and is a very effective scorer in transition. Her on-ball defense has improved, too.

Sophomore guard Ariel Massengale is much more vocal than a year ago. Her voice could several times be heard booming across Pratt and getting players to the right spot.

Sophomore forward Cierra Burdick clearly did get in the gym over the summer. She is more fluid on the court and is in noticeably better physical condition.

Sophomore post Isabelle Harrison is now the veteran paint player. She seems physically more durable now and while her body type is lean, she has benefited from an off-season of weight training.

Some general observations from Inside Tennessee about the newcomers:

Freshman post Bashaara Graves doesn't shy away from contact. She will battle in the paint. She has a college-ready body and will have to use it at this level.

Freshman post Nia Moore is a gamer. She gets around the ball. She is of slender build but is holding her own on the court because of effort and hustle.

Freshman forward Jasmine Jones is athletic and talented. She displayed both a smooth jumper in the lane and a nice stick-back of teammate's miss. She also seems suited for a fast system as she brings size and speed to the court.

Freshman guard Andraya Carter is incredibly fast. She will contribute immediately this season because she is well suited for an up-tempo game. She was always in perfect position to receive the ball and get it up court in transition drills.

Sophomore juco transfer Jasmine Phillips has a solid build and should help immediately in an area of weakness last season – on-ball defense by the guards. She also is capable of playing a full court game.

With all that said, should Lady Vol fans temper expectations? At this point, yes. Five of the 11 players on the roster have yet to play a single game minute at Tennessee. The Lady Vols ended last season by starting all five seniors and will be a very young and inexperienced team this season.

But they also have a chance to be a lot better by season's end than at the beginning. The coaches have lauded the work ethic overall, and the returning players have noted how humble the newcomers have been.

The staff has a team eager to work and willing to be coached. The players will take their blows on the court this season, but they also will deliver their share.


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