Lady Vols return to court tonight

The Lady Vols have two objectives this week – learn from the loss to North Carolina and take care of business at home, starting with Tuesday's game against Tennessee-Martin, before heading into the break for final exams. The first step toward achieving those goals was to not practice Monday.

Instead, the players watched their floor minutes from the North Carolina game in one-on-one sessions with coach Pat Summitt and her assistants, Holly Warlick, Nikki Caldwell and Dean Lockwood. They also looked at film together in small position groups. The intent was to have individual instruction that focused on what went wrong, what went right and how to get better.

No. 6 Tennessee, 6-1, takes on Tennessee-Martin at Thompson-Boling Arena at 7 p.m. (Lady Vol Radio Network, Internet video streaming at utladyvols.com). The Lady Vols played an evening game Sunday in Chapel Hill and didn't leave Carmichael Auditorium until well after 11 p.m. They arrived back in Knoxville in the wee hours of Monday. A late trip combined with a 70-57 defeat and two home games in three days – No. 21 George Washington will be in town Thursday – meant some reconfiguration of the work week was required.

Summitt met with her staff and decided instructional time off the court would be more beneficial for the team.

"We're watching films with different coaches with different players trying to use this as a valuable learning experience," Summitt said. "We got in late last night and I want them to be rested. We need our legs fresh and our minds fresh before we go in and play UT-Martin and then get ready to play George Washington. I want to give them some time right now to finish out their classes and focus on their academics."

Exams start Friday and although the Lady Vols can practice there can't be any games scheduled. The next game won't be until Dec. 17 at Texas in Austin.

The North Carolina game was one in which Summitt knew she would learn a lot about her team and its early season progress and deficiencies. The Lady Vols corrected their three-point defense – the Tar Heels were 5-14 and two came late in the second half from well beyond the arc – but they were tripped up by their lack of transition defense and board play.

"I think our transition defense was very costly," Summitt said. "I think between the transition defense and obviously the board play – that's kind of been the bread and butter of our program; we've been very solid defensively and on the boards – and in those areas we were not ready. I take full responsibility for that, and we will get better. We learned volumes.

"It was a great atmosphere for a college basketball game – a little challenging for some of our players. Our bench didn't come through as we had hoped. We only had four points off the bench to their 17. That's a significant difference. We've just got to help our basketball team get better and better prepared. North Carolina is one of the most explosive teams in the country and one of the very best teams in the country. Just the experience of being there in that environment and learning I can assure you that we're going to learn volumes from that game and as we move forward become a better basketball team because of that game."

The first step toward executing on defense and owning the glass begins Tuesday for the Lady Vols against the Skyhawks of the Ohio Valley Conference. Tennessee-Martin beat Memphis on Sunday to improve its record to 4-1.

Lockwood said Tennessee had to narrow its attention to the task at hand and bounce back quickly from Sunday's loss.

"First of all our preparation, our process of preparation, needs to remain unchanged, which it is essentially," Lockwood said Monday. "Today was a day where we focused primarily on ourselves. This game last night exposed some things with our team and showed us some things as a staff and a team so I think we are first of all correcting those things and talking about in the ensuing days ahead what needs to be worked on. That's number one.

"Secondly we need to then immediately shift that focus and prepare for UT-Martin. We need to prepare for this team as we prepare for any other team. Even though we saved them a day with their legs – we thought it was so crucial with the stretch we've had and what we've got the rest of the week; we saved their legs a little bit – but in terms of talking about how we're playing defensively and things we want to do in our scheme, we want to prepare for them the same way. That's very important."

The best remedy for the lingering aftereffects of a loss is to line up again.

"Our next two games I think maybe the best therapy for our team and our staff is let's get back on the floor and play," Summitt said. "It's the waiting that's difficult."

Summitt is expected to stick with her starting lineup: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 junior guard, No. 00 (6.2 points per game, 1.3 rebounds per game, 4.2 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 junior guard, No. 14 (9.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.1 steals per game); Sidney Spencer, 6'3 senior forward, No. 1 (12.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'4 sophomore forward, No. 3 (20.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 junior center, No. 55 (8.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg).

Tennessee-Martin coach Tara Tansil is expected to start: Jennifer Angler, 5'8 junior guard, No. 10 (4.6 ppg, 1.0 rpg), point guard had 13 points in exhibition against Kentucky Wesleyan; Kimberly Cox, 5'6 junior guard, No. 20 (4.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg), played in all 27 games last season with role significantly increased as season progressed; Phyllisha Mitchell, 5'10 sophomore forward, No. 22 (12.2 ppg, 10.8 rpg), averaged 12.4 minutes a game as a freshman, played basketball, golf, volleyball and tennis at Craigmont High School in Memphis; Whitney Maxey, 6'1 junior guard, No. 23 (3.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg), a junior college transfer from Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, her team won regional titles in Division II; Andreika Jackson, 5'9 senior forward, No. 30 (17.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg), had 17 points in the win over Memphis, started all 27 games last season, played AAU ball for the Georgia Pistols.

For Summitt this game is the first shot to return her team to the roots of her program – rebounding and defense.

"We're not where we want to be," she said. "We understand now we have to raise the bar in certain areas. We have to be more consistent. We have to be more balanced offensively. We've got to be very stingy on the defensive end, and we've got to go back to rebounding the basketball, not rely on one or two players to do it. Typically for us that's been a trademark of this program. I just don't think that we demanded enough from our players when it comes to the rebounding aspect of the game."

So how exactly does the staff get a team that as a whole doesn't instinctively pursue the basketball to suddenly become better at board play?

"Practice. Consequences," Summitt said.

Tennessee needs steady production on the glass from Alex Fuller, Dominique Redding and Spencer. Summitt is looking for Spencer to get on the boards, especially when she is not shooting well.

"In games I'm going to have to sit her (otherwise)," Summitt said. "You drill more – more board work and more transition work. We drilled it, but was it enough? I told our team I'm not convinced we drilled it enough."

The results bear that out. Tennessee has a microscopic +1.6 margin on the boards in its first seven games and is only averaging 33.1 rebounds a game.

That number would likely be improved if Hornbuckle can remain on the wing, but she has to move to the point if Bobbitt or freshman Cait McMahan are in foul trouble or sputtering at the position, which will happen as both adjust to Division I basketball, especially with this year's schedule. North Carolina was the second-ranked team in the country and a contender to win a national title.

"We did not match their speed, their athleticism in a few positions and that hurt us," Summitt said. "Sid not rebounding (though) I thought her (half-court) defense was pretty solid, but if you're not rebounding you've got to get back in transition. If not where are you? You're somewhere in between. Not getting more from Fuller, from Redding. If you're not rebounding then where are you? But even with our starters we just were not committed to the transition defense at the level we needed to be against a team that has great speed and quickness. Let's face it. They're one of the top two, three teams in the country."

Summitt was pleased with the half-court defense, but she said reps are the only way to fix the other two issues.

"We need more repetitions in two facets of the game right now," she said. "We need more repetition with transition defense – identifying ball and player or players – and we need to do a much better job on the boards at both ends. Half court we did some good things. Half-court defense was pretty solid; transition defense was weak."

She added, "They broke our backs with our lack of identifying and matching up with our transition. And you know? I didn't have them ready like I should have. I told my staff we spent a lot of time more in the half court than the full court just with trying to get our defense and our offense solid. But with a team like that, looking back, I think we should have spent more time on transition."

So Monday became a teaching session. The players watched film of themselves so the coaches could show them exactly what they were or were not doing. Lockwood sat down with Fuller, who was 0-3 on Sunday and had two rebounds and an assist in 12 minutes of play.

Coming into the game Fuller was averaging 9.0 points and 4.8 rebounds a game in 22.8 minutes.

"We're getting used to her producing and all of a sudden she misses three shots, and she just wasn't nearly as productive," Lockwood said. "We've got to count on her. She's got to deliver. She's got to do things for us. But she didn't play a horrible game for us.

"Defensively she got caught out of position twice. She got a shot blocked, she missed a wide-open three and then she had a great look in the middle that normally she makes. We're not going to get all caught up in it. I'm not going to get in knots. I'm not going to tie Alex in knots over this one game. But certainly we expect her to come back this week and have two pretty good games for us."

The players were receptive to the coaches' approach, Lockwood said, but "you never know anything until you see it carry over on the court."

The staff opted for an erudite reaction to the North Carolina game instead of a punitive one. The players were coming off a late game played at a frenetic pace and have two games in 72 hours.

"Pat did not drop a hammer," Lockwood said. "She told the team there was a time in my career where we would have been out on the court, and we would have been kicking tail up and down the court.

"In light of that approach this team has been very receptive. They're not defensive. They're not making excuses. They're very receptive. They're very accountable. They're looking inwardly each player individually and also by position groups. They're saying, ‘What did we not do well? What could we do better? What do we need to do against a team like this in the future? And then also what do we need to do going into this week with these two teams coming up?' So I can't tell you enough how receptive they've been."

Summitt took the guards' position group for her viewing session, as they are her extension of the coach on the floor.

"I'm watching with Cait and Shannon and Alexis," Summitt said.

That session likely keyed on getting the team into its offenses and positioning on the floor as Summitt noted Bobbitt got too deep on occasion. Bobbitt had no trouble penetrating the Tar Heels press and breaking down the first line of defense at half-court. But the offense would sometimes bog down – Bobbitt would be too deep and McMahan would be too far back – and spacing and movement broke down.

Summitt resorted to using Hornbuckle at point late in the first half and in the second half for about 20 minutes in the game, as much for defensive reasons as offensive ones. But her intention is to have Bobbitt and McMahan ready and to use Hornbuckle less as the season progresses.

"Exactly," Summitt said. "I think we can."

Summitt revised her assessment of the defense against Erlana Larkins, who had 17 points and 12 boards Sunday. The initial defense was good but then she got points off missed shots – hers or someone else's – and other effort baskets.

"All in all we did a much better job on her than I thought," Summitt said. "I thought that during the game (the defense wasn't good) because we let her go over her right shoulder and shoot left. That's exactly what we didn't want to do."

But after watching the tape Summitt realized it was the inability to rebound for Tennessee that aided Larkins' offensive production.

Better board play has become a mantra.

"We as a staff we have to take a huge part of that responsibility," Lockwood said. "That's the beauty of games like this is it reveals things. That game told us we've got to do more. Pat's teams have been noted for rebounding for years and years and years. It's not like it's never been emphasized here. We have to look at that game and say, ‘You know what? We have to do more as a coaching staff to build that into our practices, to put value into rebounding, as creative as we need to get, we need to do it.'

"Because our team needs to understand that we aren't going to be in Cleveland (at the Final Four) without improving our rebounding. That is one area that is certainly glaring. So we have to take responsibility as coaches and then our team has to follow that up and embrace it and say, ‘OK, coaches are emphasizing now with even greater intensity. We have to now transfer that out to the court.' "

The Lady Vols get the first crack on that transfer on Tuesday. First they had to exorcise the aftereffects of the Carolina game. Now is the time to make corrections and move on.

"I think we understand it, and I think our players are very committed, and this is not a make or break game for the year," Summitt said. "As far as how we handle it, it could be something that makes us a lot better. We certainly don't want it to break us."

Lockwood seemed bemused at the notion that anyone was wringing hands and gnashing teeth over Tennessee's entire season – and postseason chances – because of a loss in December. Tennessee has played awful games in November and December before and came back to avenge the loss that same season when the stakes were much higher. On Dec. 29, 2004, Tennessee lost to Rutgers in New Jersey, 65-51. On March 29, 2005, UT defeated Rutgers, 59-49, and went to the Final Four. On Nov. 24, 2002, Tennessee lost to Duke, 76-55, at a holiday tournament. On April 6, 2003, UT beat Duke in the Final Four, 66-56.

"I have three words – one of them is an apostrophe – it's very early," Lockwood said. "If you follow college basketball, women's or men's, you'll see games like this all over the country. They happen with more and more frequency as the parity has come into our game now, just as it has the men's. You see this all over the country that in early matchups, especially when it's the first time for somebody in a real hostile environment against a very talented ream, there are teams that stumble and falter all the time.

"Honestly we look at our game and there were a lot of good things. First half it's 30-25. As poorly as we were playing we're five points down. And then it's 30-30. And then we let them go on a 9-0 run. At that point we felt like we were always making runs. We were always in that zone where we couldn't quite get up the hill. It is very early. There is so much basketball to be played and there is so much improvement to be had by teams all across the country – us, North Carolina, everybody. The real key is what's going to happen from early December to early March. That will tell the story. Now if we're playing like this in early March I would tell those naysayers and those doomsday forecasters that you can put that in stone because I'd be worried, too."

But on Monday the signs were in place that Tennessee would make significant progress by March. The coaches and players were holding themselves accountable and seeking solutions. In the immediate aftermath of the North Carolina game, Summitt, Parker and Hornbuckle were humbled by the loss and gracious with their answers but clearly seething under the surface. The Carolina players celebrating loudly just outside the press conference door – the locker room is right beside it in the cramped quarters of Carmichael Auditorium – was an extra cut to the pride after a painful night.

Lockwood noted that is the appropriate response for competitors who despise losing.

"If you're going to be playing in Cleveland, the four teams in Cleveland will be comprised of people with that mindset," he said.

SCOUTING REPORT: Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report on Tennessee-Martin. Here is his assessment.

When Tennessee-Martin has the ball: "They run some sets – I call them a few entries – to try to generate some action. They do a lot of stuff off dribble penetration. They're going to screen you. They're going to set some screens and try to free people up. They have what I call non-traditional posts. Their biggest starter is 6'1. But those non-traditional posts can cause a lot of problems.

"They've got two players that are averaging double digits that are both that in-between size – 5'10, 5'11 – they're real good from the high post, the mid post, they love to root around, and they do things off the dribble. So we really have to guard action off the dribble from both perimeter and post players. We have to protect the paint. We cannot let them have paint points and we've got to key on a couple of their shooters. We can't let them have target practice. We've got to really pressure shooters."

When Tennessee has the ball: "We want to really make this a high-octane game – up-tempo, up-tempo, up-tempo – and then we want to really impose our will physically from the interior. If you look at these two teams on film and on paper we have an advantage so we want to be able to exploit that."

ODDS AND ENDS: Alexis Hornbuckle had four steals in the North Carolina game, extending her streak to 43 consecutive games with at least one takeaway. In 71 career games she has swiped the ball at least once in 64 of them. … Tennessee leads the series with Tennessee-Martin, 12-2. … The losses to Pat Summitt's alma mater were in 1971 and 1972 when Summitt was on the basketball team, then known as the Lady Pacers. Summitt's jersey was retired and she is Tennessee-Martin's third-leading scorer with 1,045 points. The floor at the school was named The Pat Head Summitt Court in 1997. The floor at Thompson-Boling Arena was named for her last season. … Tennessee is 5-0 in games played on Dec. 5.

MARTIN MEMORIES: Pat Summitt, 54, cited her time at Tennessee-Martin as a player as one of the best experiences in her life.

"I had a wonderful experience there," said Summitt, who earned her bachelor's degree in 1974 and then a master's degree in physical education from UT-Knoxville in 1975. "I always tell our players you have no idea, you have a lot of friends in high school, but I think your lifelong friends come from the experiences of college. That is certainly my experience from Martin. … It will be great to have a lot of those people at Thompson-Boling Arena and to play against UT-Martin."


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