Five questions with Dean Lockwood

The Lady Vols are in Spokane for an Elite Eight matchup with Maryland. InsideTennessee had five questions for Dean Lockwood before tipoff on Monday. Go inside with InsideTennessee for an interview with the assistant coach.

Tennessee (30-5) will square off against Maryland (33-2) at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena at 9 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPN) on Monday evening.

The Lady Vols reached the Elite Eight with an epic comeback against Gonzaga. The Terrapins dispatched Duke in Spokane and have yet to lose in 2015. Their last defeat was Dec. 3, 2014, when they fell to Notre Dame.

Assistant coach Dean Lockwood chatted Sunday by phone with InsideTennessee during the Lady Vols’ session with media.

InsideTennessee: What was it like being on the bench for the 17-point comeback against Gonzaga?

Dean Lockwood: It was great. There was great elation for pulling it out. During the game, there was no panic on our bench. I don’t think anybody was ready to bail out. There was a great sense of urgency, and that’s one of the things that we want to come out of this. Play with that same sense of urgency for 40 minutes, and this team could be very special.

It was exciting. Our players started to sense our pressure was clearly bothering Gonzaga. They were getting a little rattled with the defensive pressure. We were able to force some turnovers. At one point, we also had three consecutive and-one plays where we scored the basket and made the free throw. I call them Lady Vol threes. There are three-point plays where you catch and shoot behind the arc. Great. But a Lady Vol three is scoring the basket and getting fouled. Those do a lot to create positive momentum for you and really kind of demoralize your opponent, especially when there are three consecutive ones.

I think our team was just feeding off of them. Once they got that momentum and sensed that, they continued to accelerate their energy and fed off of each other. We continually assured them during timeouts that there was a lot of time. If you just look at the sole numbers – 6:34, down 17 – that looks really bleak. But do the math. A 30-second shot clock, there are so many possessions in that game and not every possession is going to go 30 seconds. If you can play great defense – it starts with getting stops – if you get stops, force some turnovers, get some easy baskets, you can dig yourself back into that game in a relatively short amount of time. That is the thing we kept emphasizing.

Sum it up like this: We really believe and we try to teach them that you are never out of the fight. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. You just simply are never out of the play.

IT: Speaking of fight, this team has talked about fighting for Pat Summitt. Against Gonzaga, the team fought like Pat.

Lockwood: I would agree with that.

IT: Is that a big step for this team to take?

Lockwood: It is. It is a growing-up process. You have heard me use this term several times, and I am going to use it again. It’s a sign of competitive maturity. I can’t tell you how proud we were as a coaching staff of them. We told them individually and collectively as a staff just how tremendously proud they made us and how proud we were of them and how they represented the program, because of that.

And that’s competitive maturity. It’s very easy to be a fair-weather friend, a sunshine patriot. The sun is shining. It’s warm. I feel great. But when it’s sub-zero or it’s raining and you’re cold and wet and tired, it can change people. The thing that I loved is their demeanor. They continued to fight, and they continued to press on. They embodied that quality of never being out of the fight and never quitting. I love that.

IT: Tennessee now has a shot at redemption on Monday. Maryland took out Tennessee a year ago in what was a bitter loss for the program, and this time you’re playing for a spot on the biggest stage in women’s basketball. How much is this team ready to embrace this opportunity and especially coming off such a comeback?

Lockwood: I think certainly that has created some positive energy for us. Getting in this position, which is where we want to be, is great. To answer that question intelligently, the only way we are going to know that is when that ball tips up. I think our preparation is going to be very good. It has been good up to now.

I will tell you this. With the three seniors we have and the leadership that they have provided, I would be very, very surprised and very disappointed if this team wasn’t ready to compete and to play hard. We thought Maryland was a great team last year, and we think they’re a great team this year. But we did not represent ourselves the way in which we were capable last year. I think everybody here knows that.

We were disappointed in that. We had to live with that for 365 days. We’re excited to have this opportunity again. At this stage it’s about what is happening internally in your locker room. Players play. Players make plays. I really believe they are going to be ready to play.

IT: The experience of the seniors has been critical. But if you want to find out about a freshman, put them in the pressure crucible of postseason. Put them in the game with the game on the line. Jaime Nared delivered. How crucial was Nared and how much has she matured this season?

Lockwood: Jaime has made tremendous strides all season. I have seen Jaime a long time. I have seen Jaime play since she was a sophomore in high school. I have always believed in Jaime 100 percent in who she is as a person and a player. I think the biggest thing Jaime had to adapt to this year was the speed and tempo of practice and games and the physicality.

One of the strengths of Jamie is Jamie is not intimidated. She will give as good as she takes. She is physical. She is not afraid of contact whatsoever. I think she had to learn the sense of urgency of every possession in college basketball. It’s not like high school where you can have three or four good minutes, five minutes in a quarter, and that sometimes is enough. In college, you have to bring that every possession for 40 minutes, and that is different. I think that is where she has really matured and grown.

She has really embraced the responsibility of what she should do as a player. I think there was a stretch where she started just settling for jump shots, as opposed to attacking the basket. Her rebounding and her defense have both improved. I know she spent time in film with Kyra (Elzy) watching stuff, and she deserves credit for putting in extra time with Kyra.

I have really seen growth in her, and I have always believed this kid is going to be a good player. I never once wavered on that for a second because she is tough. The thing about Jamie is she is smart, and she’s tough.

IT: Those words describe Andraya Carter, too. Obviously, she didn’t have her best game Saturday, and she knew it. Do you look for her to have a bounce-back game?

Lockwood: We hope so. She has been such a catalyst, especially defensively for us, but she also offensively has been able to push the ball, attack the paint, make some open threes. But her defense is really where she infuses and injects this team with fuel and energy that helps us be special.

We really hope so. She is a great kid. She is another kid that understands how to compete, what she needs to do. We are very confident that she’ll come back and bring it. She is one that doesn’t shy away at all from embracing responsibility. That comes with her role as a starter and a key player.

IT: That was five questions, so a bonus one. What does Tennessee have to do to win this Elite 8 game?

Lockwood: Number one, it starts with transition defense. This is a team that pushes the ball. This is the best team that we have played in the NCAA Tournament and arguably could be the best team that we have played all season. You have to talk about South Carolina and Notre Dame, no question. Maryland is in that conversation.

We have to stop their transition. They are averaging over 80 points a game. Their guards do a tremendous job of pushing the ball and attacking the paint in transition. We have to make them play five on five, versus three on two, two on one. That is very, very important.

Number two is the big three: Mincy, Brown and Kimbrough (referring to Lauren Mincy, Lexie Brown and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough). They have a really good inside game, too. We have to do a good job on the interior, but it starts with their guards. Their guards are terrific, very athletic, very talented. We have to get them under control.

The third thing is a Coach Summitt principle. Rebounding. We have got to get the handle on the defensive boards. We can’t let them have second and third opportunities. We have got to get a lot of one-and-dones in order to win this game.

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