Baugh is expected to start this afternoon for the fourth time this season – she missed the two exhibitions and the first two official games – when No. 9/13 Tennessee, 4-1, takes on DePaul, 5-1, at 3 p.m. Eastern (Lady Vol Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena. A free video webcast is available at: Lady Vols All Access.
After the game Baugh will likely hear from former Lady Vol Candace Parker, who, despite living on the West Coast, has kept up with the current team and twice made visits to Knoxville.
"Can also calls to check on my knee and see what's up and just tells me not to rush it and gives me advice on how to handle it all the time," Baugh said. "She's called me so far after every game just to see what's up with the team. She's truly still on this team in spirit. She cares so much."
Baugh, a 6'4 forward, tore the ACL in her left knee in the national title game in Tampa in April. She had surgery in mid-May after finishing her spring semester exams and then settled in for the summer in Knoxville instead of returning to her hometown of Sacramento.
"It was definitely tough because when everyone else was gone over the summer I was here rehabbing," Baugh said. "The beginning was tougher, the first two months, before I was able to get in the weight room or actually walk around (without crutches) and stuff like that.
"It's the tedium of the rehab. It's really time-consuming and you're doing simple stuff. It can be really boring. It was just the beginning that was hard for me, doing stuff like straight leg raises and balance for three hours. It gets overwhelming."
But Baugh stayed with it and once she could shed the crutches and begin a weight-lifting regimen, Moshak's plan took shape in Baugh's eyes.
"From there we got stronger, and Jenny said I just took off," Baugh said. "It's been good so far now that I'm back practicing every day and playing. There in the beginning (of November) it was kind of, ‘It's getting close to six months, Jenny, and I'm still not out there.' But she came through."
Baugh was so anxious to get back on the court at that time that she pondered trying to convince Moshak that she was ready. But a call to Parker led to a reverse course.
"I was going to practice and she was like, ‘Vicki, just don't do it. If you can't do this and can't do that, then I suggest you do not do it,' " Baugh said. "That was really helpful advice because I was just at the point where I don't care I'm going to practice. I'm going to fake Jenny out and act like I'm OK. My knee wasn't swelling yet so Jenny couldn't tell. She asked me if I was all right and I was ready to be like, yeah."
Give Parker, who understands the frustration of wanting to play, an assist. When Parker was a freshman she also tried to get Moshak to let her do more than her surgically repaired left knee could withstand and, in the end, Moshak's method worked.
As with any rehab there were some restarts as the knee tested its daily limits. Baugh participated in some team workouts in early October and then had to considerably scale back her court time and restrict herself to half-court sets. She was activated for the early games in November, but as she tried to go full court, the knee would hurt and Baugh would get frustrated.
Moshak made the decision to pull Baugh off the court for nearly two weeks in November and focus on weights and rehab. The decision turned out to be a boost for Baugh.
"Definitely because I remember going into practice and I got really discouraged and my knee was aching and hurting really bad and that's when we just kicked butt and went and got in the weight room more," Baugh said.
"That's when I actually started going to the weight room three times a week and it really helped my quad blow up. It's really helped my confidence and my knee. It just feels completely different than that time. A lot of pain has gone away. I felt like I couldn't even jump off my knee. I was like, ‘I am nowhere close to ready,' but getting stronger was the key."
Even though she is playing now Baugh has maintained her weight room appointments.
"I lift three times a week," she said. "I rehab before every practice and every game. I rehab every day."
Baugh debuted against Chattanooga on the road on Nov. 21 after a short pre-game workout the day before and the rustiness showed. Baugh also admitted to being tentative on the court.
"I definitely felt hesitant in the beginning," Baugh said. "The Chattanooga game I was definitely favoring my right leg. It's just scary plain and simple landing on your left leg and doing stuff with your left leg knowing what happened and knowing it's not 100 percent back to normal.
"I didn't have that great of a game in Chattanooga and maybe that's why because I was favoring my right leg and thinking about the wrong things. If you're in there you can't think about your injury because that's how you get hurt."
In the next game against Louisiana Tech Baugh had a double-double – 13 points, 12 rebounds – in just 17 minutes of play. Against Western Carolina, Baugh maneuvered in post traffic, went against double teams and posted another double-double with 11 points and 15 boards.
"I expected her to be rusty (against Chattanooga), because you can't not play competitively – and by that obviously none of us had games from April to November – but she wasn't able to play in anything remotely live," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said.
"When you don't play competitively for several months I expected some rustiness and timing stuff but here in the last couple games I've been pleased that she's been able to get two double-doubles and last game to get 15 rebounds. And I know Western Carolina isn't North Carolina. Nonetheless to be able to still come out and produce 15 rebounds is very, very productive and to shoot pretty well, 4-7, 3-3 from the free throw line."
Baugh also logged 32 minutes of playing time.
"And it was typical Vicki 32 minutes," Moshak said. "It wasn't favoring or, ‘I'm not going to make that move,' or ‘I'm not going after that rebound.' She was all over the floor."
Baugh is not 100 percent yet and doesn't think she will be for at least three months and maybe not until postseason. Typically it's a year out of surgery when an ACL patient is 100 percent restored.
"I've just got to keep working it," Baugh said. "I feel really good, but Jenny has to constantly remind me that although you feel like you're 100 percent – because I feel fine – that inside of your knee is not 100 percent yet."
Baugh has had some discomfort but no swelling since her return, though Moshak said some swelling could be manageable.
"There always the chance that she can get some swelling, get some lack of range of motion, get pain as opposed to an ache and then you have to back off," Moshak said. "She hasn't experienced much of that lately. We took the (time off), and we got her really strong and she's been responding ever since. I've been very pleased."
One of Baugh's surgeons, Dr. Greg Mathien, uses a grilling reference to determine the status of his knee patients.
"Medium well, as opposed to well done," Moshak said. "This is actually Dr. Mathien's analogy that he received from a patient."
The patient told Mathien that the knee felt "raw" right after the surgery, and he used various grilling terms to describe his knee's progress.
"Dr. Mathien has adopted that analogy and uses it to explain and help the athletes process that just because they're out there the knee isn't fully cooked," Moshak said. "That's the way Vicki described it to him was ‘medium well.' "
Baugh's knee must now endure longer practice sessions as she works to get into game shape. She can control one thing – trips to the weight room – but the other key to her well-being is the pace of time.
"Time and strengthening," Moshak said. "The strengthening is working. She's getting stronger and stronger in the weight room and you can see those results in how big the quadriceps is."
Battling isolation from the team is a psychological component of rehab as players watch from the sidelines as their teammates practice and play games. Baugh, a sophomore expected to play a major role this season, could only wonder what her role would be.
"I'm glad I could come in and make an impact on the team and I see that maybe this team did need me," Baugh said. "When I saw that they were doing so well you could start thinking, ‘Oh, they're kind of fine without me, and where am I going to fit in?' I was happy I could come in and help them."
What Baugh did was provide an anchor inside on offense and an example to the freshmen of how Summitt and the staff expect players to defend.
"There's a model on the floor," Lockwood said. "There's a living, breathing, active model. I call it the (Nicky) Anosike factor. You only need to be in a drill with her for three to five minutes to realize, ‘Whoa, there's a whole other level of effort going on here.' And that's what Vicki has brought to the post group, in particular."
Baugh smiles when asked about that effect and mentioned the other returning players.
"The freshmen look up to all of us sophomores and Alex (Fuller) and Cait (McMahan)," Baugh said. "I don't really see the transition take place when I'm in there, more so I just have people telling me how important it is for me to do well because I bring the energy to the team. That's what Coach is telling me so I guess it's true."
The staff knew how much Baugh could help a young team, but the coaches had to focus on getting the youngsters ready.
"One of the things that you do in that case you tend to think conservatively," Lockwood said. "In our minds even as badly as we wanted her back with us it's kind of like building a house. When they tell you October, it's going to be December. We thought, ‘We'll take her when she comes.' We wanted her fully healthy, but we've been so pleased. She's done the work. The medical team has done the work."
Baugh has retained most of her knowledge from last season and despite losing an entire summer of off-season work she has been nimble around the basket.
"There have been a few concepts that have been fuzzy but a vast majority of stuff there's been very good retention," Lockwood said. "She made so much headway a year ago in terms of refinement of her scoring moves and now what we want to do is pick up where we left off of that.
"We didn't have spring and she didn't have a summer of skill development work. So right now we want to refine some of the scoring moves. There's still some rawness in some of that. We want to refine that – footwork and timing of when things are done."
Baugh's next goal is to improve her conditioning, which she has maintained remarkably well, considering she didn't sprint with the team until this past week. She also wants to maintain her level of leadership.
"I feel like I'm going to have to be in better shape," Baugh said. "Keep leading the team in different ways whatever we need – rebounding, leading by having several freshmen try to follow in the footsteps or pick it up after me, stuff like that. Of course our main goal is to get to the Final Four and win a championship, but you've got to take it a step at a time."
It was a step in Tampa that changed Baugh's summer. As she drove the lane and stopped under the basket, the ACL snapped. Still, she elevated, made the shot and crashed to the floor to give the Lady Vols a double-digit lead over Stanford in the second half that never dipped to single digits. As Baugh limped off the floor she implored her teammates to finish the job.
"That moment you're going to remember," Lockwood said. "I have so much faith in our medical team and Vicki is strong. When her lower body is digging into you and she's pushing you back with that pad (during post drills with Lockwood), she's a strong, strong young lady. I have a lot of confidence in the combination of they have cleared her and what she's working with in her body.
"Vicki is so spry and athletic. But I'd be lying if I said they first few times she went down (this season) I wasn't worried."
But after seeing how Baugh pops up, Lockwood's level of concern has lessened considerably.
"The thing she's given us that we all thought that she would and it's refreshing is the energy level at which she plays," Lockwood said. "She injects us with a whole other level of juice and that's been a big bonus for this team."
PROBABLE STARTERS: For the first time this season Pat Summitt and her staff could have all 12 players on the roster available to play.
Sophomore sharpshooter Angie Bjorklund practiced Saturday and if her back is OK overnight she would be cleared for Sunday's game and would make her season debut.
Kelley Cain, a 6'6 center who last played sparingly against Virginia on Nov. 17 and then was sidelined with lingering effects from a Nov. 10 concussion, practiced Saturday for the first time in nearly two weeks. Alicia Manning, a 6'1 freshman guard/forward, also practiced Saturday for the first time since suffering a concussion in a game Nov. 23.
Both players will be examined by Dr. Rebecca Morgan at Sunday's shoot-around and could also be cleared for the game if they pass that final test under the concussion protocol.
Summitt could opt to change her starting lineup based on good medical news but as of Saturday she was sticking with: Cait McMahan, 5'4 sophomore guard, No. 2 (6.5 points per game, 1.3 rebounds per game); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 guard/forward, No. 40 (10.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Alex Fuller, 6'3 senior forward, No. 44 (4.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 25 (15.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg); and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 sophomore forward/center, No. 21 (8.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg).
If all 12 players are available the Lady Vols become a much deeper team and bigger across the frontline.
"We have our biggest inside player so our inside presence goes up right off the bat," Dean Lockwood said. "And then you have arguably your best pure shooter and between her and Syd (Smallbone) we're splitting hairs but now you have a bigger shooter and someone who has a wealth of experience from last year. I think those two additions are pretty significant and then Alicia Manning with her energy. She was coming with great energy and also learning the offense better. We're excited to get her back."
"If you say turning a corner I'll say we're in a building that doesn't have four sides," Lockwood said. "We have 12 sides so there's a lot of corners to turn. I do think they both have made headway.
"Amber, her skill level, her understanding is solid. The energy level has to be there all the time. Lyssi has become more physical; her technique has gotten better. Let's say she plays for five or six minutes (at a time), we need to see the same energy expenditure in minute one that we see in five or six. They have made improvements, and we just want them to keep turning corners."
DePaul Coach Doug Bruno is expected to start: Sam Quigley, 5'6 sophomore guard, No. 20 (7.2 ppg, 2.8 assists per game), sister of former DePaul guard Allie Quigley, missed last season to recover from ACL surgery in right knee, started 14 games at end of freshman season in 2006-07; Deirdre Naughton, 5'10 junior guard, No. 32 (19.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg), scored 35 points against Hartford this season, had seven assists against Illinois State, hit six three-pointers against New Mexico, transferred from Wake Forest, started 31 games for DePaul last season, grandfather Clem Naughton played football for DePaul; Keisha Hampton, 6'2 freshman forward, No. 24 (11.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg), rookie from Philadelphia was AP's player of the year in Class AAA in Pennsylvania, father John played basketball for Cheyney; Felicia Chester 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 41 (7.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg), second on the team last season with 24 blocks, missed the 2006-07 season with a stress fracture in left foot, played in 31 games last season, scored career-high 15 points against Marquette; and Natasha Williams, 6'3 senior forward, No. 20 (8.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg), transfer from Minnesota started 31 games for DePaul last season, led the team with 47 blocked shots.
The Blue Demons have wins over Idaho State, 73-55; Alcorn State (coached by former Lady Vol Tonya Edwards), 90-42; Southern, 86-54; Hartford, 80-71; and Illinois State, 80-68, a game the Blue Demons played Friday at home before heading to Knoxville. The lone loss was 68-66 at New Mexico.
"Offensively they're very aggressive," Pat Summitt said. "They run a lot of different screening actions so we're going to have to defend ball screens, back screens. They do screen well, and they get a lot of good looks. They're really aggressive offensively, aggressive at both ends. They'll work the high-low.
"Well coached. He's got athleticism. He's got skill. I think they're tough-minded. His teams are always hard-nosed. They bring it on the court."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-DePaul game. Here is his assessment.
When DePaul has the ball: "This team runs good offense and they've got good offensive skilled players," Lockwood said. "They're a motion team, a true motion. It's a lot of back screens (the screener moves away from the basket to set a screen for the offensive player cutting to the basket), flare screens (the offensive player uses the screen to move from the inside to the outside of the court) and stagger screens (used to get shooters open with teammates setting a series of single screens) and then they mix in some handoffs with that as well.
"What they are they're more concepts and principles than set plays. They're reads of what the defense does or what the defense gives them and that's what makes that so hard to guard because it's not pre-set movement. There is no predetermination.
"They're very well versed. They know how to play. They're very skilled, and they execute very well. So we have to really, really not let them run their stuff and get into them."
Deirdre Naughton will be someone the coaches would want a defender on at all times, but the staff also noted that the players need to realize when China Threatt, a 5'9 junior guard, checks into the game.
"Threatt comes off the bench and plays very well for them," Lockwood said. "I told the team she's a sixth starter. She comes in and she's instant offense. She can make threes. She's got the dimension to her game where she can pull up and finish. She's got the middle game, a little bit of a short game."
Defensively the Blue Demons will bring pressure and vary the pickup point from full court to three-quarter court to half-court.
"They 2-2-1, they man to man, they've shown a little bit of 1-2-1-1 and some trapping," Lockwood said. "They do some man-to-man run and jump where they will be guarding a player and somebody comes up and it looks like a trap, but then one player will jump to the other player.
"So let's say I'm guarding Holly and Daedra's dribbling and now I'm going to come up and guard Daedra and Pat leaves Daedra to go take Holly. It's a jump switch and they have a run-and-jump defense. We're going to see some different looks from a full-court standpoint."
If DePaul falls back Lockwood expects to see a man defense.
"I've seen them primarily man but in their arsenal they have played some zone, and I expect to see a little bit," he said. "I think they'll experiment with it and if it's good they'll stay with it longer. If it's not they'll go back."
When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols want to establish the post game, especially with Vicki Baugh back and the probable return of Kelley Cain.
"Always, always, always that is our generator," Lockwood said. "That generates what we did. But certainly what we want to be able to do, too, is take advantage of our quickness and athleticism. We want to move the ball early in the shot clock. We don't want to hold the ball. At times we've had the ball stuck in people's hands a little longer than what we normally like.
"We want to certainly get inside, and we want to take advantage of some athleticism and some dribble drive opportunities and the midrange game, some inside-outside. We throw to the post, the post doesn't necessarily have to score but now we play inside and off of the post and at least get them touches, make them converge and collapse. I call it accordion defense. You get them to converge and kick out. If we can mix between our transition game and that, I'd like it."
Like DePaul, Tennessee will bring pressure in the open floor.
"I'd be very surprised if they didn't. That is certainly going to be a part of what we do," Lockwood said. "Will both teams do it for 40 minutes? Obviously you can't say that, but I think you'll see it."
One of Tennessee's pressure response plays is to drop the two best shooters deep in the corners.
It was suggested by Vols Coach Bruce Pearl when the Lady Vols played Georgia in the SEC tourney in Little Rock in 2006. The team's best ball handler, Alexis Hornbuckle, was out with a broken wrist, so Shanna Zolman and Sidney Spencer were moved 90 feet away while the post players, led by Candace Parker, brought the ball up the court. Georgia's speedy guards were forced to drop off the ball to cover the shooters, both of whom could light it up from long range.
"Get and go is what we call that," Lockwood said.
ON TAP: Only two other SEC teams are in action today in the following matchups: Auburn vs. Florida International; and Middle Tennessee at LSU.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with DePaul, 17-0. The teams began playing each other in 1991 and have met once in the postseason in 2004. Alex Fuller started last season in Chicago in place of Candace Parker, who missed curfew on the eve of her homecoming game, and she lit up the Blue Demons with a career-high 19 points on 9-10 shooting in the 102-68 wipeout. The last time DePaul played in Knoxville was Dec. 12, 2004, and the Lady Vols trailed by 15 in the first half before winning, 78-63. … Tennessee is 7-2 in games played on November 30. The Lady Vols last played on this date in 2003 in an 83-59 win over Notre Dame. The two losses were to Old Dominion, 78-72, in 1982, and Northeast Louisiana, 68-53, in 1984. … The next home game is Dec. 11 against Middle Tennessee. The Lady Vols play at George Washington on Dec. 2 and then take a break from games for final exams. Alex Fuller will graduate in December with a degree in exercise science and then enroll in a master's program next semester. … Tennessee has made at least one three-pointer in 345 consecutive games. DePaul has hit at least one three-pointer in 112 consecutive games. The Blue Demons streak would have been at 372 if not for being 0-8 from behind the arc against Houston on Feb. 11, 2005. As it is, DePaul has hit from long range in 371 of the last 372 games.