Lady Vols earn day off

The Lady Vol basketball team will get Thanksgiving Day off after all after a defensive-oriented practice that was standard in length but definitely up-tempo. It was the seventh consecutive day of work for the team – though the three previous practices were light sessions followed by games – and the players will reassemble Friday.

"We were better today," Pat Summitt said after Wednesday's slightly more than two-hour session, which was followed by a series of sprints and weight training. "We needed to work on our defense. We needed to work on a couple of offensive sets that we haven't had enough reps with and obviously the rebounding part of it."

The lids went on the basket to ensure rebounds, and boxing out was a major focus point Wednesday.

Lady Vol sophomore Vicki Baugh was able to practice full-court after playing 32 minutes Tuesday in the 83-56 win over Western Carolina, and for the first time this season Baugh was cleared for post-practice sprints.

It was likely the first time a player has smiled upon hearing the news from Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine. An even better sign for Tennessee was that Baugh finished with the front pack.

Sophomore sharpshooter Angie Bjorklund participated in some offensive and defensive drills as she tested her lower back, but she remains day to day. Freshmen Alicia Manning and Kelley Cain remained out of practice to recover from concussions.

Baugh has taken some tumbles in games and practices but has popped up, much to the relief of the coaching staff.

"I hold my breath when everybody falls," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "I mean, take a look at our sideline. I hold my breath."

The sideline is storing quite a bit of offensive firepower in Cain and Bjorklund and a heady freshman in Manning. Bjorklund also developed into a solid defensive player last season – she was noticeably quicker this preseason in practice – and the 6'6 Cain has the potential to be a force inside as a defender, especially with the ultra-athletic Baugh and freshman Glory Johnson also roaming the frontline.

But, for now, Summitt and staff continue to work shorthanded, though it does mean the youngsters are getting a lot of repetitions in games and practices.

"It is just trying to teach some of our players what you have to invest in every possession," Summitt said. "That's the biggest thing. They take way too many possessions, and I know what's coming. They have no clue what's coming."

What's coming will be a DePaul team in town Sunday afternoon that – like many teams this season – wants to exact some revenge on Tennessee. That will be followed by a December slate of proven teams in Middle Tennessee, Texas, Old Dominion and Stanford before the team takes a brief break for Christmas.

The staff had hoped that the one-point loss to Virginia would have delivered the message about the outcome of porous defense, but after regrouping and showing improvement in practice, the same mistakes popped up against Chattanooga.

"I thought we responded a little better but when we go play UTC we went right back to the type of defense that we played against Virginia," Summitt said. "I don't think until it was after we played at Chattanooga, and they watched the game tape (that they understood).

"I told them it's embarrassing to have the kind of staff we have here and the type of teachers that we have – I've got a great staff – and you all could not figure out how to take away the drift pass (a baseline pass to the opposite corner) and closing out on shooters. I don't know if it was first road game but we'd better get accustomed to playing on the road because we've got a lot of tough road games."

The freshmen can play inspired defense – and all six have shown their capability, albeit in spurts at times – but two stood out in particular Tuesday with Johnson's block and Shekinna Stricklen's steal.

Johnson crossed the court to recover on a skip pass – a pass thrown across the court that "skips" over the other offensive players to find the open shooter – left her feet well in front of the shooter and swatted down the attempted three-pointer.

"I said it ought to be on SportsCenter. She was up here," Summitt said, motioning to a spot high off the floor. "She is so athletic. It's her quickness. She's light on her feet. She's got exceptional quickness."

Stricklen intercepted a baseline pass while teetering on the line, controlled the ball, spun and threw it off the lower leg of a Western Carolina player to create the turnover.

"That's just great instincts," Summitt said.

Sophomore guard Cait McMahan, when asked to vote for the best defensive gem, gave the edge to the block.

"She had to make a huge effort just to come over and contest that shot," McMahan said. "It was huge, because that three was probably going to go in because they were shooting well from outside range."

The Lady Vols won by 27 points, but Summitt was peeved afterwards because of defensive lapses, especially in the second half, and some sloppy offensive possessions. It was likely instructive for the freshmen of the exacting nature of their coach that she could be so displeased with that margin of victory. Do the newcomers understand?

"I think so because we all talked about it last night after the game," McMahan said. "We try to tell them when you come here if we're up 100 to nothing, it's zero-zero every time out. We can't take possessions off because she isn't having it."

The returning players also advised the freshmen to bring maximum effort and focus Wednesday to avoid gathering on the court on Thanksgiving.

"If we don't bring it we're going to have a big feast in Thompson-Boling," McMahan said. "I don't think Pat wants that either, but she's going to do what it takes to get better."


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