"In my opinion the hardest transition from high school to college that any player can make is going from someone that faces the basket to playing with your back to the basket," Nicky Anosike said. "It's going to be a hard journey to make it to being a true post player for her just like it was for me, but I don't think it's anything that she can't do. I think with patience and not losing confidence in yourself – it takes time – but you've got to keep pushing forward."
Anosike, a 6'4 senior center/forward from Staten Island, N.Y., also arrived in Knoxville without having played in the paint in high school. When the Lady Vols played Rutgers in the Final Four last season, Anosike was reunited with several players with connections to the New York and New Jersey areas. They all commented about her now playing post and not on the wing like she did when they knew her in high school and AAU ball.
The first challenge for Baugh was to learn the offensive playbook.
"I think I'm getting pretty comfortable," Baugh said. "At first I was confused about the plays and I was thinking, ‘Oh, let me get this play right. Let me get this play right,' and forgetting that you play out of the plays.
"I would look real jittered and mixed up out there. Now I'm getting comfortable."
Baugh has a natural knack for doing two things: getting open inside and rebounding. She also has the right mindset and doesn't flinch at the abundance of advice she gets in practice.
"I see this as an opportunity and I don't want to blow it," Baugh said. "I'm going to take everything they dish to me and use it positively."
Baugh also willingly seeks out teammates for help. Anosike, Candace Parker and Alex Fuller, all members of the class of 2004, offer guidance and instruction. That is something Anosike said she didn't get as a freshman. Parker and Fuller sat out that season to rehab knee injuries so Anosike was on her own on the court.
"She just reminds me of myself with the inexperience of being a post player and how frustrated you can get at times because you're used to being such a great player," Anosike said. "You used to be the best player on the floor and then you get here and you really don't know anything. That can get frustrating, and it's easy to get down on yourself.
"I've seen her (down) a few times, but every time I see it I make sure that I go up to her. That's something I didn't have when I was a freshman. I didn't have anyone come up to me and say, ‘Nicky, you're only a freshman. You have time.' I didn't have anyone that gave me any positive feedback when I felt down, and I felt down a lot. I just make sure that while I'm here that doesn't happen to her."
Baugh is well liked among her teammates and has a well-developed sense of humor.
"She's definitely fun to have," Anosike said.
Baugh's position coach, Dean Lockwood, is preaching patience, though Pat Summitt and the coaching staff do keep an eye on the calendar. The goal is to get Baugh ready by postseason.
"In her defense a lot of this stuff is brand new, whether it's terminology or concepts, Lockwood said. "I don't care what play we're running – whether the ball goes to the middle of the floor, whether we're in Boston, I don't care what it is – if I'm a post player my job is to dive in and seal aggressively. That's a concept.
"All these things are brand new to her. As she learns them and gets more comfortable in them, it's going to translate over and we're going to see more things happen in games. I need some things over and over. I need some time, but as I get it, I get it. I think Vicki is a little like that. She's going to get it. She just needs that time in the saddle."
Baugh is averaging 4.9 points and 4.7 rebounds while playing 13.2 minutes a game. She also has 12 blocks and nine steals on the season. She had a productive stint in 16 minutes of play against Kentucky on Thursday with seven points and five rebounds. More importantly, she only committed one foul. Baugh has fouled out of two games this season and has a tendency to pick up reaching-in infractions.
"They're little petty fouls," Baugh said. "I had in mind this is the college level. Why would they be calling such petty fouls, but definitely they will. I just have to stop. It's a habit. I have to keep my composure and realize at the college level I can't just do everything I used to do in high school."
Baugh has learned another lesson in the course of the season: If she's open in the paint, fire away. Baugh is learning post moves and finishing around the basket, but she already has a sweet jump shot from the short corners and elbows.
"I've learned that Pat wants me to take shots," Baugh said. "She doesn't want me to be a passer out of the post. I don't get in trouble for missing, which is something I always thought I would get in trouble for so if it's a good shot (take it)."
Baugh is one of two post players who come off the bench. The other is redshirt junior Alex Fuller. Both are key to Tennessee's success this season, especially with just nine Lady Vols on the playing roster.
No. 2 Tennessee (15-1, 3-0) next faces Vanderbilt (13-5, 2-1) in Knoxville this afternoon at 3 p.m. Eastern (TV: Fox Sports Net South; Lady Vol Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Summitt has shown a willingness to go nine deep, and Baugh has seen action in all 16 games this season. Baugh needs repetition and that can come in both games and practice.
"Number one is getting more game-like reps in practice," Lockwood said. "We've got to tighten up some habits."
"The Notre Dame game, her ball possession, she made herself narrow and small as opposed to making herself wider," Lockwood said. "She has to mentally go in knowing these are college players and if I'm not tight with my game they're able to deflect the ball or force me into a turnover. Mentally I've got to be at my highest level all the time."
Lockwood has absolutely no doubts about Baugh's ability. He is confident that it's just a matter of time before what she needs to do becomes routine and not something she has to ponder. His advice to the first-year player is to get aggressive.
"When you're a good player and you have that kind of ability, you should play like a shark on the prowl," Lockwood said. "They're predators. They're not hiding. They'll attack anything. That's what I would like Vicki to do – play with that attack mentality. I think those habits and the confidence are going to come with it."
Baugh's athletic ability is tantalizing to watch. She can run in the open floor and has a natural instinct to rebound. Parker leads the team with 94 defensive rebounds. The falloff to No. 2 on the team is steep with Anosike at 55 defensive boards. Guard Alexis Hornbuckle has 53 on the defensive end. Baugh, with substantially less playing time than all three, has 47 boards on defense. (Baugh has 28 offensive rebounds for a total of 75. Parker leads the team in overall boards with 133 followed by Anosike at 103 and Hornbuckle at 87.)
Defensively Baugh has been solid – minus the reach-in fouls – and the 12 blocks in limited playing time are evidence of that.
Summitt doesn't mince words when it comes to Baugh. She said Tennessee needs the freshman in order to win in March and April.
"We have to have Vicki Baugh at a different level come postseason to make a run at a championship," Summitt said. "I feel strongly about what she can bring to our team. If you look at her athleticism, speed, quickness and her ability to defend and board, there is such a great upside to her game.
What I'm looking for now is some consistency on the offensive end in terms of being able to make good decisions and not rush. She is so athletic and so fast and has the quickness, but sometimes she doesn't have the composure. Dean is working with her daily to try and tighten up her offensive skills and package, and I think that will be key for us."
Baugh has to guard against information overload as she absorbs the Tennessee system on both ends of the floor.
"That's definitely part of the challenge," Baugh said. "Somewhere in my brain I've worked it out because I remember at first learning the plays was difficult. Now we're putting in new things and I've learned to repeat it, study it and now I have it down."
Baugh is also playing some 2,000-plus miles from home and adjusting to collegiate course work and being away from her grandparents, Calvin and Barbara Baugh, for the first time. They attended the Stanford game and since that preceded the Christmas break, Baugh got some much-needed time at home with the grandparents that have raised her since she was an infant.
"That was big," Baugh said. "I know it's not going to be often where I have any family at games. It was a good opportunity to see my folks, freshen up and get back. They were really happy to see me, too.
"I think it's harder for them having me out here than it is me. I'm doing fine. I have never really gotten homesick. I miss people, but I learn to adjust anywhere I go."
It is that upbeat attitude that has endeared Baugh to her teammates and to the coaching staff. She can even tease about the frenetic style of Lockwood, whose voice can be heard throughout practice and games. He typically finishes practices as sweaty as the post players.
"I have definitely adjusted to that," Baugh said. "Working with Dean of course you're never going to get a break."
Baugh also has three peers in her ears whenever they feel they need to correct or praise.
"Everything," Baugh said when asked what help Anosike, Parker and Fuller offer. "They're paying attention to my mistakes. They give compliments on things that I do well. They let me know what my potential is or what they believe my potential is. They're a lot of help."
Anosike and Parker have both noted the need to slow the game down to grasp its nuances, especially in the paint.
"When you're going towards the basket speed is the biggest advantage that you use, but when your back is to the basket you have to slow down, be smart and see what's open because you have such a small space to work with from the block to the basket, as opposed to when you're facing the basket and going towards the basket you have basically the whole lane to use," Anosike said.
Anosike also advised Baugh to take advantage of her athleticism now and use the off-season to fine-tune her game.
"I think her athleticism will give her a lot of leeway in different areas, just like it did for me," Anosike said. "But I think the biggest thing for her is the off-season. When you make such a big transition from high school to college you have to really take advantage of your off-season, even more so than other players because they're used to playing the positions that they're playing, but you have some catching up to do.
"I constantly tell her that I was the same way you were and it's going to take time and she just has to be patient with it. I think (a few) days ago I told her she really has to concentrate on her off-season. The off-season is where she really gains that advantage and gets to where everyone else is."
Parker is a two-time All-American on course for a third consecutive nod this season. Parker came to college with a well-developed post game, but she also needed to remember to take some deep breaths on occasion.
"I think sometimes, I know from experience, slow down and let things sometimes come to you," Parker said. "I think she's going to be a phenomenal player. She really listens and she really pays attention to what us veterans have to say. I can really say that when you tell her something she looks you in your eyes and understands what you're saying. I think she's doing a great job and I think us helping her in practice can only make her better."
Summitt has mentioned several times how much she appreciates the leadership of the upperclassmen this season. Despite the fact Baugh is competing for minutes with the veterans, none hesitates to help. They know they need the freshman to make a run at a repeat.
"When I'm doing things well they're not afraid to give me compliments," Baugh said. "When I'm messing up they're not afraid to say, ‘Get your head right.' They tell me what I need to do. They're work with me extra before practice or after, whatever I need. It's almost like other coaches."
PROBABLE STARTERS: Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (9.7 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game, 4.1 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (11.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.8 apg, 2.3 steals per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 freshman guard/forward, No. 5 (10.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (21.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2.6 spg, 2.3 blocks per game); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center (9.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg).
Tennessee will have the usual nine players available for this game with the return of forward Alex Fuller, who had some swelling and pain in her knees and rested for five days this week. Fuller, who used the down time for rehab and treatment, returned to practice Saturday for the Lady Vols' scouting session and shooting drills.
Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb is expected to start: Jence Rhoads, 5'11 freshman guard, No. 22 (3.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg), rated by Scout.com as a top 20 prospect, had eight assists and four steals against Mississippi State; Merideth Marsh, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 23 (8.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg), made her first start against Duke, scored career-high 19 points against South Florida; Jennifer Risper, 5'9 junior guard, No. 2 (8.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg), has started 35 straight games, had a career-high 16 points against Old Dominion; Hannah Tuomi, 6'0 freshman forward, No. 15 (5.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg), made her first start last week against South Florida, scored career-high 14 points against Georgia; and Christina Wirth, 6'1 junior forward, No. 34 (12.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg), has made 52 consecutive starts, picked preseason All-SEC by the coaches' vote.
"Melanie does a great job," Summitt said. "She does have a little bit of a different look. … I know Liz Sherwood is doing a good job in shooting the ball extremely well. If you talk about players that we will have to defend, she is one of the most efficient in terms of field goal percentage. That will be a challenge for our inside game.
"She and Christina Wirth are the two putting up the biggest numbers, but it looks to me like they are playing a little bit deeper, at least six, seven or eight deep at times. I told my staff I need to get familiar with their personnel because it is a different look for them. They are always very competitive and well prepared when we meet. We've had some hard-fought, tough games with Vanderbilt, and I don't expect anything differently this time."
Balcomb has gone to a youth movement this season for starters and again brings Liz Sherwood, a 6'4 senior center, off the bench for the Commodores. Sherwood, a two-time SEC "Sixth Woman of the Year," averages 13.3 ppg and 4.3 rpg in 20.3 minutes of play. She leads the nation in field-goal percentage at 71.1 percent (108-152). Her efficiency hasn't translated to the free throw line, where Sherwood is just 23-48 (47.9 percent).
"Liz may come off the bench, but I expect her to play a big role and a lot of minutes," Summitt said. "That is a challenge for Candace and Nicky because she is so efficient."
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. Here is her assessment.
When Vanderbilt has the ball: Vanderbilt will work to get its shooters open and makes efficient use of screening action and player movement.
"A lot of ball screens, dribble handoffs," Warlick said. "They have certain concepts they're going to run. Back screens and cross screens. They incorporate it into their offense, and they do it pretty well."
Vanderbilt has been somewhat enigmatic this season with losses to Colorado and ODU – which dropped them out of the Top 25 – but big wins over Duke and Georgia.
"I think it's youth," Warlick said. "Their freshmen are coming around and understanding the system and starting to play well. It's tough to come in and start freshmen and not have some kind of a drop-off.
"I think they're coming into their own and they're understanding what they need to do. The like to shoot threes. They penetrate a little bit more. They're going high-low. They do that quite well and quite often."
The Commodores have shown some resilience already this season. They missed 14 of their first 15 shots against LSU – the one conference loss for Vandy – but managed to get back in the game behind the shooting of Hannah Tuomi and Jessica Mooney, a 5'9 sophomore guard from Nashville. Mooney had 15 points. Tuomi added 10, and Liz Sherwood scored 13 points, with both getting all their points in the second half against the Lady Tigers.
Vandy, in turn, jumped out to a 16-0 lead against Georgia on Thursday and held on to win, 67-59.
Warlick expects the Commodores to deploy a zone defense to guard the Lady Vols.
"They run a matchup zone and they do different alignments and different sets, and they're very good at it," Warlick said. "As a man to man is our defense theirs is the matchup zone."
Tennessee's offensive philosophy remains unchanged: go inside and try to speed up the pace.
When Tennessee has the ball: "We want to get easy looks, go inside, go out. Move the ball. Try to make them move. We want ball movement and player movement. I think that's what you need against them."
Warlick always scouts the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. As a Tennessee native and former Lady Vol player this matchup always matters to her.
"It's big for them, and it's big for us," Warlick said. "It's an SEC game, the whole state game. It's a pride thing. It doesn't (ever) matter what the records are it's going to be a good game. Balcomb will have them ready."
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Vanderbilt, 49-6. The Lady Vols are undefeated at home, 22-0, with a road record of 20-4 and 7-2 at neutral sites. If Tennessee were to win today it would mark the first time the Lady Vols have notched 50 victories over one opponent. Tennessee has won 13th straight against Vandy. The Commodores last win came Feb. 2, 2002, in Nashville. … Tennessee is 9-1 in games played on January 20. The lone loss on this date was to Kentucky, 66-64, in 1979. The last win was against Auburn, 81-71, in 2005. … The Lady Vols are allowing just 41.7 points in the first three SEC games against Auburn, South Carolina and Kentucky with a winning margin of 27.0 points per game. Auburn got 27 first-half points, but the Gamecocks and Wildcats were held to just 14 and 19, respectively. BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee averages 80.8 points per game while allowing 60.9. Vanderbilt averages 73.2 with opponents averaging 56.8. The Lady Vols are shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from behind the arc. They average 6.7 three-pointers a game and allow 3.9. The Commodores shoot 48.4 percent overall and 37.0 percent from behind the arc. They average 6.2 threes and allow 5.7. Tennessee shoots 73.1 percent from the free throw line. Vanderbilt shoots 64.6 from the stripe. The Lady Vols average 40.2 rebounds per game while allowing 37.2 for a +3.0 margin. Vandy averages 36.6 while allowing 33.1 for a +3.5 margin. Tennessee averages 17.1 assists a game with 18.1 turnovers. Vanderbilt averages 16.3 assists with 17.3 turnovers. The Lady Vols get 12.3 steals and 6.5 blocks a game. The Commodores swipe the ball 10.2 times and swat it away 3.9 times.