Summitt to shorten bench in upcoming game

Coach Pat Summitt put the team through two tough days of practice Friday and Saturday and then planned to feed them an early Christmas dinner Sunday. On Monday, they'll prepare for Tuesday night's game against Princeton and then break for the holidays.

Tennessee is 9-0 to start the 2005-06 season, but Pat Summitt has seen enough to know there are significant improvements to be made: better rebounding for one – and she will very likely use a bigger lineup Tuesday partly for that reason – and much better defense.

"It's not a great rebounding team," Summitt said. "It's not a priority for this team."

After Friday's practice Summitt said she was considering deploying a different lineup. Tye'sha Fluker and Sybil Dosty are two bigs who have come off of the bench when Summitt uses a three-guard lineup on the perimeter. Fluker has earned praise for her offense but is in Summitt's crosshairs for her lack of board play. Dosty has rebounded well – she had seven in 11 minutes in the 83-59 win Thursday over Louisiana Tech – and has earned more playing time because of it.

After Saturday's practice, Summitt had basically decided to make a change.

Forward Candace Parker will move to the perimeter, and Nicky Anosike and Fluker will start inside. The lineup shuffle also was necessitated by the illness of point guard Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, who left the Tech game with respiratory problems and hasn't been able to practice because of severe congestion. Although she is expected to be on the bench Tuesday, her availability would be limited.

"I'm not liking what I'm seeing from our smaller lineup (as far as rebounding), and Fluker's got to rebound," Summitt said. "She can't be that big and athletic and playing as well as she is on the offensive end and not pursuing the ball. It's a mindset. I thought Dosty was terrific. Matter of fact if I do go big lineup, Dosty will be my first post off the bench. You've got to reward kids when they really buy into your system. We're got kids who are veterans in this program, and they don't understand defense and board play is how we built this program."

In this case, the big lineup means Wiley-Gatewood will come off of the bench – with Parker on the perimeter it means one of the team's top three guards, Alexis Hornbuckle and Shanna Zolman are the others, will be a sixth starter as Summitt has emphasized since the start of the season.

"She hasn't played as well in the last three games, but she wasn't feeling well," said Summitt of Wiley-Gatewood, who has been treated by the team physician and needs bed rest. "She's all congested. If we can get her healthy … she at times has done some good things as far as board play coverage."

After Friday's practice Summitt was asked if she had watched the game replay.

"Twice," she said.

Did she see what she expected?

"Worse," she said.

After viewing her team she watched tape of the LSU-Ohio State game that was also played Thursday in which LSU dominated 64-48.

"I watched the first half of their game and the last 10 minutes and thought, ‘We are a far cry from being ready to play a team like them on the boards,' " Summitt said.

Besides rebounding, Summitt is concerned about her team's defense. She was especially upset that Tech forward Aarica Ray-Boyd, who wears No. 14, got loose for nine three-point attempts – she made three and often the defender was either not there or a step late.

"What disappointed me is they didn't react to covering the one three-point shooter," Summitt said. "When you say: ‘Fourteen. You've got to guard.' Well I'd be on the hunt for who's got 14 on their chest. We've got to be more disciplined."

Summitt knew her team's attention had been directed off the court – final exams were this past week – but she pointed to the free throw shooting (22-36) in which several players were at 50 percent or less.

"That's concentration," Summitt said. "We've been leading the league in free throw shooting."

Going into the Tech game, Tennessee was shooting 81.7 percent from the line as a team. The next-closest SEC teams were Vanderbilt (76.4) and Georgia (74.7).

Summitt's critique isn't limited to her players. She also acknowledged that some of her coaching moves early in the season – such as going deep into her bench – could throw off continuity. She also recognizes that this team is very young with seven of the 11 players either sophomores or freshmen.

"They are young," Summitt said. "One thing I will tell you I don't think – this isn't their fault – we can play an 11-player rotation right now and be efficient. What happens when we go to the bench, it's hard for us to get that momentum back and that execution sharp.

"As I told my staff, I just think we have to cut back on substitution in the first half. It's a difficult thing to do. There are players who need more minutes, but there are players right now who haven't earned the right. I gave minutes away (against Tech)."

Summitt had been doing so because she wanted to see now what all the players could do in different situations. It also gives her game film so she can sit down with players one-on-one and walk them through, with visuals, what is happening on the court.

"That's exactly why I gave them minutes," Summitt said. "From that standpoint this has been good for us to be able to get leads and play people, but it hasn't been good for our execution. It hasn't been good for our stat sheet. When I look at the stat sheet, I'm not happy. But I pretty much created the environment that I'm in. I made the decision I want to play everybody. It might be a little wiser on my part to wait until the second half."

The curtailing of minutes in the first 20 minutes will come Tuesday against Princeton.

"I want to shorten the bench," Summitt said. "I want to see what we look like with seven or eight players that I really trust to play the way we want to play."

Summitt was pretty happy post-practice Saturday. The team has taken well to her message of boards and defense and responded well on the court.

"Real good practice today," Summitt said. "We've got to have post people rebound the basketball, and Tye's been doing a great job of boxing out. She's looked a lot better. Dosty, if there's one bright spot, she's been all over the boards. I love rebounders. I find places to play rebounders."

Junior forward Sidney Spencer had four rebounds against Tech – one offensive and three defensive – which was adequate but Summitt wants more from her at the small forward spot.

"She was OK. She's playing a little bit different position, because she's usually coming from the wing or on top of the floor, and that's a little different from a year ago," Summitt said. "I think she'll get better. You have to learn how to anticipate and then slice and get inside. Overall I'm encouraged by Sidney's play."

Summitt said her lineup shuffling was due both to the rebounding issue and the realization that Wiley-Gatewood won't be physically up to par.

"She's missed two valuable days of practice," Summitt said. "I can't imagine her being full speed."

Jenny Moshak, the assistant athletics director for sports medicine, said that with a third day of rest Sunday, Wiley-Gatewood could be able to practice Monday. Her respiratory illness is complicated by asthma, and Moshak said rest was a medical must.

Hornbuckle will shift to the point guard position – and that ultimately can hurt rebounding since her board play is more effective from the wing when she doesn't have the responsibility to run the offense – with the bigger lineup in place. Hornbuckle, who is Wiley-Gatewood's roommate and jokingly said she was disinfecting the dorm room, said an effective Wiley-Gatewood is a game changer.

"When she's effective, it definitely opens things up," Hornbuckle said. "The girl is so quick, and she loves to push tempo. That's her game to create because she sees the open court so well. So when she's doing that it opens up everybody else, including herself. It's so hard to guard five people. … And when Sa'de is in the flow it puts Nicky in the flow, which puts Candace in the flow. Everybody just starts to come together. When she gets well I think that's what we'll have again."

Meanwhile, Summitt has issued a challenge to Fluker to rebound and to every player to not take off any possessions.

"I think she's challenged," Summitt said. "I think what she has to be mindful of is when she gets in games and she goes for extended minutes, she'll try to find some places to rest. It's important that she doesn't do that. Players are always looking for spots on the floor to rest. As I told Candace she'll rest on defense."

And that's exactly what Summitt doesn't want. If a player is tired, she wants them to take a seat with her and then go back in.

"I think what Tye has to be mindful of – and what we have to watch and really keep our players in tune – is if you need a rest, you need to come out," Summitt said. "You don't need to rest on the floor; you need to rest on the bench.

"The thing about Tye she has made really big shots whether you want to go back to the Maryland game or the Stanford game or George Washington, she's come up with a couple of really big possessions. She's sealing better, and she's playing at the rim better. She's just not rebounding. Surely, surely if she knows that's what she needs to do to really improve her game and help her team more, she ought to be able to do that."

For her part Summitt will pare her rotation against Princeton and slow down the revolving door at the scorer's table.

"In this Princeton game I doubt seriously that I will play everyone in the first half," Summitt said. "I really want us to establish a good rhythm. If we can do that hopefully we can build leads in the first half and be able to play a little bit differently in the second half. I gave them playing time the other night; they've got to earn it."

Hornbuckle said Summitt's message has gotten through clearly, and the team understood that these last few days of practice and one more game before the Christmas break are important to set the tone for the next part of the season. Hornbuckle, who has earned nothing but praise from Summitt for her rebounding, said going to the boards has hardly anything to do with skill and everything to do with effort.

"Rebounding is about heart and hustle," Hornbuckle said. "It's not an easy job. You've just got to go in there and want to bang. You're going to get hit. You're going to get knocked around. What she wants is everybody to go to the boards. We have times when it's only one or two people, three at the most, rebounding, and you can't win big games like that. We should be out-rebounding teams, and we haven't done that by a lot. I know in the Maryland game they were killing us on the boards, and every player out there was dedicated towards rebounding, and that's what Pat wants out of us.

"When I grew up playing with guys, you didn't want to get kicked off the court and not be able to play because you were a sissy, playing like a girl, quote, unquote. So I just learned early on if you're going to play with the big dogs, you've got to do it right."

UT VS. UT: The Lady Vols beat Texas soundly this season in Knoxville. On Saturday the UT men's team went to Austin and stunned the Longhorns, 95-78. The game, which tipped at 2 p.m., was televised. The Lady Vols were scheduled to practice at 4 p.m., but Summitt was engrossed in the game – she was watching at home – and called the players, who had gathered in the locker room to watch the game, and told them to watch the end of the game and then she would meet them on the practice court.

It was a huge win for Tennessee, now undefeated at 6-0, to beat No. 6 Texas, now 8-2, on its home floor. The Vols jumped out to a 23-5 lead and never looked back. UT forced 10 first half turnovers and led by 20 points at halftime.

"Absolutely," Summitt said. "I will say this. That didn't surprise me that they won there. Because how many times in practice do you see that? They press and they run. They are relentless on defense, on the boards, hustle plays. Our kids can take a lesson from them. I called and told them, ‘Y'all just stay in the locker room until it's over. It's too good to miss.' This team's got a little swagger now, these guys."

CAIT UPDATE: Lady Vol signee Cait McMahan dropped by practice Friday sporting crutches and an ice pack. McMahan, a point guard in the class of 2006, tore her ACL and will miss the remainder of her senior season at Heritage High School in Maryville, Tennessee. She has had her reconstructive surgery and also has started rehab to get ready for next fall, when she will be a freshman at Tennessee. It is medically ideal for a player to spend nine months getting completely healed from ACL surgery so that means McMahan should be ready to go in September.

"She's doing well," Summitt said.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories