Lady Vols tip off 2005-06 season Sunday

On the eve of the Lady Vols' exhibition opener against Dalhousie-Canada, coach Pat Summitt was still considering who would start. She had decided on four – based on preseason conditioning and practice – but the fifth remained up in the air. And, she added, she likely will use two different lineups all season.

"It's just a situation where we've got six kids that can start," Pat Summitt said after a short but fairly intense practice Saturday. "I'm definitely going to start four people that finished highest in our conditioning and all of our workouts."

Those four are guards Alexis Hornbuckle and Shanna Zolman and post players Nicky Anosike and Candace Parker. Summitt said that "those four just stood out" in the team's off-season, preseason and competitive running trials. The other two potential starters are Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood and Tye'sha Fluker. Summitt could choose from one of those two for Sunday's 3 p.m. game at Thompson-Boling Arena, but she indicated that her lineup could be dichotomous all season long.

"It's probably going to be two different lineups," Summitt said. "Because I think they're going to be times when we'll want to go a little bit more in size and there'll be times when we'll want a little more quickness."

The Dalhousie players watched part of the Lady Vols practice Saturday – and saw Parker dunk – and later took the floor for their own session. Dr. Carolyn Savoy, who has been the Dalhousie head coach since 1977, was a sports psychology consultant for the 1990-91 Lady Vols team. Savoy is the author of "The Art of Coaching: A Practical Guide to Building Successful Teams," which was published in September of this year. She has been the head coach at Dalhousie in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for 28 years.

The Dalhousie Tigers got toasted at Kentucky, 90-34, on Nov. 3 but fared much better on Nov. 4 against Morehead State, losing 72-64. Sunday will be their 11th exhibition game of the preseason. The Tigers finished third last year in Atlantic University Sport league, and posted a 20-10 overall record. Savoy was AUS coach of the year last season.

Dalhousie is expected to start (last season's stats): Kathleen McNeil, No. 7, 6'1 forward, 6.9 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game; Leslie Duncan, No. 10, 5'11 forward, 14.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg; Ryan McKay, No. 14, 5'10 forward, 15.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg; April Scott, No. 8, 5'9 guard, 4.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg; and Kelly Donald, No. 9, 5'6 guard, 5.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg.

For Summitt the game gives her a chance to evaluate her team in live action and to see the effectiveness of various combinations. For the team, it provides a welcome opportunity to play someone that doesn't have Lady Vols on the practice jerseys.

"They get a lot of reps against the guys (practice team), but I think they're ready for the season to start," Summitt said.

Summitt is ready to see how her starting five performs and then how the second wave does.

"You always want to see how your starting five starts," Summitt said. "We'll be clearly able to gauge better where individuals are and where we are as a team and where's our offensive spacing and reading. Defensively, are we really better?"

Based on practice, the defense has improved, but Summitt remains well short of pleased.

"It's better. It's not what it needs to be," she said. "Our transition defense, we've got too many breakdowns there. I just think it's repetition, just like anything else. We've emphasized it, and it appears they've heard us."

The players certainly have heard her threats of making them run sprints if they don't talk on defense. A reminder Friday led to an increase in chatter that carried over to Saturday's practice.

"You hope that's not the motivation (the threat of running)," Summitt said. "The motivation is they want to be a great defensive team."

Summitt will be looking for that dedication Sunday. She knows the opponent is not the caliber of what Tennessee faces in its conference, but in this case it's not the quality of the opponent, but the quality of the Lady Vols' play that she will be watching.

"In a game like this knowing that we should be clearly the better the team, I'll be anxious to see how disciplined we are in our execution," she said. "You have to have the discipline to really focus on what you need to work on and do no matter what the score is."

The bench play will also command her attention, especially after a lackluster scrimmage Friday. For the staff, the game is also a preseason test in terms of how they want to substitute.

"I'm real anxious to see what our bench does," Summitt said. "And I think it's important for our staff to start looking at how we want to substitute. When we scrimmaged the other day, and we substituted five for five, it was about the ugliest thing I've seen on the basketball court since we started practice. We couldn't do it."

Summitt has no intention of subbing five for five during the season, but she doesn't want a drop-off when she does go to the bench, regardless of whether it's one, two or three players going in from the scorer's table.

"I'm not into platooning," Summitt said. "That's not my philosophy. Could I do that if the score is such that it would allow it? I could, but that's not how I want to coach this team."

Fans attending and tuning it by radio to Sunday's game should get a look and a listen at the entire squad. Summitt intends to use all 11 players and will be particularly interested in the performance of the newcomers – one freshman and two redshirt freshmen and the ones who either didn't play much last season or had the year cut short because of injury.

"I think everyone is going to get quality minutes, and the other thing we've got to figure out is how we want to manage that," Summitt said. "Hopefully we can do that in this game. You've got to be efficient. They've got to understand when they come in the game, we're not asking them to make great things happen – because that's when they get in trouble forcing – but we will ask them to go in and be efficient in their play."

NEW RULES: The men's and women's games are experimenting with new rules in a few games this season, and Summitt is already on the record as opposing the tinkering with what she considers to be a great game.

She is adamantly opposed to a wider lane and any other movement of the lines, including the experiment of moving the three-point shot from 19 feet, 9 inches to 20 feet, 6 inches.

"You don't put the three-point line back!" Summitt said. "You leave it exactly where it is. For the most part, it's our dunk. People love the three-point shot."

One Lady Vol, Shanna Zolman, has nailed the shot in practice from the longer range. But Summitt said that wouldn't have happened three or four years ago.

"She has," Summitt said of Zolman's shot, " but she's a senior. She didn't have that range when she got here. Kids come in, a lot of freshmen aren't strong enough."

Summitt's message is clear: Stop fiddling with the game.

"Tell me what other sport they mess around with like this?" Summitt asked.

When told that it's happens in the NHL, she was quick with an answer: "Well, you saw what happened to hockey."

The NHL is trying to restore its credibility with fans after dwindling TV ratings and a season-long lockout. The NHL revamped its rules to increase scoring and win back viewers.

Summitt doesn't think a wider lane in basketball will improve field goal percentage and said the spacing will not improve, because the guards will move closer to the paint. A wider lane, in her opinion, just means the post players will dribble more.

"The only reason we're talking bigger lane is because we have yet to clean up post play," Summitt said. "So I don't think the wider lane is the answer. … Let every game that you call, you call consistently. You call it one way in the regular season, and we get killed in post-season. I see that in the WNBA. I think it's really hurt the WNBA. It's going to be physical, but OK what are going to allow? They say they're cleaning up post play this year, and I go ‘Hallelujah.' Wait and see."

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