Lady Vols hold scrimmages using referees

The Lady Vols offense is clicking pretty well so early in the practice season. The defense needs to bring some heat. Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood is a special point guard. Those observations pretty much sum up the state of the Lady Vols from the perspective of Coach Pat Summitt after scrimmages Sunday in which referees were used for the first time this season.

Summitt used various combinations in five-minute intervals Sunday. She had said earlier that she wanted to try different combinations on the floor together – including a big lineup with Candace Parker on the perimeter – and get a clear picture of who clicks offensively.

That answer was certainly clearer after the scrimmage: this team can score at every position, even against a lineup of male practice players and former Lady Vol Shyra Ely, who stopped by Stokely Athletics Center to help out.

The use of referees allowed the players to get used to game speed – the first exhibition match is Sunday, Nov. 6, at 3 p.m. against Dalhousie-Canada at Thompson-Boling Arena – and game situations.

"It sets a game tone and also they control it instead of the coaches," Pat Summitt said. "When the officials are in control, then the players understand they have to be concerned with game management, what they have to do. I think it brings the intensity up a little bit."

Overall Summitt was pleased with the scrimmage, especially the offensive production, but she wants a better defensive performance.

"We did some good things," Summitt said. "I thought our transition defense needed a lot of work. I just think as you rotate players in and out, we didn't pick up the ball and didn't do a good job as I had hoped on the defensive end. Offensively I thought we played pretty well together, but our offense has been ahead of our defense."

That's somewhat unusual – Summitt's teams are known for being stalwarts on defense – but the memories of last season's offensive miseries remain fresh in her mind.

"As much as we struggled last year, I was determined that we might be ugly at one end, but we weren't going to be ugly at both," Summitt said. "And I do think our post game is a little bit better, our outside shooting is a little bit better."

There were several bright spots: the playmaking of Dominique Redding and Alexis Hornbuckle; the defensive pressure of Hornbuckle; the outside shooting of nearly everyone, especially Lindsey Moss, Sidney Spencer, Shanna Zolman and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood; the power moves inside by the post players Tye'sha Fluker and Nicky Anosike; the positioning of Alex Fuller and Sybil Dosty; the passing of Candace Parker and Wiley-Gatewood; and the overall game of Parker.

Spencer's shooting was a source of smiles for Summitt. Last season, Spencer exasperated her coach with her hesitancy to shoot. Summitt made it clear to Spencer that she either shoots or sits.

"That's a rule for her," Summitt said, who added her policy with Spencer was firm: "When you catch it, you think shot first. If you're open and don't shoot it, you get the hook. You're coming out."

Spencer is one of four players who had knee surgery last season so their performance at game speed was closely watched.

"She's not as quick first step yet," Summitt said. "She's getting it back."

Parker, Wiley-Gatewood and Fuller are the other three. Summitt is practicing caution and making sure they don't overdo the effort this early in the practice season. Ice bags abounded after the scrimmages, but Summitt said everyone was healthy and fine.

Fuller performed well during her time on the court and even stepped out once to nail a three-pointer from the top of the key. Would Summitt want to see that in a game?

"Absolutely," Summitt said. "She shoots the three ball pretty well."

Fuller, who can play small and power forward, also played well in the paint and has a knack for getting open down low.

"She creates an open shot before she gets it," Summitt said. "She's great at sealing the defense."

Summitt has lauded this team's versatility since the summer, and Moss showed her adaptability Sunday. With three players who can play point guard – Wiley-Gatewood, Zolman and Hornbuckle – Moss hadn't yet practiced the position. But during part of the scrimmages, she ran the offense.

"She did a nice job," Summitt said. "That will help her learn all the offenses."

One thing, though, was crystal clear: Wiley-Gatewood plays the point position to near perfection.

"She's big time," Summitt said with a smile.

Wiley-Gatewood has battled severe tendonitis in her knee – a condition that became so painful last winter that she needed surgery – and the plan this fall is to allow her rest when needed.

"I was a little cautious today going into it – how much she'd be able to do – but she's wanting to get as many reps," Summitt said, and, once again, Wiley-Gatewood had no issues with her knee.

"If she wants to put herself in a starting position, I think that's important, get more comfortable," Summitt said.

Wiley-Gatewood not only looked comfortable, she also was very vocal and took charge when she was on the floor.

"Last year she wasn't in that role of having to constantly know what to call and call the huddles and do that aspect of the game," Summitt said.

One longtime practice observer had the best line about Wiley-Gatewood's play: she seems to have three eyes, and the third one always knows where Candace is.

Summitt laughed when that comment was relayed to her.

"Great point guards look for players who are going to make them look good, because they make great plays," Summitt said. "I thought she identified Candace, identified Zolman, got the ball in people's hands who will make a difference, got the ball inside to Tye. … She's special. She's a special little point guard."

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