Lady Vols get defensive

An intense and lengthy practice focused on defense was to be expected Monday after a loss to Vanderbilt in which Tennessee surrendered points without much resistance.

The players' commitments were extended a little longer when they stayed afterwards to launder their practice clothes.

"They're using the washer and dryer in the locker room," Pat Summitt said.

It's a chore usually handled by the team managers – and they had to make sure the players could operate the industrial-sized machinery – but it's a task for the team for a time period "to be determined," Summitt said.

Three years ago after Tennessee lost back-to-back games in January 2006 to Duke and Kentucky – the first time in 10 seasons – Summitt had the players turn their practice jerseys inside-out so that "Tennessee Lady Vols" didn't show on their chest.

Being a Lady Vol basketball player means representing the school in a particular fashion, especially in terms of effort on the court, and inside-out clothes or laundry duty serve as a reminder of their obligation to fulfill their end of the bargain.

The scoreboard in Thompson-Boling Arena also had the score displayed Monday with Vandy's name listed as the visiting team.

"Holly did it," Summitt said, referring to Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick, a Knoxville native and former Lady Vol point guard. "Do you know how much Holly hates to lose to Vanderbilt?"

Warlick also made sure the score was displayed in several places in the Lady Vol locker room.

"Holly took this personally," Summitt said. "She was not happy."

Summitt was smiling when she talked about Warlick's reaction, but the head coach also was perturbed with her team. She did, however, salute the effort of the Commodores in their 74-58 win in Nashville.

"We never had a chance," Summitt said. "They were clearly more inspired and more aggressive, and I thought we got on our heels so early. I give them all the credit."

Vandy Coach Melanie Balcomb used some clever ideas to get her team ready for the game, including having the male practice players wear Tennessee jerseys and playing "Rocky Top" during practice. A Tennessee doormat also was placed on the floor.

"A Tennessee doormat, so we could walk on it," senior guard Jennifer Risper said after the game.

The remark was published in AP wire and newspaper accounts of the game, and it didn't take long to reach Summitt and the coaches. The players heard about it later Monday.

When Lady Vol freshman Glory Johnson was asked if she knew about the doormat, she said, "No, what happened?"

When told, she said, "Oh, did they? Wow."

Vandy will come to Knoxville on March 1 in the final regular season game.

"Right," Johnson said, still smiling.

Does it stick in your memory?

"It will," she said. "Kind of disrespectful but maybe that's just something they do. At least they had to pay for it."

Johnson meant pay for the cost of the mat, but it could very well mean paying for the remarks in a rematch.

Summitt had no comment, except to smile and say, "We're going to save that for the second coming of Vanderbilt."

The news raised the eyebrows of freshman guard Shekinna Stricklen, but she also smiled. Will it stay in her memory?

"Oh, yeah, it will," Stricklen said. "We still have a chance to play them, once at least, and maybe the SEC Tournament. We honestly didn't know that."

Summitt wasn't sure how her young squad would respond this week to the loss, much less a rematch with Vanderbilt later. After Sunday's game she noted her team, as a whole, didn't compete.

"First of all it was very disturbing," Summitt said, but she did rattle off the names of the players she thought competed, and it was the majority of the team. "I don't think we're talking about the whole team. Some of it's youth and some of it's personality."

Johnson was one of those that Summitt singled out for being competitive, and it bothered the freshman to see teammates not play defense.

"They just have to play every game, every practice," Johnson said. "They just have to go all out because you never know when you're not going to be able to play. Take Vicki for instance or Cait. When I got hit in the nose last game and I was trying to stop the bleeding I was trying to hurry up so I could get back in the game but at the same time I was in so much pain that I sat the rest of the game out. I wanted to be in the game. I'm one of those people that want to be in the game no matter how bad we're losing or winning because I love the game. I love to play."

Johnson took a shoulder to the nose and it took Jenny Moshak, the chief of sports medicine, quite a while to stop the bleeding. At that point there were only a few minutes remaining with a double-digit deficit, and the decision was made to hold Johnson out. She returned to practice Monday.

It is that mindset that Summitt wants to infuse in all the freshmen.

"Lyssi does not have a Glory Johnson personality," Summitt said of Alyssia Brewer. "She doesn't like to get in there and physically battle. She's more of a finesse player, and we've talked about that. It's going to be so important if she's really going to help this team she's got to bring a physical presence in the paint. Because she can score; she's very skilled."

Summitt also challenged freshman Amber Gray to develop better practice habits.

"I'm concerned that almost daily Amber is off the court for some period of time, and we can't have that," Summitt said. "It's not good for our team chemistry. They get frustrated because they're having to go more reps when someone is off the court. And I just think Amber is having to learn to fight through fatigue and giving in."

That happened Monday with Cait McMahan done for the season and sophomore forward Vicki Baugh still recovering from a knee sprain. After Gray left practice during the defensive drills, the Lady Vols were left with just nine players, so somebody had to double up on repetitions when they rotated in since they couldn't swap five for five. After a conversation with Summitt, Gray returned to the floor and finished practice.

McMahan will be a student assistant coach for the rest of the season and then evaluate whether or not she wants to remain in a sideline role. Her status as a player has been jeopardized by a balky right knee that has had four surgeries, including two major ones. McMahan rarely practiced in the past month because of chronic pain.

"The question goes back to the knee and is that going to change?" Summitt said. "At this point in time it does not look favorable."

Baugh, who is coming back from ACL surgery last May, sprained a different knee ligament in practice on Jan. 1 and has missed the last three games. Her availability for this week's games is not known yet, but she did not practice Monday. A custom-fit brace arrived Monday, and Baugh went through some rehab exercises, including jumping, to get used to it.

"I just don't want to rush it," Summitt said. "Obviously we miss her so much. She changes the way we defend. She changes how we get up and down. She is one of our most competitive players. You look at Vicki and you look at Cait, and they are probably two of the most competitive people on our team, and I don't have either one of them."

Both players could have made a difference in the Vanderbilt game because of their composure and desire to compete. Their presence might not have delivered a win – Vandy simply outplayed Tennessee on Sunday – but Baugh erases a lot of defensive mistakes when players drive into the paint, which the Commodores did at will.

Summitt watched the game film four times.

"I watched it on the way home," Summitt said. "I watched it twice last night. I watched it again today. And you know what? It didn't change. The outcome is still the same."

The remark about her team not competing was a harsh, but honest, one, and the players said it was deserved.

"It should make us feel bad but we honestly have to agree with what she said," Stricklen said. "We didn't really show up for that game and I give a lot of credit to Vandy because they came out with great intensity, and it really seemed like they wanted it more so you really can't blame what she said."

Stricklen started the game at point guard and struggled. She moved into the slot because freshman Briana Bass was pulled from the start because of a remark made during a film session that Summitt took exception to, but the matter was resolved now.

"I think she responded very well," Summitt said of Bass.

Stricklen, who was told Saturday that she would start at point, has played at the top in several games, and the Lady Vols simplified the responsibilities Sunday, but Summitt saw a player she thought was rattled.

"With the exception of yesterday she's been very good," Summitt said. "Her parents came into town (from Arkansas). I'm sure that she wanted to have a great game and (Vandy) got right up in her and defended her early. She just wasn't her normal self.

"I think she just put too much pressure on herself before that game and in that environment. We just talked about it. She's very open and she has a high basketball IQ. She was disappointed."

Bass should move back into the starting lineup, unless Summitt opts to use a big lineup but that would be a strategic decision, not a punitive one.

"At this point we could go big," Summitt said. "I really like what Kelley Cain brought to the post game. I think we've got to get her more minutes."

Cain could even move into the starting lineup, but that depends on how well her knee handles the pounding with extended minutes. She was a bright spot, along with Alex Fuller, on Sunday because of their post defense and offense.

The team will get a day off Tuesday – Monday was a full day with practice, laundry and then a late-evening session at Pratt Pavilion for sprints and weight training – and then return to the court Wednesday to get ready for a road game at Mississippi State on Thursday.

What a difference a week made for the Lady Vols. Last Monday the media wanted to talk about the comeback over Rutgers. This Monday the questions were about what went wrong at Vandy.

"I think we have to take every game one at a time," Stricklen said. "We did pull off a big win against Rutgers, and we did lose to Vandy. We've really just got to stay focused and try to maintain (progress) and hopefully we can win out the rest of the season."

Does Stricklen think such a young team can develop the attitude of a competitor?

"I think this team really can," Stricklen said. "I think everyone here wants to be here. We tend to take possessions off and that's what we've got to learn – not to take possessions off. Just go hard every possession.

"We're young, but we have learned some things, and they have taught us. We've just got to do what they have taught us."


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