Brackets on her mind

Tennessee completed three days of practice Saturday – another upbeat session that got so competitive when the players squared off against each other that Pat Summitt blew the whistle and had them shoot free throws – and will now take two days off to rest and await the NCAA brackets.

The player will get some much-needed down time away from academic demands since spring break has started, while the staff will get ready for the announcement of the tournament draw on Monday at 7 p.m. Eastern (ESPN).

Tennessee's film archive has been built all season long as video coordinator Betsy McAllister has amassed tapes from previously broadcast basketball games. As the field of 64 teams is announced, Tennessee will match potential opponents in its bracket with available game tape.

"We're in good shape," Pat Summitt said.

Summitt will spend the next two days pondering how those brackets might unfold.

"It's on my mind every day and every night," Summitt said. "I go to bed thinking about it. I think as soon as the SEC Tournament is over I start thinking about it, like driving home that night. But I've also been in it long enough to know that I don't know. I'm guessing if I'm predicting something.

"It's a wait and see, and that's hard. It's hard to sit around and wait."

The women's Selection Show was moved from Sunday to Monday so as to separate it from the men's show. That means waiting another day.

"The sooner you can find out the better, but if that's the best exposure, the best window for us to be able to have exclusive coverage on that night, that's a good thing," Summitt said. "We get better media coverage because of it, so whatever is good for the game and exposure of the game is good by me."

The eight sites for the first/second rounds are: Albuquerque, N.M.; Baton Rouge, La.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Stanford, Calif., on March 22 and 24; and Bridgeport, Conn.; College Park, Md.; Norfolk, Va.; and West Lafayette, Ind., on March 23 and 25.

"I think first and foremost right now it's geography," Summitt said of how teams are dispersed across the country. "It's putting people in the stands. I think last year it became very clear that we had a lot of empty gyms or sparse crowds. I think for our game it's going to be important to keep teams within their region so their fans can travel."

Some sites become obvious destinations, as teams in the field of 64 will either stay home or in their home state for the early rounds. The closest site to Tennessee is West Lafayette, but Purdue is expected to draw well for that location so the Lady Vols are likely headed to Norfolk or College Park.

The four regional locations are Greensboro, N.C.; New Orleans; Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Spokane, Wash. Tennessee likely is headed to Louisiana or Oklahoma.

The tournament used to have 16 first/second round sites, but went to a pod system in which eight teams were sent to one site to try to save TV production costs and cluster a lot of teams in one site to draw fans. The plan didn't work as attendance plummeted. The NCAA will return in 2009 to having higher seeds host early round games at 16 sites.

"That was our format," Summitt said. "We went away from that because of the competitive advantages of teams that hosted. Most people felt like that was an unfair advantage. I agreed. Let's go; let's try it. Was I skeptical? Yes. But if that's the direction that they wanted to take and see – you don't know unless you experiment with it and we did.

"It's not favorable for the attendance and all these games are on TV so I think it's important as we promote our game that we promote a game where we have people in the stands and have the kind of support that our teams deserve."

For Tennessee in 2009 the closest early round sites of the 16 locations are in Chattanooga and Duluth, Ga. The Lady Vols were already scheduled to host early rounds in Knoxville in 2010.

The last three days for the Lady Vols were used to get ready for next week's start of NCAA tourney play. They installed some new looks on offense and defense and emphasized two vital aspects of postseason play – rebounding and scoring early in the offense. Early offense means transition in the primary or secondary part of the break, and board play sets up being able to run the floor.

Defense is also a Summitt staple in March and April – the Lady Vols won a national title last season by stopping opponents – and the head coach saw positive signs in Nashville, where the Lady Vols won the program's 13th SEC tourney title.

"I liked our defense," Summitt said. "I liked our man to man and our zone and our commitment to both, our commitment to switching defenses and not losing any intensity. Sometimes we go zone and as I tell them it's a four-letter word. They just stand around and do nothing. They kept their energy in both.

"They kept their energy in their full-court press, their three-quarter, their half-court (defense), and that to me was the difference. I thought our defense was the difference for us because we went six minutes, and we don't score against LSU, but we defended. That was key."

Summitt also praised the glass work on the defensive end. LSU had just eight offensive boards – none by the 6'6 center Sylvia Fowles – in the championship game. Tennessee had 40 rebounds overall with 28 coming on defense and just 12 coming on the offensive glass.

"We did a very poor job as a team of rebounding offensively," Summitt said. "It was like both teams were backpedaling at times, but particularly ours. I didn't notice them as much as I did us. We can't win in postseason that way.

"I didn't like our rebounding offensively. I thought we were better on the defensive end. I didn't like our turnovers in the first half. I thought we were way too careless, didn't do a good job of getting by the defense to make our post passes. The turnovers were the biggest thing first half, much better second half."

Both LSU and Tennessee can push tempo with personnel who can run the floor at all five positions, and players were peeling away from offensive board opportunities to get back on defense. So practice this week, especially when the guys were available, was used to emphasize both: offensive rebounds and transition defense.

On Saturday the Lady Vols ran some three-on-three drills against each other and the play got so intense that Summitt cut the drill short after a few bodies hit the floor. Everyone emerged intact, and practice ended with full-speed layup drills that left most of the team rubber-legged.

After each player nailed a free throw to end Saturday's two-hour session – while still pouring sweat and catching their breath – Summitt released them from practice for two days.

"They worked hard, really focused," Summitt said.

The team will reassemble at Summitt's house on Monday evening to watch as the brackets are unveiled. It's an event that can feel as anticipatory as Christmas Eve.

"Well, with some of the draws I've gotten it's not like Christmas," Summitt said. "It's more like Halloween."

The team will return to practice Tuesday afternoon. With classes out next week Summitt and her staff have more time to spend with the players.

"We'll get back on Tuesday and we'll know who we're playing," Summitt said. "I'm going to set up individual meetings with all the players and then we'll have a team meeting. This next week will be an opportunity to spend that one-on-one time and also sit down and listen to our team and talk about what we've got to do."


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