Summitt seeks complete game

Classes start today on campus, and Pat Summitt has her own list of course objectives for the second half of the season – play from tip to finish, get a handle on the turnovers, rebound better and improve at the free throw line. But school comes first, and the Lady Vols will take today off for two reasons – to focus on academics and to get a day of rest before facing two SEC foes this week.

It is unusual for Pat Summitt to take off the day before a game – Kentucky is in town Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena – but the head coach reconfigured the practice schedule to allow sufficient practice time for both the Wildcats and then Vanderbilt on Sunday.

The preparation for Kentucky began on Monday when the team went over a significant part of the scouting report. That continued Tuesday and will be reinforced on Thursday.

"We're going to watch tape before we hit the floor (Thursday)," said Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, who is handling the scouting report for the Kentucky game. "We will definitely review and revisit some of the things when we're in the tape session with our players about how we're defending their action, (because) you worry about retention."

Summitt and the coaches were in plan-ahead mode as they juggled getting ready for Kentucky, classes getting underway and preparation for a road game at Vanderbilt with its offensive smorgasbord.

"I've got to give them a day off for this week," Summitt said. "They start classes, let them focus and get everything that they need to take care of taken care of, and then we'll have the game and then we will have two days of preparation for Vanderbilt."

The Lady Vols will practice in Knoxville on Friday and then travel to Nashville on Saturday for practice so the youngsters can get a feel for the setup of Memorial Gymnasium, where the court is elevated above floor level and the benches are on the baselines.

Had Summitt not taken off Wednesday, that left Friday as the day off this week, and she decided she wanted two days to prepare for Vandy, too.

"Because they run a lot of sets we need time to prepare for them," Summitt said.

"With Kentucky everything they do in the half-court game typically comes back to high-low action. They're athletic and they're extending their defense more, play off the dribble. It should be good for us because I think they will challenge us from a defensive standpoint with different looks, mix it up, and then offensively I think just being disciplined to defend their sets and almost everything comes back to high-low action."

Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, said sophomore forward Vicki Baugh is definitely out for the Kentucky game. Her availability for the Vandy game was listed by Moshak as "hopeful." Sophomore guard Cait McMahan missed practice Tuesday to get treatment on her right knee. Both McMahan, who is day to day, and Baugh, who was moving better, did some sideline rehab exercises.

The fact Baugh could even be possible for Sunday's game seemed unlikely last week when she went down in practice on Jan. 1 at Rutgers Preparatory School, two days before the Rutgers game. Baugh landed hard on her left leg and sprained the collateral lateral ligament in her left knee. Because of the pain in her bone she was taken to a local hospital for X-rays, which were negative.

"You cringe," said Lockwood, who reached Baugh, along with the rest of the coaches, moments after she went down. "She's not a kid that milks injuries. She's tough, hard-nosed, battles through things. When she went down and she was screaming in pain immediately my mind went back to Tampa. I remember at that time saying if Vicki's down and screaming like that something is wrong.

"The same thing at Rutgers Prep popped in my head. Until you know you breathe in and you're not exhaling until you finally find out. When we found out, it was a huge relief to know that kid is still on the board for us."

The injury sapped the life out of the high school gym as her teammates hovered over Baugh.

"You could feel it," Lockwood said. "Everything stopped. At that moment it all stopped. I remember looking and everybody on the team had come over. There was tremendous concern. The nature of this kid is hard-nosed. She is not somebody who plays it up when something hurts. She's a battle on, get-through-it kid.

"At that point you say, ‘Please, please, please help her be OK.' "

Baugh was still on crutches as a precaution but was ambulatory without them and went through some extensive rehab work Tuesday. When the team went to Pratt Pavilion to shoot free throws, Baugh rotated from basket to basket with her teammates.

The Lady Vols began the practice session at the arena and worked on defensive conditioning and positioning drills. After two hours of scouting, defensive court work and shooting drills, they headed to Pratt Pavilion to make use of its 12 baskets.

"Y'all look at the stats on our free throws and the people who are getting fouled the most are shooting less free throws in practice than anybody," Summitt said. "We've got this pavilion right here. Our players have to invest in their game and get in and get shots in – free throws as well as game shots."

Summitt said time devoted to free throws will be built into the practice schedule because the players aren't getting in the gym enough on their own.

"I'm disappointed in this group, very disappointed," Summitt said. "And the ones shooting the lowest percentage on our team are the ones that haven't been in here getting in a lot of extra shots. So we're going to make it mandatory. We're going to have to get the coaches in here; we're going to have to get in more shots.

"And we've got to be a better rebounding team," she added.

Tennessee is averaging a healthy 46.7 rebounds per game and has a +8.2 margin over opponents on the boards but with the Lady Vols' size across the frontline the numbers on the glass could be better. The players have not boxed out well in their zone defense, and Rutgers kept a couple of possessions alive because a long rebound bounced in front of someone and wasn't secured. Tennessee's philosophy is that a rebound ball should never hit the floor.

Summitt's other concern as SEC play beckons is the number of turnovers – 217 as a team in 13 games (16.7 per game) – especially to open a game, such as last Saturday against Rutgers.

"Right now we've got to get better in 40 minutes," Summitt said. "Our first halves have not been that strong if you think about it. We have been stronger in the second half. I am thinking that we can get so much better as a 40-minute team. That's the thing that we're talking about now.

"Just like at Rutgers – and that may be the biggest exaggeration – we were so bad in that game, (but) the last two games, that's stuck in my head. We start out at Texas fouling. We tied them at halftime and then we hit the wall. My whole thing is when are we going to play a 40-minute game? Consistently play 40 minutes of good quality basketball?"

With SEC play about to tip off, the second half of the season would be a starting point.

"I think it's just coming ready to play," sophomore guard Angie Bjorklund said. "One thing is having more composure. We come out way overanxious a lot of times. I think that's what happened at Rutgers.

"I also got on myself, too, because I'm one of the only veterans out there and I think Coach has really put that on me to get them going and calm them down at the same time. Not play overanxious. Not rush things. Because once we start getting in the groove and getting in our game then things can start going our way."

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