Pat Summitt seeks defense

The Lady Vols spent almost an hour working on defense in the arena, moved to Pratt and drilled defensively for a half-hour and then, after missing too many free throws, ran sprints for nearly 30 minutes. The newcomers found out Friday that a resounding exhibition win doesn't linger for Pat Summitt and her coaches.

Thursday's 135-55 offensive outburst over Carson-Newman was followed by a nearly three-hour practice session – stretched in time by a gut-check series of sprints – that sent a clear signal to the players from Coach Pat Summitt.

"I just feel like it's necessary to challenge them every day in practice," Summitt said. "They came back off of that game and it's like, ‘We've arrived.' And, as we say, you never arrive (in this program).

"My thinking is they've just got to get mentally a lot tougher."

Part of that toughness includes not letting up at practice despite being tired, and Glory Johnson seems to have absorbed that lesson quickly. After debuting as a Lady Vol with 33 points and 14 rebounds off the bench the freshman forward will likely be in the starting lineup Sunday for the exhibition game against Love & Basketball at 3 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"She looked really strong last night and looked good today," Summitt said after Friday's practice. "There was a time in which I thought she gave in to fatigue in practice, and she's getting in a lot better shape and when you get in better shape you don't give in to fatigue."

Summitt anticipated starting Johnson at power forward and Shekinna Stricklen at point guard, but she was still pondering the other spots.

"I'm not sure yet," Summitt said. "I'll know (Saturday)."

The first exhibition game revealed the 2008-09 squad can score in bunches – albeit against an overmatched and undersized Carson-Newman squad – but team defense and free throw shooting need considerable improvement.

Friday's practice session included shooting drills and repetitions with the ball in players' hands, but a substantial block of time in the arena and Pratt – the ladies shifted locations midway because the men's team had shoot-around before its Friday night exhibition – was carved out for team defense. A half-court zone press also was installed.

"Our offense was ahead of our defense, but as I told them today, ‘Defense is all about heart and desire,' " Summitt said. "You can be a slow player and play great position defensively and make up for a lot of things. It has to be important to you. It hasn't been important to everyone on our team, but it must become very important."

Summitt watched the game tape and remained pleased with her team's desire to get on the boards. The Lady Vols out-rebounded the Lady Eagles, 72-27, and although Tennessee's length far exceeded that of its opponent, the level of domination was impressive.

"I thought instinctively last night we had good board play," Summitt said. "We've got players that go fetch it. They were really focused on the rebounding part of it. I think that we should be a very strong rebounding team. For the same reason I think we should be a great defensive team because of our length and our overall size and quickness, the combination of it. … But the defense? It's got to get better."

Carson-Newman Coach Dean Walsh pointed out that athleticism in his post-game remarks Thursday and told Summitt that her team, at this point, was better than North Carolina, which defeated the Lady Eagles, 114-64, on Tuesday.

Tennessee did get Carson-Newman, which was missing a starting frontline player Thursday because of an ankle injury, on one day of preparation time after that game, but the Lady Vols were without Angie Bjorklund and Vicki Baugh, two of their most-experienced players from last season, so Tennessee could have been even more formidable.

"I told Coach (Summitt) in the hallway right now at this point in time it's not close," Walsh said Thursday. "She's better than Carolina. It's not even close. We were able to get looks against Carolina. We were able to do a lot of things we wanted to do against Carolina and tonight we just couldn't get looks that we wanted, that we felt were open. My hat's off to how hard she's worked her freshmen and how, at least for tonight, I think several have bought into what's going on here."

Those freshmen got another lesson in Lady Vol basketball on Friday when Summitt ratcheted up the intensity in practice another notch. Missed free throws remained on her mind – Tennessee shot 25-49 (51 percent) – and the players finished practice with nearly 30 minutes of sprints with Heather Mason, who then escorted them to the weight room for a strength workout.

A team of excellent shooters – the Lady Vols shot 56.5 percent from the field – should shoot better from the stripe.

Summitt said players must get in the gym on their own to shoot free throws, and Johnson, who was 11-20 from the line Thursday, did just that an hour before the scheduled start of practice Friday.

The coaches scatter free throw shooting reps throughout practice, but it's a process a player often needs to find additional time for to establish a rhythm and develop muscle memory.

"They haven't invested the time," Summitt said. "I think it's concentration. I think it's a confidence thing. But I think it all goes back to investing in the time and getting comfortable and confident in your free throw delivery. No one can do it for them. They have to go in and get their routine down and gain confidence through repetition."

Summitt's post-game film session also showed what she saw live – scattershot defense as players sometimes flooded the paint instead of picking up the ball and not communicating on screens and switches. The clips can be extracted and shown to the players as a teaching tool, an effective way of correcting mistakes.

"A lot of poor transition defense, running to the paint, leaving people open, not talking," Summitt said. "But the good thing is you watch tape and people can be better by watching it."

MEDICAL UPDATE: Angie Bjorklund will miss Sunday's exhibition game because of lower back spasms, according to Jenny Moshak, the Lady Vols chief of sports medicine.

Bjorklund, who has dealt with back pain in the past dating to high school, had a flare-up Monday but then felt better after Tuesday's day off. The twinges returned Wednesday after practice.

"There wasn't a specific incident," Moshak said. "We're dealing with some back spasms and when you've got a back you use it all the time – sitting, standing, sleeping, basketball, etcetera – and they can be problematic for periods of time.

"So we've got time to play with right now so we're going to take some time to get this calmed down, get the core back to functioning and strength, get her flexibility improved and then bring her back in. So we're probably looking at starting the practice process again on Monday."

The protocol includes stretching, strength work and medication, along with rehab treatment.

"Settle it down while you can now," Moshak said. "The good news is she's not having any trouble sleeping and that can wreak havoc with a back. If you don't sleep you don't recover. Not only recover from the injury but recover from practice. That's when your body heals itself."

Cait McMahan, who had major knee surgery last year, was limited in practice Friday by design. She is under orders from Moshak to get treatment early if her knees get cranky, rather than play through any pain.

Pat Summitt's practices have been lengthier and tougher this preseason as she molds a very young team. For a player returning from knee surgery the regimen sometimes has to be scaled back.

"What's going to help Cait is that as we get into the season the practices will be lighter," Moshak said. "The bottom line is all the volume. When the volume exceeds what her knee can do she has to pull (out) and then we go back in and try it again the next day."

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