Lady Vols stress defense, board play

The Lady Vols, preparing to enter the Pac-10 portion of the schedule, worked on defense and rebounding Monday at practice. The offense, after three games of 100-plus points, got some attention, too, but it appears to be coasting along. The challenges, however, are about to change as Tennessee next takes on UCLA, Arizona State and Stanford.

No. 5 Tennessee, 1-0, got its first win of the season Sunday, 102-72, over Chattanooga. That was preceded by two exhibition game romps. Now the schedule gets a lot tougher with a Thursday visit from No. 20 UCLA and a road trip next Sunday to No. 11 Arizona State. On Nov. 24, No. 4 Stanford comes to Knoxville for a post-Thanksgiving gathering at Thompson-Boling Arena. All three opponents play in the Pac-10.

"I don't think that's ever happened," coach Pat Summitt said of three consecutives games within one conference, besides, of course the SEC. She said it was coincidental and "just the fact they're all non-conference, and we want to play our non-conference early."

Summitt watched the Chattanooga game tape to get a better view on how the Lady Mocs out-rebounded the Lady Vols, 37-27. That was partly due to Chattanooga's lofting of 31 threes, but Summitt also saw too many players slip up and not box out.

"A lot of long rebounds, inconsistency on four people covering the offensive boards," Summitt said of the reasons for the board disparity. "We were a little lax in our box-outs. Rebounding, to me, you've got players that instinctively do it, and you've got players that you've got to constantly stay on to rebound. We have too many of those right now. It has to become more of a habit so that's why we just have to stay on it in practice. It's not so much what you teach every day, but what you emphasize every day."

The instinctive players would include sophomore Alex Fuller, who could conduct how-to clinics on boxing out, and junior Alexis Hornbuckle, who rebounds with technique, hustle and heart. Not surprisingly, they were the leading rebounders Sunday – Fuller had five and Hornbuckle had four.

Junior Nicky Anosike also will rebound consistently, but on Sunday she only played 18 minutes, and she hit all four of her shot attempts. As a team Tennessee shot 57.9 percent so there weren't many second chance opportunities. Senior Dominique Redding, a reliable shooter, will earn playing time this season if she boards. On Sunday, she had one on defense and one on offense.

Of all the early season issues to have, this is a relatively easy one to address. Fixing defensive deficiencies or offensive woes is time-consuming. Rebounding, on the other hand, is about effort primarily with drills to improve technique and instill the mindset of crashing the boards.

"I think rebounding is a high priority in this program – always has been," Summitt said. "With a lot of players who didn't have to rebound in high school they now have to rebound in college. It's taken four years to get Dominique to understand pursuing the ball off the glass, and she's gotten so much better.

"I think Anosike is instinctive. She's got a nose for the ball, so does Fuller. And Hornbuckle, she's got a nose for the ball. I just think we have to constantly be mindful of our board coverage because you're not going to necessarily win on an off shooting night unless you have great effort and second chance opportunities."

The next three games will give Tennessee a much better gauge on all aspects of its game, especially board play.

"You hope it doesn't take a loss to get their attention," Summitt said. "That's why you just drill it, drill it, drill it. That's remains to be seen. But with this schedule? It's just right around the corner."

After a lengthy practice Monday afternoon to address defense and boards, the team will hold a relatively short session Tuesday evening. The balls will stay in the rack, and the players will work on defensive stances and closing out and then lift weights. They will return to the court Wednesday for practice.

POINT OF EMPHASIS: The officiating this season will key on hand-checking on the perimeter. Summitt said it's been that way for several years, and she'd like to see a similar emphasis in the paint.

Several Lady Vols got called for hand-checking Sunday, including Redding (two total fouls), senior Sidney Spencer (one foul) and junior Shannon Bobbitt (three fouls).

"I didn't like her foul situation. As I told her we're going to need you on the floor, and you've got to make sure you don't take yourself out of the game," Summitt said of Bobbitt after the game. "And it was my fault. I apologized to our team at halftime. The hand-checking rule is a point of emphasis, (and the players needed to be reminded sooner). I wish that they were as particular in the post as they are on the perimeter about it. I take responsibility for some of the hand-checking situations that we were in."

Summitt was asked again about the rule Monday after practice. She said it could have been called even more. That would have really slowed play as there were 46 fouls called on the two teams as it were.

"I think we were all getting in trouble," Summitt said Monday. "Maybe they just got tired of calling it. The rule is now you can put your hands on the offensive player, but as soon as you just check them you've got to get your hands off. You can check, and that's it."

Summitt doesn't particularly mind the rule, but she's not sure why such an emphasis would be placed well away from the basket, while permitting post players to have a lot of contact.

"That's what I said to all three of the officials yesterday each opportunity I had," Summitt said. "I wish we could clean up the post game. Women's basketball, the touch on the perimeter, to me, is fine unless you're impeding the offense and then obviously you have to take it off. I remember the point of emphasis was (the same) when we went up to Purdue our 98-99 season, and that's all they called – hand-checking, hand-checking, hand-checking."

Still, Summitt expects to see what has happened in the past. The calls are plentiful early in the season, teams adjust and the officials don't call it as tight. Then the rule will be reemphasized in March.

"Postseason it has been a point of emphasis since I've been born, and we're not seeing the same attention given to post defense," Summitt said. "I think we have to be consistent in those two areas."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories