"She's really picked up her intensity and I think defensively made great strides from the first game to now," Summitt said.
Against Dalhousie University, the Lady Vols coasted to a 131-40 victory. Summitt went with a big lineup of Tye'sha Fluker, Nicky Anosike, Candace Parker, Shanna Zolman and Alexis Hornbuckle. A small lineup would likely move Parker into the paint and allow Summitt to start three guards on the perimeter.
"We're going to keep our minds open and talk about it," said Summitt, who wanted to meet with her staff to flesh out the starters. "I don't who yet, but it will be a different look."
Last year, Carson-Newman won the South Atlantic Conference Tournament, but its three leading scorers from last season have departed, including Brooke Johnson of Seymour, Tennessee, who was the conference freshman of the year with an average of 16.6 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game. The Lady Eagles are led this year by a pair of senior guards: Giovanni Booker, No. 15, 6'0 (6.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.6 steals per game) and Gabrielle Smith, No. 35, 5'6 (5.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.9 assists per game). Carson-Newman begins this season ranked 19th in the USA Today/ESPN NCAA Division II poll, but that is based largely on its 25-8 record of last year and performance in the post-season.
There are a host of new faces on the 2005-06 squad, but one that will be familiar to local fans is Ashley Tipton, a 5'10 freshman forward from Farragut High School in Knoxville. She was a two-time All-District and All-KIL performer and averaged 11.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the Lady Admirals. Tipton, who shot 49 percent from three-point range in high school, led the KIL with 76 threes. There is another Tennessean on the roster in Cris Hammontree, a 5'8 forward form Dayton, Tenn. She played her senior season at Rhea County High School after transferring from the Atlanta area and averaged eight points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 65 percent from the field.
For Tennessee the game is a final tune-up before opening the regular season Nov. 20 against Stetson followed by UT-Chattanooga on Nov. 21. The Lady Vols then fly to the Virgin Islands for three games in three days. After that it's back home for a Dec. 1 game against Texas and then out to California for a Dec. 4 match with Stanford. Three days later, Tennessee plays George Washington in D.C. on Dec. 7. They get a break before taking on Louisiana Tech in Knoxville on Dec. 15
After the Lady Vols' romp over Dalhousie, Summitt couldn't help but be happy with the offense, but she saw some glaring lapses on defense. Both Monday's and Wednesday's practice sessions emphasized defense. Summitt also wants to test run Tennessee's full court press.
"We've got some people that I think got better defensively since the last game," Summitt said. "I think as a team, we should be better."
Offensively, Summitt said, "I like their unselfishness and ball movement. I thought our shot selection was really strong. I think Carson-Newman will provide us some different looks, and it will be a different type of game."
Dalhousie played man-to-man defense, but Carson-Newman could show the Lady Vols some zone defense. If not, the Lady Vols have relied on the practice male players to throw some zone defenses their way.
"We've seen it in practice," Summitt said. "I'm not as overly concerned about zone defenses, because of the players that we have from last year's team that I think understand how to attack against zone defenses. We can do that against our practice guys if in fact we don't see it Thursday."
Summitt identified her priorities going into the game as "our defense, our full-court pressure," she said. "I think obviously take a look at our decision-making offensively. We've got some people turning the ball over; we got a little careless feeding the post."
Summitt will have 10 scholarship players available, and everyone should see a lot minutes. Sophomore center Sybil Dosty will not play for the second time after a violation of team rules (missing class), but she's "good to go," against Stetson to open the season, Summitt said.
"She's worked hard in practice, and this is not something you hold over a player's head," Summitt said. "You just hope they have the maturity and the discipline to come in and work hard every day. I've been so pleased with her intensity, her aggressiveness, her work ethic. She put herself in that position, and she knows it, and she put the team in that position. Sometimes we make bad decisions, but we can learn from it. It looks like she didn't let that get her down. I'm really proud with how she handled it and really pleased with her intensity in practice. She's a presence inside."
LADY VOLS TO BE: Two high school seniors signed their names to papers to become Tennessee Lady Vols next season. One won't travel far. Cait McMahan, a 5'6 point guard from Heritage High School plays just south of UT's campus in the valley of the Smoky Mountains in Blount County. Nicci Moats, a 6'2 forward from Lord Botetourt High School, will make the trip west to Tennessee from Virginia. They both opted to sign during the early signing period, and Summitt said Wednesday that they are the only players that UT will sign out of the Class of 2006.
Moats was a Street & Smith All-American Honorable Mention in 2004 and 2005 and AP All-State AA First Team in 2005. Last year she averaged 16 ppg and 11 rpg. McMahan was a Street & Smith All-American Honorable Mention in 2003 and 2004 and Third Team in 2005. She was AP All-State First Team in 2004 and 2005 and is a three-time finalist for AAA Miss Basketball in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Last year she averaged 21 ppg and 5.5 assists per game.
With the players' papers safely faxed to Tennessee, Summitt was free Wednesday to talk about their games.
"Cait, I watched her play as a ninth grader. I was sold on her then," Summitt said.
Some people saw a pint-sized guard. Summitt saw a floor leader.
"A lot of people of course had talked about her but just being able to go and watch her game and just follow her play, I feel like she has a lot of intangibles, but the leadership skills stand out above everything," Summitt said. "When she has the ball in her hands, she is a take-charge person that commands the respect and response of her teammates. I've seen her bust it every possession. She's the kind of player that sets the example, and that's what you want from a point guard with the leadership that she has. I'm really excited to have a player like that, not only be from this area, but to be coming to the University of Tennessee because she could have gone anywhere."
Moats can play the small and power forward positions at Tennessee, Summitt said.
"Nicci is a three, four player, also could post her up on the block," she said. "I like the fact that she can shoot the three, and she's got a nice mid-range game. She's willing to get in and mix it up on the block, a very versatile skill player, really skilled offensive player. She had been here to camp. We'd been up to watch her to play. It's great to have a player that understands what the commitment is here. She's got a lot of different dimensions to her game, and she brings a lot of different looks to her team."