Lady Vols seek better road effort

AUSTIN, Texas – The Lady Vols struggled in their first two road games – they had to come from behind to beat UTC and hold off George Washington – so with that in mind the routine has been changed. Heather Mason will be on the floor Sunday as Tennessee warms up to play Texas. On Saturday, the team got a pep talk about respect from two superstars, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.

Austin couple Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra stopped by Tennessee's practice Saturday at the Erwin Center with their 20-month-old twin daughters, Grace Isabella and Ava Caroline. Hamm, a legendary soccer player for North Carolina and the USA team, and Garciaparra, an All-Star baseball player who played last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, spoke to the Lady Vols at the end of the session.

"It was all about respecting yourself, respecting the game and always respecting your opponent," Coach Pat Summitt said. "Going in and bringing your best all the time. Nomar followed that up. There are things obviously that you can control – your passion, your work ethic and your focus. They both meshed the same type of language. It was good."

Summitt has been friends with Hamm for several years through her coaching relationship with Angela Kelly, the Lady Vols head soccer coach and former teammate and roommate of Hamm when they both played for the Tar Heels. Hamm has been to Summitt's house when in town to see Kelly and the friendship doubled when Hamm married Garciaparra.

While the players took photos with the world-class athletes, Summitt picked up and hugged the little girls.

"I love kids," Summitt said.

When a bystander handed one girl a basketball she put it down and kicked it.

The couple had planned on attending but Summitt had gotten a text message from Kelly saying they had a conflict. But Kelly called Saturday and said the couple had made it home. Summitt told Kelly that "we would love to see them if they have time."

The pair arrived midway through practice and then addressed the team at the end.

"You're talking two of the best ever," Summitt said. "That's what you call superstars and as I introduced them I said they were the only two people as my friends that I can call on a first-name basis and everybody knows who they are. This is Mia and this is Nomar."

There was another visitor before practice when retired Texas Coach Jody Conradt stopped by to say hello. Conradt, who looked trim and devoid of stress, left when the Lady Vols began practice since it was a scouting session to prepare for Texas.

"I told her, ‘You look a lot younger.' " said Summitt, with the thought crossing her mind that retirement had its attractions. "I kind of spoke that to her: ‘Wow! Is this what happens when you retire? It's a good thing.' "

But with seven freshmen on the floor – and three more arriving next season – Summitt is a long way from hanging up her whistle.

"I know. I know," Summitt said.

The freshmen will be challenged Sunday – and, once again, three should be in the starting lineup – with a road test against Texas.

No. 7/10 Tennessee, 7-1, takes on No. 6/5 Texas, 8-0, at 2 p.m. Eastern (TV: FSN; Lady Vol Radio Network) at the Erwin Center, which holds 16,775. The Longhorns are participating in the NCAA's "Pack the House" challenge for this game, a national campaign to market the sport.

The young Lady Vols team has played without composure at times on the road, and the freshmen mentioned the effects of leaving the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena. It was especially noticeable to the first-year players at the game in Washington, D.C.

"It definitely is different," freshman forward Alyssia Brewer said. "It was an hour and a half before the game and we were out there shooting and we already had the band out there talking trash and stuff.

"I was like, ‘C'mon, it's an hour and a half before the game.' They were saying boo. Somebody shot an air ball and they kept saying, ‘Air ball,' like it was the actual game. I was like, ‘Wow.' I've been through that but definitely not that many people. It does kind of throw you off not seeing all the orange, but we'll definitely see the different color of orange on Sunday."

That would be the burnt orange of Texas, a color Brewer is familiar with since she grew up in Big 12 territory in Oklahoma and played with Longhorn forward Earnesia Williams, who also is from Sapulpa, Okla.

"I played against ‘Ernie' Williams in high school, and I played with her as well," Brewer said.

Brewer, who expects to have some friends in the stands from her home state, said the game matters a lot to her because the foe is a Big 12 team, and she left her home conference to play for Tennessee in the SEC.

"Some people I know are going to go and especially playing against a Big 12 school and having those schools want me to go there, it kind of proves a point in a way," Brewer said.

The decision to come to Knoxville was tested for Brewer in the last week of practice, during which Summitt put the players through a "boot camp" in an attempt to get them ready for challenging games and environments.

"Honestly, the toughest week of my life. Straightforward," Brewer said. "Those practices I never experienced anything like that before. It didn't have to do with the running. It had to do with keeping your intensity up the whole entire practice."

The good news for the coaching staff is the players forged a bond from those sessions, which were up-tempo and high volume.

"This past week's practice has shown a lot from us," Brewer said. "We stuck it out with each other through thick and thin. You guys saw that. It was a pretty crazy week, but it just showed that we're still here and we're ready for a challenge and none of us can wait to play on Sunday."

Chalk one up to Summitt's motivational methods. She managed to create a home environment that was less appealing to her players than a road one. But the primary point of the past week was to get better, and the team worked on both sides of the ball.

"I think we're better prepared," Summitt said. "I think the practice time allowed us to really address our transition defense, what we want to do offensively if we don't score in early offense. We were a little stagnant. We didn't reverse the ball as quickly as we needed to. Now we're making the defense have to work a lot harder and getting better looks. I'm pleased to see our post game being more aggressive."

Freshman forward Glory Johnson viewed the practice time as a chance to show the coaches that the lessons are taking hold and to come together as a team. Before Thursday's win over Middle Tennessee, the Lady Vols had nine days between games for practice and final exams.

"It (was) tough not having a game for nine days," Johnson said. "But at the same time you're just making yourself better. It's been tough but at the same time it's more mental than anything. You've just got to focus through practice.

"At the same time we've just got to bond as a team. All we had was our team. When we were tired and we were struggling all we have is the team and the coaches telling us we're doing good or telling us what we needed to work on. It's mentally tough. We finally played a game and showed the coached what we did practicing. We got to show our coaches what we were working on in practice."

Brewer noted that a team on the road has to create its own energy in the absence of an abundance of fans in Tennessee orange.

"I think everybody is doing a good job of not letting the crowd get to them, but I think we have to keep the energy alive," Brewer said. "Here we feed off our fans.

"You know they're going to bring a big crowd. I've learned from the past two (road) games you have to keep the energy inside yourself the whole entire time because at places like Texas you're not going to have as many fans as you would somewhere close to here. You've just got to keep your team spirit up and help everybody keep their intensity up the entire time and don't let the crowd get to you."

Johnson is one player whose intensity is not in question. But the lean forward, who both gets mauled and delivers some blows in the paint, has reminded herself to stay under control, especially on the road.

"Basically always hold our composure," Johnson said. "The refs aren't going to be on our side because we're not from there and they like the home team better than they like the away team. We might not get the calls that we want and we might get fouled a little harder than we expected, but at the same time we just have to play our game. It's always going to be a challenge. If you foul too hard one time the ref lets you know, then you slow up. At the same time don't slow your game down, just keep playing hard."

Johnson also has opted to have some open and respectful communication with the officials.

"If they're fouling you and the refs aren't seeing it, let them know. If the refs don't like something you're doing, say setting a screen with your elbows out, fix that," Johnson said. "But at the same time don't change your game. Keep playing as hard as you were. Correct your problems."

The first-year players also mentioned the importance of talking to each other, a point of emphasis in practice of late.

"I think it was really good for us to work more on our defense and get our communication right because we're getting ready to go off to Texas and the atmosphere is going to be really loud," freshman guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen said. "We're going to have to communicate and have each other's back.

"We have to go in and trust each other and rely on each other and tell each other, ‘Relax, calm down and everything will be all right.' "

"We have been somewhat different (on the road), but I think communication-wise we have to talk louder than what we would have to at home, talk over the crowd," Brewer added.

"Definitely our toughest team we're going to play so far. We're going to bring everything and not just a couple of people. It's going to have to be from everybody. Keep yourself motivated. You can do that any which way. You can already have it inside you or you can make a hustle play and motivate yourself even more."

Summitt is looking for more composure from her team when the game is tipped. She became aware after the George Washington game that the youngsters paid attention to the fans, whose chants and cheers were standard fare.

"I think that might have bothered them," Summitt said. "They've never been in environments like that. I thought we played really anxious as a team."

The upperclassmen scarcely paid attention to it.

"I heard it when we were shooting around but once we started playing I didn't hear it," redshirt senior Alex Fuller said. "That's going to happen anywhere so you do have to block it out. You're going to hear it more so while you're shooting around and warming up. Once the game starts that stuff shouldn't even run through your head."

That will be reinforced before tipoff Sunday.

"Just how to face adversity and when I say adversity I mean the crowd," Fuller said. "It's going to seem like the crowd is right there on the court with us. So how to face adversity and how to stay together and how to keep a team down when we're going on a run."

Redshirt sophomore Cait McMahan, who has endured four knee surgeries and is now wearing a brace on her right knee, said a young team needs to make quick adjustments.

"We need to, as a team, come together and toughen up and play like every game is our last," McMahan said. "We've got to control what we can control and that's what goes on on the floor. We can't control how many fans are in the stands. They just have to man up and not act like freshmen, because we don't have time for that, and we need to get better."

The message seems to have reached the intended audience.

"I understand it's going to be a tough game and we are going to just have to bring our ‘A' game," Johnson said. "Their fans are going to be just as rough as the UTC fans and all the other away games. It's just going to be like that. No one likes to see another team coming in to their gym – we don't like to see other teams coming in our gym – just come prepared and like Coach said bring your defense and bring your board play, because if not we might get beat."

Summitt will have one other vital part in place – Heather Mason. The strength and conditioning coach leads the team in warm-ups in Knoxville but is not always on the road.

"She's flying in and meeting up with us," Summitt said. "For the first two trips she was not with us. I think she makes a tremendous difference. She gets them focused. She gets me focused."

Summitt will also issue one last reminder to the youngsters.

"I think it will be great for them to go into this environment," Summitt said. "It's exciting. That's why these players came here.

"I'll remind them of that: ‘You came to Tennessee because you wanted to be on this big stage. Now, go play.' "

PROBABLE STARTERS: Pat Summitt said after her team's practice session in Austin that she intended to stay with the five players who started the last game: Briana Bass, 5'2 freshman guard, No. 1 (5.1 points per game, 1.9 rebounds per game, 3.0 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 sophomore guard/forward, No. 5 (9.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 freshman guard/forward, No. 40 (12.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.6 steals per game); Glory Johnson, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 25 (15.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg); and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 sophomore forward, No. 21 (8.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg).

The lineup is the youngest ever to start for Summitt but she likes the speed at the point, the shooters on the perimeter and the quickness inside the paint.

Texas Coach Gail Goestenkors is expected to start a veteran lineup in: Carla Cortijo, 5'7 senior guard, No. 3 (6.1 ppg, 6.0 apg), has 48 assists this season (Texas is averaging 19.0 apg, fourth in the country), born in Puerto Rico, played senior year in high school in Houston; Erika Arriaran, 5'10 junior guard, No. 4 (11.8 ppg, 3.5 apg), father played football at Oregon, sister Natasia played basketball at Cal Baptist University, sister Samantha is a freshman volleyball setter at Oklahoma; Brittainey Raven, 6'0 junior guard, No. 10 (17.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg), 79 points away from 1,000 for her career, mother played basketball at New Mexico State; Earnesia Williams, 6'1 senior forward, No. 00 (7.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg), redshirt senior missed her rookie year after an ACL tear, mother Kammie Holmes starred in basketball at NAIA power Fort Hays State University, winning the 1991 NAIA national championship; and Ashley Lindsey, 6'4 senior forward (6.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Austin native starred locally for Pflugerville Connally High School, had a triple-double as a junior against Taylor High School with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks.

SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Texas game. Here is her assessment.

When Texas has the ball: "They're going to run the ball. That's their game. That's 80 percent of their offense right now. They're going to run off their aggressive defense, they're going to run off a made basket, a long rebound, they're going to throw it long. They're going to look to run every chance they get. They want to score quick. They don't want to set up in the half-court offense."

When the Longhorns must set up, they look for their shooters.

"They have great shooters," Warlick said. (Erika) Arriaran has big-time range. And they've got penetrators. (Brittainey) Raven's a great all-around player. She's physical, athletic, a rebounder. She's a nice player. Their posts are physicals. They're lanky; they're athletic. It will be our biggest challenge that we've had to date whether it was here in Knoxville or on the road."

Defensively, Warlick expects Texas to bring the heat.

"They're aggressive," Warlick said. "They want to turn you over. They want you to play fast. They're going to run a little bit of a matchup, too. They want to score off of their steals. They will get after us. They'll press after free throws. They'll press three-quarters. They just like to apply a lot of pressure all over the floor."

Pat Summitt watched film on the Longhorns and said their defense will require some adjustments by the Lady Vols.

"I think defensively they'll bring a lot of overplay and quickness and boards," Summitt said. "I think they'll challenge us with early offense. They'll get out and run. A lot of time they'll leak out a couple of players. We may have to change our approach in transition (and get two players back rather than four to the offensive boards and one back)."

When Tennessee has the ball: "We're going to run as well. We've just got to limit our turnovers and not beat ourselves. We have the depth to run.

"We're going to go inside. We always go inside first. We're going to try and get paint points off the dribble and paint points on the block. We want to limit our turnovers. When we limit our turnovers and move the ball, good things happen to us. If we start turning it over and holding the ball, that's when we get into trouble. We can't get into a shooting contest with them. We've got to get paint points and a high-percentage shot."

Defensively the Lady Vols plan to deploy their man to man, which got a tuneup this week in practice.

"We're going to run a man to man," Warlick said. "We may not run all man to man but that's our intention."

Will the Lady Vols bring pressure in the open floor?

"Absolutely," Warlick said.

The two teams are almost mirror images, except one is very young and the other is very experienced.

"It's two similar teams playing each other," Warlick said. "It's a chance for us to get better. We want to win obviously, but it's a chance for us to get better. That's how we see it. We want to go down there and win but we've got to continue to play hard and maintain everything."

ON TAP: Four other SEC schools are in action today: Alabama at Middle Tennessee; Kentucky at Louisville; Ole Miss at N.C. State; and Memphis at Mississippi State.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Texas, 18-11 with an 8-5 record in Austin. The series has a tendency to be streaky with one team getting the upper-hand for a few years and then ceding control. Despite the rich tradition at both schools they have never met in the postseason. … Tennessee is 4-2 in games played on December 14. The last game on this date was a 70-66 overtime win over Stanford in 2003. The two losses on this date were to Louisiana Tech, 80-64, in 1982, and to Stanford, 96-95, in overtime in 1991. The Lady Vols also got a 85-78 win over Texas on this date in 1986. … Former Lady Vol Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss, who spent 18 years in Knoxville under Pat Summitt, is an assistant at Texas. Kathy Harston, the director of basketball operations for Tennessee, was a Texas assistant coach for 18 years under Jody Conradt. … Texas has held its opponents to an average of 50.4 points per contest and a combined 30.2 percent field-goal shooting, including 25-102 (.205) from three-point range. Tennessee has allowed 59.8 points per game with opponents shooting 35.3 percent. Both teams get on the boards – the Longhorns have a +13.3 margin over their opponents while the Lady Vols have a +10.4 margin.

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