From 'madness' to practice

After the late hour and hoopla of Big Orange Madness the night before, a letdown could have been expected at the next day's practice. But on Saturday afternoon, the Lady Vols took to the court and once again took it at each other.

"They had a pretty good practice yesterday, too," coach Pat Summitt said after Saturday's session.

The players ran through an assortment of drills, particularly defensive work, and did full court offensive sets against pressure. The flip side of the drill required the players to also get back on defense against the quickness of the male practice players.

Forward Candace Parker sat out the last 20 minutes or so of practice to ice her knee, but Summitt said it was no big deal and was precautionary only.

As the team picked up full speed and full court action over the past several days, Parker's knee flared up a little, and this week's cold snap didn't help, Summitt said.

"It's fine. She'll be good tomorrow," Summitt said of Sunday's planned practice.

Summitt doesn't mind playing it safe with Parker, especially so early in the season. That mindset prevailed Friday night, when Summitt decided to limit Parker's participation in the dunk contest.

"I told her you can have one dunk," said Summitt, who added "both my palms were sweating" while Parker was competing in the contest.

Summitt won't restrict Parker in a game, but she also wants common sense to prevail, and she wants the offense to click.

"She's got to be very careful," Summitt said. "If she's inside and goes up, puts it over the rim, fine. Right now I want her committing to defense and getting everything in a good rhythm offensively, just working on her skills."

On Friday night Summitt told the fans that the offense was ahead of the defense "by design." On Saturday, she seemed to be flipping the script and emphasizing ball pressure and defensive intensity.

One of the most-improved players over the summer is junior Dominique Redding, who is a proven scorer. She's in better shape, is quicker and is stronger. Summitt loves her offensive game and is demanding that her defense catch up.

"If we're in late games, tight score, I would not hesitate to put her on offense," Summitt said. "But she is not prepared right now to be a stopper at the other end or even just not to get beat. She gets beat too much. She's got to change her mindset and become much more aggressive."

Summitt said a primary concern going into the season is who would pressure the ball the way Loree Moore did last season. Summitt credited Moore with often disrupting the other team's offense from end to end.

So far the answer appears to be Alexis Hornbuckle and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood. They both play tight on the ball and slip into passing lanes away from it. Parker also is capable of guarding perimeter players and with her wingspan, she could easily lead the team in deflections and be among the top two in steals.

The best news for fans in the coming-back-from-injury category has been the play of Wiley-Gatewood for the past two weeks. She has rarely had to take rest breaks for her knee and didn't miss a minute for a full week.

"My knee feels good, real good. I'm feeling real good. I'm doing real good," said Wiley-Gatewood, who credited the conditioning and rehab programs. She added she expects the knee to stiffen sometimes in cold weather, but otherwise she has no concerns.

Her coach is happy that Wiley-Gatewood is on the floor for practice. "She's doing well," Summitt said.

Wiley-Gatewood said the lack of pain has a positive spillover effect.

"It gives me more confidence in myself," she said. "It makes me want to do more, work harder, because my knee is not bothering me."

RECRUIT WATCH: Two top prep players, Maya Moore, a 6'0 forward from Lawrenceville, Ga. (Collins Hill High School) and Angie Bjorklund, a 6'0 guard from Spokane, Wash. (University High School), attended Big Orange Madness and also watched practice Saturday.

They were joined Saturday by a third high school junior, Kelley Cain, a 6'5 center from Atlanta, Ga. (St. Pius High School). Cain was a Street & Smith All-American Honorable Mention in 2005 with per game averages of 21.5 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.

Moore and Cain played AAU basketball together over the summer for the Georgia Metros 16 and Under Nike Travel Team. The team won both the AAU 16 and Under National Championship in Orlando, Fla., and the U.S. Junior Nationals Championship in Washington, D.C.


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