Potluck approach to postseason

One day after Pat Summitt's players had a covered dish meal at her house for the selection show they heard about the coach's reciprocal plan of having each one provide a metaphorical dish for the next potluck. This time the establishment is the NCAA tourney, and they must bring something to the court.

"We're going to get our potluck together," Coach Pat Summitt said after a practice Tuesday that should have left the players hungry for actual food. "I reminded them we're going to do this potluck style so we've got to bring your best dish or dishes and think about what you're going to bring to the team.

"Accountability will be in place so you can take ownership. I'll write down what they're going to bring and in the course of a game if they're not doing it, we've got it."

Summitt is borrowing a recipe from Nicky Anosike, who came up with the Lady Vol Pact last season in which players wrote down what they would do for the team and signed the pledge. The players are meeting with Summitt one on one Tuesday and Wednesday, and the team will meet as a group this afternoon before practice.

"We'll practice (Wednesday) similar to what we did today," Summitt said. "Thursday will be light, a lot of shooting. We're going to travel Friday. We won't practice. We'll go up and have dinner and we'll have an open shoot-around the next day."

The shoot-around at Mackey Arena is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday and is open to the public. Tennessee, 30-2, will take on Oral Roberts, 19-13, on Sunday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2) in West Lafayette in the first round of NCAA play.

"They remind me a little bit of Vanderbilt," Summitt said. "They don't run as many sets as Vandy. They really push tempo in transition, and you've got to stop the ball so that's got to be a priority for us is early recognition and slowing the ball down. They push tempo. They definitely get up and down. I'll be anxious to see if they want to run with us."

Summitt and Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood watched one game tape on Oral Roberts on Monday night after the brackets were announced. Tennessee is the No. 1 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional, and Oral Roberts, the winner of the Summit League, is the No. 16 seed. No. 8 seed Utah and No. 9 seed Purdue play at 7 p.m. Sunday with the winners to square off next Tuesday for the right to advance to Oklahoma City.

Tennessee has a tough road with possible matchups with Purdue on its home floor and Oklahoma in the Sweet 16 in its home state and surging Texas A&M as the two seed, but the four regions were balanced fairly well in terms of team's strengths and conference separation. The exception was Coach C. Vivian Stringer's Rutgers team being placed as the No. 2 seed with Big East foe UConn as the No. 1 seed.

"I was shocked that UConn and Rutgers were in the same region," Summitt said. "If I am sitting there with Vivian's draw, I'm thinking, ‘Why?' It would be like putting us and LSU (together). To me separate it out. That really bothered me."

Otherwise, Summitt said, she thought the selection committee did a good job.

"I do," Summitt said. "I think it's fair. I think there's balance there. Do you like a bracket? I like the fact we're not playing all the teams we've played before. That's the most appealing thing to me."

With no real surprises in the draw – five SEC teams got in with Tennessee, LSU, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Auburn and that was basically what the league coaches expected – Summitt said the most eye-opening aspect of the event was the sentiment that the Lady Vols would not repeat as champions.

"If anything stood out to me it was watching the show last night and there just didn't seem to be a whole lot of respect for us," Summitt said. "We brought it on ourselves. How many 40-minute games did we play? Aside from the SEC Tournament, we just didn't play hard all the time."

Summitt saw a change in her team once the postseason started in Nashville, a light switch that Candace Parker had promised would flip up in March.

"I think it's like they can now see the end," Summitt said. "They now know there's only six games left. When they went to the SEC Tournament they were thinking revenge. They really wanted to play LSU for the championship. Once they won that, it's like, ‘OK, if we're going to win back to back we've got to get in here and we've got to work and we've got to come together.'

"Their attitudes have been good. Their chemistry seems better than it has been all year."

That attitude was apparent Tuesday in practice when the team went 2.5 hours with a lot of full court work and half-court drills at game tempo. The layup drill returned – the players went four minutes non-stop at sprint speed without missing a layup – and was followed by free throws and shooting repetition from all ranges on the court.

"We wanted to do up and down and do a lot of zone work on both sides of the ball, which we did," Summitt said. "What we have done this year against zone I have been really pleased overall. Probably don't rebound as well against a zone as we do in our man offensively if we're going against a zone, but I think we can mix up our defenses even more."

Summitt had to keep the throttle open on the practice pace, because the practice squad was willing in spirit but not exactly spry at all five spots. Former Lady Vol players Sue Thomas Martin (1974-77); Shelley Sexton Collier (1983-87); and Suzanne Barbre (1974-78) joined Cait McMahan and one male practice player and took turns rotating on the court. NCAA rules allow former players to practice on occasion with the current team.

Alexis Hornbuckle blocked a shot from the corner, retrieved the ball and apologized.

"When you don't have size in there … they were a little frail," Summitt said with a smile.

But they did know the system's principles – and learned what they needed to do quickly on the court – and all three scrapped and clawed for the duration. Collier ended up on the floor to tie up a loose ball and drained a three-pointer at one point.

Former Lady Vol player Nikki Caldwell remained in her assistant coach role, but continues to draw interest from schools with head coach openings. Memphis has already asked to contact Caldwell, and UCLA is expressing interest. Caldwell, the lead recruiter for Tennessee, is a prime target for plucking but she has said it would take a special program to lure her away from Summitt.

"I want to be a head coach, there's no question about it, but at the same time I'm not just going to take anything just to have that head coaching title behind me," Caldwell said. "I want to go into a situation where I'm passionate about that institution just as much as they're passionate about me and what I can bring to the institution.

"I think I could have had the head coaching title a couple of years ago if I just wanted to take anything, but I think at this point and juncture in my career I would really like to go into a job situation where I'm going to be there for awhile. I'm going to make a strong commitment, and they're going to make one to me as well."

Caldwell has said her focus now is getting Tennessee ready for the postseason. The days off paid off for the team, as the players didn't fade down the stretch of a lengthy practice. Only Hornbuckle, who has chronically sore knees, needed a break near the end.

"Think of how hard she plays and how long she's played," Summitt said.

Hornbuckle will be ready once the ball tips, and she will likely be joined in the backcourt by senior wing Alberta Auguste, who started against LSU in place of freshman Angie Bjorklund.

"I think I'll stick with Bird," Summitt said. "I think Angie is relaxed and shooting the ball better, but I think Bird, her defense and her board play, I really like how she started in that game against LSU. As Van said to me afterwards, ‘That was the worse thing that could have happened to us.' "

After Tennessee's 61-55 win over LSU on March 9 to win the SEC tourney, LSU Coach Van Chancellor said, "I thought Coach Summitt, her usual self, made a great sub putting Auguste in for the freshman to give them more defense and quickness, and I thought that was a great move."

Bjorklund has the long-range shooting ability and will bring an offensive spark off the bench. Auguste is a lockdown perimeter defender and brought a defensive spark off the bench.

"With Angie I liked Bird coming off the bench. That's bringing in one of the best defensive players and best rebounders, but I feel like right now Bird has put herself in that position," Summitt said. "Alberta doesn't care. I can start her or not start her."

Bjorklund, who has handled coming off the bench with aplomb, had one of her best shooting days in practice in awhile, and the rest between tourneys appears to have restored her legs. Bjorklund has said she has never played a season this long and has been trying to fight through the fatigue.

"I think she'll be fine," Summitt said. "Angie looked like she had a little bit of a hop in her step. That's good."


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