Big lineup to be exhibited today

Tennessee will start a mix of freshmen and returnees in its second exhibition game, and the coaching staff hopes to get a better gauge on the young team in Sunday's contest against former collegiate players.

The Lady Vols met no resistance in their first match, but Love & Basketball can counter with some frontline size and a familiar face for those who followed SEC hoops.

Pat Summitt will deploy her big lineup by starting Shekinna Stricklen, a 6'2 freshman at point guard. The frontline will consist of Kelley Cain, a 6'6 redshirt freshman, Glory Johnson, a 6'3 freshman, and Alex Fuller, a 6'3 senior.

The shooting guard slot will be filled by Sydney Smallbone, a 5'10 sophomore making her second career start. Fellow sophomore shooting guard Angie Bjorklund is being held out of Sunday's game because of back spasms.

"When we go big lineup we are very long," Summitt said. "We can obviously get into passing lanes. I think applying great ball pressure is a key. If you've got Kinna on the ball and you've got Glory defending on one wing and Alex on another that's a lot of size there, plus if Kelley Cain's inside it's hard to get past.

"I like and I'm considering how much we want to play a big lineup. I think they'll be times when we'll really go big. It's a big team. It's an athletic team. It's a skilled team. And it's a team that's young."

Six players on the roster are true freshmen. Two of the most-experienced returnees, Bjorklund, the SEC Freshman of the Year last season, and Vicki Baugh, who electrified the postseason with her play, have yet to log a minute. Baugh, a sophomore coming back from ACL surgery, could make her debut in the Nov. 15 season opener, depending on how her left knee holds up in practice next week.

Tennessee's other sophomore, Cait McMahan, also is coming back from knee surgery and has to be monitored in terms of wear and tear. She sat out Saturday morning's practice for treatment of her knee, leaving Tennessee down another player.

With a roster of 12, the coaches planned to use the preseason games to sort out the rotation, which Summitt said would be nine to 10, but the health situation basically keeps everyone in the mix for now.

Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow said the freshmen, although inexperienced, have to realize they have the chance to make significant contributions this season.

"Each player has to find their niche," Charles-Furlow said. "What am I going to bring to the table every single day?"

Love & Basketball is a collection of players from the region of Southern California that shares the name of the popular movie. The team's coach, Colleen Matsuhara, trained and coached actress Sanaa Lathan for her role as Monica Wright and served as technical advisor for the film.

A familiar name for SEC fans is Alexis Kendrick, a 5'7 guard who started 132 games for Georgia, the most of any player in Lady Bulldog history, from 2002 to 2006, and scored 1,157 career points.

The other members of Love & Basketball are: Jessica Cheeks, 5'9 guard, played at Southern Cal; LaSheree Christian, 5'5 guard, Jackson State; Amber White, 6'0 forward, Cal; Denise Woods, 6'3 forward/center, Southern Cal; Charlee Underwood, 6'0 forward, Cal State-Fullerton; Tanisha Johnson, 6'4 center, Arkansas State; Danielle Rainey, 5'7 guard, St. John's; Natalie Nakase, 5'2 guard, UCLA; and Shannon Clay, 5'11 forward, San Diego State.

Love & Basketball has used different starting combinations in its six previous exhibition games, which included victories over Cal State Northridge (81-72) and Long Beach State (65-64) and losses to Southern Cal (79-63), UCLA (86-80), Washington (77-73), and Vanderbilt (83-74). The Lady Vols and the Commodores are the team's only East Coast appearances.

Tipoff is 3 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena with a free video cast on the Internet at Tennessee Lady Vols

"I think we'll have a great test on Sunday," Summitt said. "I'm looking forward to that."

With Fuller and Johnson in the starting lineup for Tennessee, Summitt will flip them on offense and defense. Fuller, a solid three-point shooter, will play small forward on offense and defend inside, while Johnson will play power forward when Tennessee has the ball and defend on the perimeter.

"I think that would be a good opportunity to play her on the perimeter defensively," Summitt said. "I want to get a look at her."

Johnson gave Summitt plenty to see in her debut when she scored 33 points and grabbed 14 points off the bench. The Knoxville native got a rousing ovation from the crowd when she left the game. Afterwards she was asked in the post-game press conference if she enjoyed playing for her family.

"I would rather play for my team than my parents," Johnson said with a somewhat quizzical smile. "But the people that I've been around and the people that live here, I am local, and so they know how I can play. There's a little pressure there because they know what I can do and just to show them how much I've improved and what I've done since I've been here is kind of what I was trying to do."

Johnson has been on campus since June after opting to focus on getting ready to play at Tennessee instead of a summer break. She went to both summer school sessions, lifted weights and worked in the gym.

"Glory is one of the best athletes that we've had in this program," Summitt said. "I compared her to Tamika Catchings when you're talking about the speed and the intensity and the aggressiveness. She shot the ball pretty well (Thursday night), too, and we have to spend a lot of time on her face-up game, but she's been in the gym. She went to both sessions of summer school. I think that helped her.

"She's from this area. I think she has lot of pride in her game and in making sure that she comes ready to play. She definitely changes the way we play. We play a lot quicker on the defensive end when she's in there."

Johnson's aggressiveness around the basket, defensive length, leaping ability and desire to rebound were known commodities before she got on campus. The two midrange shots she hit in Thursday's win over Carson-Newman – 15- and 17-footers – were eye-openers about her potential, since her outside shot was seen as the area that had to be developed in college. In Saturday's practice, she stroked a turn-around baseline jumper that also raised eyebrows.

"If she can hit the midrange shot … ," Summitt mused. "She's so good off the bounce so we know she can get to the rim. Also having Kelley Cain on the low block, I think our high-low game has got potential to be very, very strong. Obviously people are going to try to take that away from us, but I think our perimeter shooting is a little bit stronger, a little more balanced this year."

Carson-Newman Coach Dean Walsh, whose school is in nearby Jefferson City, was already very familiar with Johnson's game.

"It's what I expected," Walsh said. "I've watched Glory since she was a little girl playing. High octane, full of energy, going to rebound, slash. I think once she develops an outside jumper, she can be one of the best players in the country."

Charles-Furlow, a Wade Trophy winner at Tennessee, looks at Johnson and doesn't yet see a ceiling.

"The sky is the limit for Glory," Charles-Furlow said. "It just depends on what Glory wants to do. Being coachable and setting her goals on what type of player Glory wants to be are important. She knows the game but when she really learns the game and gets more polished, she could be an animal and I mean that in a good way. Just ferocious, just tenacious, just relentless in her attack."

Johnson needs to improve at the free throw line, as do most of her teammates after they combined to shoot 25-49 from the stripe Thursday. Johnson was taking extra shots an hour before practice Friday, and Briana Bass and Kelley Cain stayed afterwards Saturday.

"If I'm on this team with the depth that we have … and I tell them there's no guarantee I'm going to play 12 deep," Summitt said. "It's hard to play 12 deep. So let's figure out what you're going to show me between now and when we really start to narrow down our lineup and decide how deep we're going to go."

That was Summitt's answer to a question about free throws. That would seem clear that players who want to stay in the lineup and rotation, especially at crunch time, need to increase their marksmanship from the line.

If Johnson needs to talk to anyone about high expectations in the post and dealing with a challenging coach she's got a sounding board on the staff in Charles-Furlow, who butted heads with Summitt early in her first year before going on to become an All-American and win two national titles. Johnson has shown herself to be coachable, and she responded to Summitt's first shot across the bow – not starting her Thursday – with an explosive performance.

"Don't settle. Don't settle for what you already have," Charles-Furlow said of what advice she would deliver. "You want to be better than you were when you first got here. I think also remaining humble, because you are good, but there is somebody else that is better, but knowing and feeling confident in your abilities that you can get it done.

"You never want to lose confidence. You always want to have that in yourself. Being humble, continuing to work hard, and always trying to get better. You can get better."

It's advice that Charles-Furlow can also tell herself. She played from 1988 to 1991 and joined the staff this season to replace Nikki Caldwell. The system and terminology are completely different since her days in orange.

"I'm getting better every day," Charles-Furlow said. "I'm learning more. I have not stopped learning. Roll with the times and try to get better every year. If Pat didn't study and continue to study the game and talk to different coaches and get different ideas from her staff, she would be the same. That is what makes her so different. She is constantly learning. She's constantly figuring out, ‘How can I get better so I can help them get better?'

"That's what a great teacher does. A good teacher is always looking for new ideas to keep the wheels rolling. That is what I try to do with her and myself. I was a good player, but now I'm a coach so how can I give them this information and make them understand and show them that it works and not settle.

"I think she'll continue to grow. She will be her worst enemy if she doesn't. I think that kid wants to shine, I think she wants to get better and help this team in any way that she can."

After eviscerating an undersized Carson-Newman team, 135-55, the Lady Vol coaches are curious to see how the freshmen perform against older and experienced players.

"I think by them being former college players, been there, done that, I foresee more one on one, stronger athletes that can run, jump, more athletic," Charles-Furlow said. "They will have some height."

Tennessee's approach will be to try to dictate tempo with its defense and board work, and execute the offense.

It's about what we need to do and executing and running and controlling the tempo of the game by rebounding," Charles-Furlow said. "If we can defend and really get on the boards, I think we'll be OK. We've just got to remember our principles and what we're trying to do.

"It's going to be a good test."


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