Lady Vols debut at No. 1

When the Lady Vols came out of practice Wednesday they were scanning a copy of the USA Today poll that had Tennessee ranked No. 1. The top spot to start the season was expected, but Pat Summitt wanted the players to see the whole landscape – and all the teams that will be looking to knock them off the top.

Tennessee plays seven of the nine other teams ranked in the Top 10 in No. 3 Rutgers, No. 5 LSU, No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 7 North Carolina, No. 8 Stanford, No. 9 Duke and No. 10 Georgia in the regular season. The other two, No. 2 UConn and No. 4 Maryland, could be postseason foes.

The Lady Vols received 26 first-place votes in the coaches' poll. Connecticut got four votes, and LSU got one.

"I want them to see how the coaches voted and to see all the top teams and how they're ranked," Coach Pat Summitt said. "They know, but I think it's important that they realize who they're playing. We lost one starter. We had one of the top recruiting classes in the country. I think they anticipated being ranked number one. I wanted them to see what the rest of the country looks like from one to 25."

The poll is compiled by the USA TODAY/ESPN Board of Coaches, which is made up of 31 head coaches at Division I schools. All are members of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

The board for the 2007-08 season: Lisa Bluder, non-voting chair, Iowa; Agnus Berenato, Pittsburgh; Pam Borton, Minnesota; Brian Boyer, Arkansas State; Beth Burns, San Diego State; Debra Clark, Florida A&M; Beth Couture, Butler; Leslie Crane, Western Illinois; Dana Eikenberg, Southern Illinois; Tricia Fabbri, Quinnipiac; Sharon Fanning, Mississippi State; Brian Giorgis, Marist; Julie Goodenough, Charleston Southern; Kellie Harper, Western Carolina; Mary Hegarty, Long Beach State; Nate Kilbert, Mississippi Valley State; Melissa McFerrin, American; Kevin McGuff, Xavier; Tina Martin, Delaware; Curt Miller, Bowling Green; Dan Muscatell, Sacramento State; Paul Nixon, Columbia; Rick Reeves, Gardner-Webb; Lee Ann Riley, Stephen F. Austin; Jennifer Rizzotti, Hartford; Rhonda Rompola, Southern Methodist; Julie Rousseau, Pepperdine; Brady Sallee, Eastern Illinois; Cindy Stein, Missouri; LaVonda Wagner, Oregon State; Adrian Wiggins, Fresno State; and Kay Yow, N.C. State.

The Lady Vols completed a stretch of six consecutive days of practice on Wednesday with an up-tempo, full-court session. The best news for the team was that freshman center Kelley Cain returned for a portion of practice and was able to get up and down the floor.

"She hung in," Summitt said.

It was Cain's first practice – minus a brief walk-through – since she suffered a concussion Oct. 19. She also lifted weights for the first time since the injury. The team is off Thursday, but Cain will undergo a cardio workout to help reestablish her conditioning.

The plan, according to Jenny Moshak, the Lady Vols assistant athletics director for sports medicine, is to work "her back into full practice on Friday. As long as we have no setbacks, it's a coaching decision on Sunday."

Summitt wants to get Cain some time on the floor Sunday when the USA women's basketball team plays in Knoxville. Tipoff is 3 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"I'd like to see Kelley mix it up with some of the best players in the game," Summitt said. "Lisa Leslie can face up, post up. That would be a big challenge for Kelley, but that's exactly why we wanted to play the USA team."

Senior wing player Alberta Auguste, who suffered a severe calf contusion, remains out of practice.

"With where she is today I don't see her making it by Sunday to the level that we need," Moshak said. "There's no 50 percent."

Wednesday's lengthy session followed a short practice Tuesday in which Summitt wanted the team to work on offense.

"We did an hour of just offensive skill work on Tuesday," Summitt said. "It wasn't a lot of repetition on their legs. They just got in a lot of shots. I like the time that we spent. Today we wanted to go more up and down and put in our matchup zone. We accomplished those two things."

Summitt has settled on a starting lineup for Sunday. Shannon Bobbitt and Alexis Hornbuckle will play the one and two spots, and Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike will open at the four and five positions. The small forward starting spot will go to freshman guard Angie Bjorklund.

"She earned this," Summitt said. "She absolutely earned this spot."

Auguste also was under consideration for the slot, but the injury has kept her out for a week and a half and counting. Junior forward Alex Fuller's skills are better suited to the four position – and the coaching staff came to rely on her last season as the sixth woman – and she should clock most of her playing time in the paint, especially on offense.

"I thought going into it that Alberta would have an opportunity to fill that fifth spot, and I thought Angie might because she's got size to play the three," Summitt said.

Bjorklund was sitting on a sofa in Summitt's office when she got the news. Summitt was doing a telephone interview Tuesday with a sportswriter, who asked about the lineup.

"Angie heard me tell her who was starting," Summitt said. "She started laughing. I finished talking about her – I was talking about her game and what she brought to our team – and when I hung up, I came over and sat down and said, ‘Was that alright what I said?' She started smiling and she said, ‘Coach, that's fine.' "

PRESEASON WOODEN CANDIDATES: Three Lady Vols, Nicky Anosike, Alexis Hornbuckle and Candace Parker, are on the preseason list for the John R. Wooden Award.

The award is named for the three-time college basketball All American, 1932 Player of the Year and 10-time national championship coach at UCLA. The list is composed of 30 returning players who, based on last year's individual performance and team records, are considered the frontrunners for the award. Transfers, freshmen, and medical redshirts are not eligible for the preseason list. They will be evaluated and considered for both the Midseason Top 20 list and the National Ballot.

"The Committee had an incredibly difficult task in narrowing down the nation's top 30 women's players, because over 50 players received at least one vote for the preseason list," said Wooden Award Chairman, Duke Llewellyn.

Three of this year's preseason candidates were honored last season as members of the 2007 Women's Wooden Award All-American Team – Oklahoma's Courtney Paris, LSU's Sylvia Fowles and Parker, the 2007 Wooden Award winner.

Three schools had three players on the list: Rutgers (Matee Ajavon, Essence Carson, Kia Vaughn); Tennessee (Parker, Hornbuckle, Anosike) and Maryland (Marissa Coleman, Crystal Langhorne, Kristi Toliver). Stanford (Candice Wiggins, Jayne Appel) and Connecticut (Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery) had two players each.

Candidates have been selected from nine NCAA conferences, which include the ACC (five players), the Big 12 (two), the Pac-10 (three, the Big East (eight), the SEC (five), the Big Ten (three), the Atlantic 10 (two), Big Sky (one) and the Sun Belt Conference (one).

The preseason list: Matee Ajavon, 5'8 senior guard, Rutgers; Charel Allen, 5'11 senior guard, Notre Dame; Jolene Anderson, 5'8 senior guard, Wisconsin; Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, Tennessee; Jayne Appel, 6'4 sophomore forward, Stanford; Kimberly Beck, 5'8 senior guard, George Washington; Tina Charles, 6'4 sophomore center, Connecticut; Marissa Coleman, 6'1 junior guard/forward, Maryland; Essence Carson, 6'0 senior forward, Rutgers; Allyssa DeHaan, 6'9 sophomore center, Michigan State; Sylvia Fowles, 6'6 senior center, LSU; Devanei Hampton, 6'3 junior forward/center, California; Amber Harris, 6'5 sophomore forward, Xavier; Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, Tennessee; Tasha Humphrey, 6'3 senior forward, Georgia; Crystal Kelly, 6'3 senior forward, Western Kentucky; Crystal Langhorne, 6'2 senior center/forward, Maryland; Erlana Larkins, 6'1 senior forward, North Carolina; Angel McCoughtry, 6'1 junior forward, Louisville; Renee Montgomery, 5'7 junior guard, Connecticut; Mandy Morales, 5'9 junior guard, Montana; Marscilla Packer, 5'9 senior guard, Ohio State; Courtney Paris, 6'4 junior center, Oklahoma; Candace Parker, 6'4 junior forward/guard/center, Tennessee; Takia Starks, 5'8 sophomore guard, Texas A&M; Kristi Toliver, 5'7 junior guard, Maryland; Kia Vaughn, 6'4 junior center, Rutgers; Marcedes Walker, 6'3 senior center, Pitt; Abby Waner, 5'10 junior guard, Duke; and Candice Wiggins, 5'11 senior guard, Stanford.

USA TEAM VS. MARYLAND: Kara Lawson scored 17 points and added eight assists for the USA team as it debuted with a 90-73 win Wednesday over Maryland in College Park in the first game of the coast-to-coast college tour.

"Man, there were some heavy legs out there," Lawson said. "But it was a good first effort for us, especially trying to integrate three new players. Those of us who've been at it for awhile trying to shake that rust off from Russia and get our feet wet. It's a different game. That's the thing, it's the college game, the rules, the pace, the timing, so I think this was one of those games where we had to kind of get use to the game being a little bit slower.

"It is a little bit slower in college, and we were kind of rushing things. We need to step back and be a little more patient. But it was a good overall win."

Seimone Auguste had 16 points for the USA, and Diana Taurasi added 15. Lisa Leslie, who was playing in her first game in more than a year, had 10 boards and eight points.

Maryland was led by Laura Harper, who had 20 points and eight rebounds, while Kristi Toliver had 18 points. Marissa Coleman added nine points, five boards, five assists and two blocks.

The Terrapins held their own in the first half, but the USA pulled away about midway through the second half.

"They're excited, they're pumped up," said Lawson, who hit the game winner against the USA team when she was a freshman at Tennessee in 1999. That loss has been the only one for the USA team in two college tours.

"They're excited to measure themselves up against us, so they come out and play out of their minds," Lawson said. "They play as hard as they can, and it's fun. It's fun as a competitor. Having played against the USA team when I was in college, I remember just being really geared up for the game, almost like it was a Final Four game because we were so excited about the opportunity to play against the stars."

The USA team next plays at UConn on Friday.

OPEN PRACTICE/OPEN HOUSE: The public can attend the Lady Vols' practice session this Saturday, Nov. 3, from noon to 2 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena. The newly renovated arena is also available to the public from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday for an open house in conjunction with the football homecoming weekend.

Sunday's game against the USA team is at 3 p.m.


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