Lady Vols hold scrimmage

Lady Vol fans were treated to a scrimmage Saturday in which the coaches were able to blow the whistle for on-court instruction but also brought in two officials to simulate game conditions. The players were a tad anxious – Pat Summitt attributed it to the game-like scenario and a well-stocked practice opponent – but the coaches saw several things to like and plenty of areas to improve.

"I thought it would be good to be here and have people in the stands," Coach Pat Summitt said after the hour-long scrimmage sessions in Thompson-Boling Arena following an hour of drills. "I think they need that. I think they played nervous. The guys made them play a little overanxious.

"We're still working towards becoming a great running team and a more efficient one and getting in better shape will help us. Because when we give into fatigue then we make mistakes."

One thing readily apparent was the team's composure when Alex Fuller and Angie Bjorklund are on the floor since both help direct traffic. They are the two most experienced returnees – Fuller is a fifth-year senior and Bjorklund started 30 of 38 games last season – especially with sophomore Vicki Baugh still sidelined for left knee rehab.

"I think the two of them on the floor together calm us down," Summitt said.

Freshman guard Shekinna Stricklen was doing well until she took an elbow to the head. She returned to the floor but then had to be pulled. Summitt will give the team the day off Sunday, and Stricklen may need it the most. She wrenched her right elbow after diving into a row of chairs Thursday and took an elbow flush to the left side of her face Saturday.

"Shekinna, she's had a real tough week," Summitt said. "She got her bell rung today. Bless her heart. Jenny (Moshak) is with her."

Stricklen and Glory Johnson are the two freshmen that Summitt said should be impact players this season. But some others made their cases for playing time, too, including Alicia Manning.

"If she's (Stricklen) not out there right now my first thought is Manning has got to be on the floor," Summitt said. "They're not the same type of the players, but they both bring good stuff.

"I think with Shekinna she's a player that has a lot of composure. That's another player that helps settle us down. But I don't mind the fact that we're a little overanxious right now. I'd rather us be overanxious than laidback."

Freshman post player Alyssia Brewer had some power moves in the paint and drew applause from Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood. She also finished at the free throw line.

"I thought Lyssi had a really good day," Summitt said. "Lyssi is learning to play with a little bit more fire but still maintaining composure. I think Alicia Manning is one of our toughest kids right now. She's aggressive, she's talking and she's just a hard-nosed player."

Summitt took Briana Bass aside in the session to remind her to motor the ball up the floor, which is a primary strength for the freshman.

"I thought Briana responded and started to push tempo," Summitt said. "She's as quick as a cat, and we need that. We need somebody who is going to run the ball and run it hard. I thought Cait (McMahan) settled down late and did some good things."

Sophomore guard Sydney Smallbone drew repeated applause from the fans in attendance after hitting several three-pointers and a midrange jumper. She is shooting the ball much quicker this season. She also had a steal in the open court.

"She's been shooting the ball well," Summitt said. "She's a lot quicker (on defense). Ball security is my number one thing with her because I do think she can really help us."

Areas that need to be addressed are rebounding and running the floor.

"Definitely both of those and communication," Summitt said. "We'll execute a lot better if we'll communicate better."

A week after only one male practice player showed up on a football Saturday enough were available this Saturday to field two teams. The squad has height, speed and shooters and has been a formidable opponent, especially for the freshmen.

"I think they'll get us ready," Summitt said. "It's hard to simulate it when you just go against yourselves. They shut down passing lanes. They do a good job of pushing the tempo. They're tough on the glass. To me we've got a good group, and they will make us better."

The fans in attendance saw what the coaches have seen since the start of individual workouts – the 2008-09 team is a court full of new faces after the loss of five starters, four of whom were in the WNBA this past summer and the fifth will head overseas in December to play pro ball.

"It's different," Summitt said. "You had a veteran team so you're completely confident in what they're going to bring to the floor. There're a lot of unknowns (this season). I don't know how we're going to play coming off the bench. We don't have anything right now to say, ‘These will be our first two subs.' We're still evaluating as a coaching staff."

Summitt smiled when asked for her reaction to that uncertainty, except to get ready.

"There's nothing else I can do about it," Summitt said. "I can go home and get in the rocking chair, think about it, make myself sick, but I don't want to do that."

When asked about what was known about the team, Summitt said, "I'd like to be able to tell you that I would expect them to play hard on every possession, but I haven't seen that yet. When they do play hard they make things happen. I will say this. I think our offense is ahead of our defense, and that's unusual for this program."

Summitt will give the team a rest Sunday and reassemble Monday. The players were off Tuesday and had a lackluster practice Wednesday while Summitt was en route to Knoxville from SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Ala., with Fuller and Bjorklund.

"When I called and Daedra (Charles-Furlow) answered the phone, I said, ‘How's it going?' And she said, ‘Not good,' " Summitt said. "Even when I got here they may have picked it up a little bit, but they had already pretty much established how they were going to practice that day. It's unacceptable. It's not like those freshmen have all the answers yet."

Summitt reacted by scheduling two sessions on Thursday – the first began at 6 a.m. – and the team responded well.

"They did," Summitt said. That's the good thing."

Monday will be the test to see if the lesson sunk in yet. Summitt wants to see the same energy Monday that the team had Saturday.

"We came ready to play, and they competed," Summitt said. "Surely they'll get the talk right between now and then."

Sophomore point guard Cait McMahan said the players have already talked among themselves.

"Definitely," McMahan said. "We have a lot of freshmen, and it was bound to happen. It happened my freshman year. I'm glad it happened because we learned a lot from that day and we picked up the intensity five times as much since Wednesday. It needed to happen, and we learned from it."

"We had a two-a-day, but we got back in there that next morning and took care of business," freshman Amber Gray said. "We talked about it as a team. We talked about what we needed to do."

The open communication is aided by the fact that the freshmen have blended in with the returning players off the court.

"It's a big family already," McMahan said. "We always hang out every chance we get. There's no fighting, no cliques or nothing like that. We get along."

The players also are motivated by the simple fact that they need the time off the court.

"Days off are key, because we get our legs under us and especially me with knee surgery," McMahan said. "It's a big key."

The freshmen also already value the rest.

"We talked about we've got to keep our intensity up," Gray said. "Otherwise we're not going to get days offs, and the days off are something that we cherish and that we really want and need for our bodies mentally and physically. We're going to make sure we come in here (Monday) with the same intensity that we left on Saturday afternoon."

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