SEC coaches hold pre-tourney teleconference

Tennessee rolled out some shiny new Wilson basketballs – the brand used in the NCAA Tournament – and with the brackets now unveiled the intensity level of practice ratcheted up a few notches Tuesday. Gone are the general drills. In their place are specific instructions and objectives on both offense and defense.

The Lady Vols were helped by the presence of three male practice players, who made it to Stokely Athletics Center on a warm afternoon despite it being spring break when a lot of their colleagues are taking time off and heading to coastal locations. This year's team also has earned kudos from the coaching staff for being a good practice group all season.

"They've been good," Coach Pat Summitt said Tuesday. "I think today, having three practice guys on the floor made it even better, but I'm sure having a bracket, I know for me that made a difference. You can see your road and have an opponent to scout and start to determine what you want to do in your preparation specific to who you're going to play."

A key piece of that is the work of Angel Elderkin, a graduate assistant last year who became the team video coordinator this season.

Elderkin had to rely on a contact she had made back in her assistant coaching days at Siena College. One of her jobs then was to get game film and she would make the short drive to Hoop 1 Video in New Jersey. She has used the company while at Tennessee and it was indispensable this week when she needed Drake video.

She was able to get two of the Bulldogs latest games and another game tape directly from Drake – each school can ask the other school for a specific game – and get those ASAP to Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, who is well into his scouting preparations.

She also tracked down game tape on James Madison and Pitt and got those to Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell, who will handle that scout since, if Tennessee wins in the first round Sunday against Drake (7 p.m., ESPN2), the Lady Vols would face the winner of that matchup.

Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick has the task of looking ahead in the bracket and beginning scouting preparation on possible matchups in the Sweet 16, if the Lady Vols advance to Dayton, Ohio. There is very little turnaround time between the sub-regionals and regionals so the scouting has to be started in advance.

"She's done a tremendous job," Summitt said of Elderkin. "To have someone full-time in that position is great for us. I think without question she understands there's a sense of urgency at this point in time. She's just a very efficient worker. I don't ever worry about what she's doing or not doing. I know she's doing all she can to have us ready and give us the information we need to do our scouting."

That information was put to use Tuesday on the practice floor. The Lady Vols also will practice Wednesday and Thursday in Knoxville. Friday will be used as a day off for travel to Pittsburgh.

The teams in the sub-regional will hold open practices at the Petersen Events Center on Saturday, and Tennessee's session is scheduled for 3 p.m. The facility doors open at 10 a.m. Saturday with eight teams from two pods – Tennessee, Drake, James Madison and Pitt; and North Carolina, Prairie View A&M, Notre Dame and California – scheduled to hold open sessions starting at 11 a.m. All practice sessions are closed after Saturday.

Four other SEC teams joined Tennessee in the tourney, and all five coaches held a media teleconference Tuesday afternoon. They went in alphabetical order by school.

Georgia, 25-3, is the No. 3 seed in the Dallas Regional and will open up play against No. 14 seed Belmont, 25-6, on Saturday in Minneapolis.

"We've enjoyed the time off. We've maximized it in every way," said Coach Andy Landers, adding the break was used to both get some rest and get back to work on the practice floor.

All five coaches were happy to be in the tournament – they were the ones considered locks for the Big Dance – and offered some commentary, when asked, about the paucity of SEC teams who got invitations.

"I had hopes that a couple of more would be considered," Landers said. "We would only be speculating as to why."

LSU, 26-7, is also a No. 3 seed and will play Saturday against UNC-Asheville in Austin, Texas. The Lady Tigers were assigned to the Fresno Region.

"They're a very good team, and they're coming off a win in their conference tournament," said LSU Interim Coach Bob Starkey, who has taken the helm after Pokey Chatman resigned last week amid allegations of inappropriate conduct with a former player. "Any time that happens a team is going to be playing with a lot of confidence."

As far as the low number of SEC teams, Starkey said, "Both South Carolina and Auburn were right there. … I think the committee's job was very difficult."

South Carolina, Auburn, Kentucky and Mississippi State had lobbied at the SEC tournament for NCAA consideration. Mississippi State had finished 7-7 in conference play. The other three schools finished 6-8.

Ole Miss Coach Carol Ross offered some forthright comments about the situation – she doesn't back away from candid responses – and made the case that the committee should have found a way to separate out another SEC team.

"I think our league, you can call it disrespected. You shouldn't be penalized for beating each other," said Ross, who added it was the committee's job to find that separation.

"It's disappointing that we didn't have more representation when we are the best conference in the country," Ross said.

Ross was happy to hear her team's name called. Ole Miss, 21-10, is a No. 7 seed in the Dayton Region. The Rebels open play Sunday against No. 10 seed TCU, 21-10, in Hartford, Conn.

"Obviously we're happy to be busy this time of year," said Ross, who is in her fourth year at Ole Miss. "The big test for us is learning how to win a game. We've gotten to this point before, but we've yet to find a way to win a game in the NCAA Tournament."

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt connected to the teleconference while standing at center court in Stokely Athletics Center.

"I'm here," Summitt said over the sound of bouncing basketballs and shoes squeaking. She slipped out into a hallway to take questions.

"I think that this is the most exciting time of year," said Summitt, who added preseason felt much the same way because of the anticipation. "We're just really happy to get back on the floor and play. We've had some good practices, and I'm just really pleased with the work ethic of our team."

No. 1 seed Tennessee, 28-3, will play No. 16 seed Drake, 14-18, on Sunday in Pittsburgh. The Lady Vols are in the Dayton Region with Ole Miss, but on opposite ends of the bracket. They would only meet if both teams made it to the regional final.

"I think we beat up on each other," Summitt said by way of explanation for the lack of SEC presence in the postseason. "We didn't have another team or teams separate from each other. This is what it is for us this year. Hopefully the SEC will be tougher next year."

Tennessee ran the table in the SEC regular season to go 14-0 and then lost in the semifinal of the conference tourney to LSU.

Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb enters the NCAA tourney as the SEC tourney champion and with a team that Summitt said may be playing as well as anyone in the country right now.

Vandy, 27-5, got a No. 2 seed in the Greensboro Region and will play No. 15 seed Delaware State, 20-12, on Sunday in East Lansing, Mich.

"Obviously we feel really good about how we finished up," Balcomb said. "We won our last 10 out of 11. I think in the tournament we showed that we had the defense to win three games in three days. We've always had the offense to win, but this showed that our defense could play in a lot of different tempos."

She added with a laugh, "I wished we played sooner so we could use some of that momentum."

Summitt also held a teleconference Tuesday via the Tennessee Media Relations office to take questions about the brackets and upcoming postseason.

"I thought we might get six in from the SEC, but it doesn't surprise me that we got five," she said. "I think those five are very strong teams. I think those five teams are dangerous and can make a lot of noise and stay alive in the NCAA.

"I would like to see our league a little stronger from top to bottom. Sometimes we beat up on each other. I think this year was not as strong a year for us, particularly in the bottom half of the league."

There are currently three openings for head coaching positions in the SEC at LSU, Florida and Arkansas. Summitt was asked if coaching changes might lead to an immediate spike in the conference's competitiveness.

"I think there is certainly the potential there for us to see a change," Summitt said. "Anytime there is a change in the coaching standpoint, you expect them to come in and have a positive impact on the direction the program is going in. I think we're seeing the salaries increase, and with that come greater expectations. People have to come in and make an impact.

"So I would say any time you have this many coaching changes in the country, and the SEC, you will see an improved strength in play overall."

Summitt again lauded the state of Tennessee, which got five teams into the NCAA tourney in Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Belmont, Tennessee-Chattanooga and Middle Tennessee.

"It's a tremendous compliment for the basketball programs that are in and just the strength of teams within this state," she said. "There is a lot of great talent throughout the Southeast and a lot of those players are from Tennessee. I think the history and the AAU programs have been a plus for these Tennessee kids and a lot of the programs in our state. I go back and credit the AAU programs and AAU coaches for the impact they have had on the development of girls' basketball in the state."

PARKER HONORS: Candace Parker has been named one of 12 finalists for the 2007 State Farm Wade Trophy by the State Farm Wade Trophy Committee, along with the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport.

The sophomore forward from Naperville, Ill., is also a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award, the Naismith Award and Kodak All-America honors. Parker has already been named SEC Player of the Year and an ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American. She leads the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.

The last Lady Vol to garner Wade Trophy honors was Daedra Charles in 1991.

"These 12 student-athletes are each deserving of The State Farm Wade Trophy, considering their dedication to the institution, coach and teammates as a leader both on and off of the court," said Beth Bass, the CEO of the WBCA. "Any of these student-athletes would capture the essence of Lily Margaret Wade and would be deserving of this year's award."

The candidates were selected by committee members comprising coaches, journalists and administrators. The committee will select the winner from the 10-member Division I Kodak/WBCA All-America Team and it will be announced at the Kodak/WBCA All-America Team Press Conference and The State Farm Wade Trophy Announcement during the WBCA National Convention on March 31 in Cleveland.

"Congratulations to all of this year's State Farm Wade Trophy finalists," said Mark D. Gibson, assistant vice president-advertising at State Farm. "These student-athletes have displayed accomplishment on and off the court, and this recognition is one step to them fulfilling the rest of their basketball dreams."

The State Farm Wade Trophy, now in its 30th year, is named after the late three-time national champion Delta State University coach, Lily Margaret Wade.

Last year's winner was LSU's Seimone Augustus, who became the second player to receive the award twice. The other two-time recipient was Nancy Lieberman in 1979 and 1980 at Old Dominion.

The 2007 finalists are: Alison Bales, Duke, senior center; Jessica Davenport, Ohio State, senior center; Sylvia Fowles, LSU, junior center; Katie Gearlds, Purdue, senior guard/forward; Lindsey Harding, Duke, senior guard; Crystal Langhorne, Maryland, junior center/forward; Ivory Latta, North Carolina, senior guard; Courtney Paris, Oklahoma, sophomore center; Candace Parker, Tennessee, redshirt sophomore guard/forward/center; Bernice Mosby, Baylor, senior forward; Noelle Quinn, UCLA, senior guard; and Candice Wiggins, Stanford, junior guard.

"The maturity of Candace Parker from last year to the present has been significant in terms of her composure on the floor and how she handles adversity on the floor," Pat Summitt said. "A year ago she could post up, face up and take you off the dribble. Now she's drawing a lot of defensive schemes, a lot of double teams and physical play.

"I think she's just much more composed and much more in touch with how she has to handle being in big-game situations and getting double teamed and the physicality of the game. That is how she's matured. She makes people pay for the double team. She gets her teammates really involved. She's become a better passer, and her composure has allowed her to be able to identify what she needs to do when she's facing a lot of different defensive schemes."


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