Alberta Auguste seeks postseason form

Alberta Auguste showed in the postseason how she could contribute to Tennessee on both ends of the court. Pat Summitt saw enough to expect it for a full season. More importantly, the senior wing player now expects it from herself.

Alberta Auguste started out in preseason workouts where she left off in Cleveland at the Final Four. She was driving to the basket, hitting jumpers and playing lockdown perimeter defense. Practice officially started in mid-October, and her performance remained stellar.

Then, a week into practice, Auguste, while setting a screen for a teammate, was clipped in the right calf by a practice player. She suffered a severe muscle contusion with major bruising in the surrounding tissue.

The healing process went from days to two weeks. She ended up in a walking boot and had to use crutches. She also could not do any conditioning work. When Auguste returned to practice between exhibition games in November she struggled to catch up and at times had a noticeable limp.

Over the month of November the minor injuries piled up. She got struck in the face at practice. She jammed the middle finger of her left hand – it remains swollen and bruised – and then she hurt it again in practice Tuesday. Last Saturday she jammed her right wrist in practice and tried to finish with it heavily taped. That injury, on top of her still-healing calf, was the final straw, and her emotions boiled over, mostly out of frustration because she felt like she was taking two steps back for every one forward.

"I was frustrated a whole lot," Auguste said. "I talked to Pat and she told me I needed to be thankful it's not an injury that could keep me out for the whole season. It's a minor injury. I can get over it."

Pat Summitt met with Auguste over the weekend and reemphasized what the team needed from her.

"Pick up where she left off in postseason," Summitt said. "She was a great contributor in postseason. It gave us the opportunity to keep pressure from a defensive end and then also she rebounded the ball better in postseason. She just played better. She went to a different level. I guess having seen that my expectations are much greater this year than they were a year ago at this time. She was efficient. She played like an upperclassman."

Auguste got a pep talk from her roommate, sophomore guard Cait McMahan, who is rehabbing a major knee injury.

"She keeps me up," Auguste said. "She keeps me going. Cait is just a strong person inside and out. She told me everything is going to be all right."

The chat with Summitt also cleared the air.

"It's all about having communication with your coach, and I didn't have that with her," Auguste said. "I'm up to the task now. We're on the same page now. That's all I needed to be was on the same page with her."

Auguste was a key piece of Tennessee's title run last spring.

She had 12 points and seven rebounds in the regional final against Ole Miss. After Candace Parker got into foul trouble in the first half of the North Carolina game in the semifinal in Cleveland, Summitt inserted Auguste at the 11:30 mark and left her in throughout the half. She hit a jumper to put Tennessee up, 9-8. She hit a layup with 1:02 left in the first half to give Tennessee its halftime lead, 22-21, in a game in which points were precious. She also had two boards and a block in those nearly 12 minutes of play.

Against Rutgers in the title game, Auguste had 10 points and five boards. Parker, who was often double-teamed, found Auguste, who would slip unimpeded to the other side of the basket.

"I was out there, getting open, and somebody was going to find me," Auguste said. "When they were double-teaming Candace I happened to be in the open spot, Candace dished it off to me, and I scored. Reading the defense and knowing my role on the court that just helped me a whole lot."

Tennessee left Cleveland with the program's seventh national title. On Nov. 18, the team watched as the banner was raised to the rafters at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"It built our confidence even higher, and it made us hungry," Auguste said. "It makes us want it even more this year. We're going to fight for it this year. We know it's not easy. Every team is out to get us, but we're going to be focused and ready to go."

Auguste, like point guard Shannon Bobbitt, now has a full season at Tennessee to draw from when she takes the court.

"It helps a lot," Auguste said. "Now we know what to expect basically. Nothing is new to us. Like who is on our schedule, who we play. We know the scouting reports. We know how to take everything in hand. Just having one year under our belts it helps a whole lot."

Auguste entered this season expecting to pick up where she left off.

"I can bring more offense to the table, get to the free throw line, driving in, penetrating, the little things that I didn't do last year," Auguste said. "This year I expect a lot from me. I'm a senior now.

"They expected a lot from me last year, and I finally did what I had to do towards the end of the season, which is kind of good but it was bad because that was something they wanted from me from the beginning to the end. This is my senior year, and they are expecting it now. They don't want to wait until the last minute."

Auguste estimated her calf is about 90 percent healed. It still affects her lateral movement and jumping ability. She wears a compression sleeve at practice and in games to help with the healing process.

"I was a little frustrated, but it's all a part of being mature and growing up," Auguste said. "I'm going to fight through it."

The early season injuries derailed Auguste, but it appears she has gotten back on track, especially in the last two practice sessions.

"I think she's been a lot more focused," Summitt said. "That's good news for us because she can help us."

The team will take off Thursday and then return to practice Friday to continue preparations for No. 4 North Carolina. Tipoff is 7 p.m. Sunday in Knoxville.

The focus at practice this week has been handling pressure and transition defense. The male practice squad has been outstanding at simulating the speed and tempo that Tennessee expects to see from the Tar Heels.

"They were good," Summitt said after practice Wednesday. "I like this group of guys that we have this year. They are just trying to help us. It gives us an opportunity while we're working on offense to solely commit to offense and work on it and then flip it and go to defense. Again, it's a classroom setting so you can really focus and teach and hopefully speed up a little bit the learning process for our freshmen."

Since the players don't have to learn the opponents' schemes – that is what the practice squad does – Summitt and the coaches can spend the practice time teaching their offenses and defenses.

The Tar Heels are expected to want to run in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee knows it can't completely dictate tempo, but the Lady Vols hope to have considerable influence.

"My philosophy is typically that I want to run at teams but not with teams," Summitt said. "When you play against a team that is as explosive as UNC, it is just a battle for tempo control. You won't slow a team like them down on every possession, and I am well aware of that. We have to be mindful of trying to influence what they do on the full-court game to some extent. They are one of the most explosive teams in the country, so it is not something you can control all the time."

It will help Tennessee's effort, especially its full-court defense, if Auguste can return to postseason form.

"The whole tournament I was ready and I was focused," Auguste said. "That's my main goal this year is to keep that composure that I had towards the end of the season and to bring it here this year."

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