Tennessee back to work after win

The Lady Vols emerged from their locker room in groups Friday with smiles on their faces and some pep in their step. A conference win certainly had a carryover effect to practice, which even included a visit from a legendary football coach – and the grandfather of a Tennessee signee.

Tennessee (13-3, 2-1) got back on track Thursday against Mississippi State with a 63-56 win in Starkville. After a desultory 74-58 loss to Vanderbilt last Sunday the Lady Vols needed a win to restore their confidence.

"It was a big booster because everybody was kind of down," freshman guard Briana Bass said. "Everybody said, ‘You don't lose to Vandy.' We all know that now."

Bass earned praise from Pat Summitt for her defensive play Thursday, an area of her game in which shortcomings had been cutting into her court time.

"Bree was really good," Summitt said. "I think after she watched the tape from the Vanderbilt game I think that got her attention. We watched it on the bus coming home (Sunday). We watched, the coaches were screaming and the players were taking notes."

Summitt also singled out the post play of freshman forward Alyssia Brewer and redshirt senior Alex Fuller.

"Lyssi Brewer was really, really good," Summitt said. "I thought she settled us down, her and Alex. I thought that was our best post game consistently throughout the game. So we're getting better there. Rather than just let them play three out, two in, we called some quick hits and tried to go to the people that we thought would really help us in the paint and score and again that was Lyssi and Alex. They were the most consistent.

"We've got to make better shot attempts from the outside. I think we're rushing a little bit at times, and we've just got to knock down open shots. That's always important."

Fuller is knocking down shots from the interior since SEC play started. She is 61.9 percent (13-21) from the field for an average of 9.3 points per game – second on the team – over three games. She leads the team with 7.3 rebounds per game with 12 boards on the offensive end and 10 on defense.

Freshman forward Shekinna Stricklen leads the team at 13.0 points per game in league play.

"I think Shekinna is a special guard and can play multiple positions," Summitt said. "When she wasn't shooting the ball particularly well (Thursday), we said, ‘OK, let's get some paint points,' so we posted her up and she had a really nice play in there. It gave her a little more confidence overall. She really got down and defended and made some good things happen."

Summitt responded "absolutely," when asked if Stricklen was emerging as a go-to player, but she added the notion works in tandem with sophomore Angie Bjorklund.

"I think Shekinna can take a lot of pressure off of Angie," Summitt said. "Angie is doing a great job of working without the ball, coming off screens, making shots, putting the ball on the floor better this year and creating, giving herself some time and space to score. But it helps if you have other players on the team because they can't just key on Angie Bjorklund if Shekinna Stricklen is on."

Bjorklund is third in scoring at 8.7 ppg, under her 12.5 ppg for all games, but she also has 10 assists to just six turnovers plus five steals and a 4.3 rpg average in league play.

"I thought Angie was terrific," Summitt said. "I thought we played pretty well off the bench. I thought Sydney Smallbone came in and gave us some good minutes overall."

Smallbone hit two three-pointers in the first half when Tennessee needed some offense. Brewer was solid down the stretch and hit back-to-back baskets to tie the game late in the second half.

"I thought Lyssi Brewer really stepped up and played big for us, and we needed that," Summitt said. "With Kelley going out and Vicki not playing we had to have that or we don't win. They (Brewer and Fuller) played on both sides of the ball. I thought they played really solid defense, as well as really grinding out some paint points and making a lot of good plays late."

With Tennessee trailing by three, 50-47, with 7:14 left in the game, Stricklen dribbled the ball off her foot and lost it out of bounds. Normally, Summitt would let a team play through the mistake with that much time left, but she noticed the body language of her team and called a timeout.

"I did," Summitt said. "I felt like we really needed to have our composure and I told them, ‘We're going to win this game. We've got to figure out how we're going to do this thing together. As poorly as we shot the ball look where we are.' "

Tennessee shot 33.9 percent overall but an eye-popping 53.8 percent behind the arc, thanks to Smallbone (2-4); Bjorklund (3-5); Bass (1-2); and Stricklen (1-2), who was 1-9 from less than 20 feet.

"I like the fact that we did find a way to win," Summitt said.

Redshirt freshman center Kelley Cain reinjured her right knee shortly before halftime and was unable to return. Although she was on crutches Friday there is no structural damage and she remains day to day. Her surgically realigned kneecap has suffered inflammation since a mishap in practice in early December.

"I think she fell right on it," Summitt said. "I thought there was traffic in there (in the paint) and she got tangled up and fell."

Cain was unable to return to the game and did not practice Friday, but the knee remains intact.

"We dodged a big bullet," Summitt said. "I asked Jenny (Moshak) right away, ‘How is she?' And she said, ‘She's going to be OK.' She's sore. The good thing is we've got time to rehab her and make a decision about whether or not she's ready to play on Sunday. If she's not ready she won't play. It could have been a lot worse, and we're just thankful that she can rehab and get back on the floor with us."

Tennessee did gain a post player Friday. Sophomore forward Vicki Baugh practiced for the first time since spraining a left knee ligament on Jan. 1. Her status remains day to day with her availability for Sunday's game against South Carolina not yet known.

"Jenny said she's really coming along great," Summitt said. "Again, don't want to rush anything. She seems a lot more comfortable."

Baugh is wearing a custom-fit knee brace and she seemed to be moving well in it Friday. Some players don't want to wear braces because they fear it will slow them down.

"That's probably a good thing because she needs to slow down; she and Glory (Johnson) both need to slow down," Summitt said.

During practice an esteemed visitor arrived with co-softball head coaches, Ralph and Karen Weekly. Summitt stopped practice so that her players could meet the visitor and his companions. He spoke to the team and led them in a rousing cheer.

"That was Taber Spani's grandparents," Summitt said.

Spani, a guard/forward signee from the class of 2009 from Lee's Summit, Mo., has a grandfather, Frosty Westering, who was a four-time national champion winner in football at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. – once as NCAA Division III in 1999 and three times as NAIA Division II in 1980, 1987 and 1993. His team made the playoffs 11 additional times. He never had a losing season at PLU.

"He's a legendary coach and the other man that was with him does motivational speeches," Summitt said. "They are very spiritual."

The pair, accompanied by their spouses, had been in Nashville for the American Football Coaches Association convention. Ralph Weekly had been an assistant for Westering from 1987 to 1993 in the fall while coaching softball in the spring, and Westering made a side trip to Knoxville to see the Weeklys and meet Summitt, her staff and the team.

Westering went to Pacific Lutheran in 1972 and compiled a staggering 261-70-5 record over 32 seasons before retiring. He had spent the previous eight years at Parsons College in Iowa and Lea College in Minnesota and his career record over 40 years was 305-96-7. Only 10 coaches have won 300 or more games in college, and other names on the list include Bear Bryant, Pop Warner, Joe Paterno, Amos Alonzo Stagg and Eddie Robinson.

The team was in high spirits throughout the session – it is rare for Summitt to stop practice once underway – and the players and coaches laughed and smiled during the exchange with Westering.

After practice Bass expressed relief at getting the win on the road.

"It was very important," Bass said. "Our road games haven't really been as good as our home games, and that's something that we struggle with. We're just going to have to conquer somehow, hunker down and work as a team together on the road. We've got to figure it out."

Summitt also was relieved by the win, but she also knows South Carolina is in town Sunday (3 p.m. Eastern, TV: FSN-South) and then the Lady Vols return to the road against Arkansas and Auburn.

"I thought it was big, but at the same time you tell them you're proud of them and now we've got to get ready for South Carolina," Summitt said.

Summitt has changed her approach of late by going over the scouting report in practice two days before the game. The report will be underscored again on Saturday.

"That's why we're in here today," Summitt said after practice Friday. "Give them more information."

Summitt also knows she has to move ahead. The loss to Vandy would have been reminder fodder for a veteran team. A young team just needs to forget about it.

"I think one thing that I've really tried to commit to is, OK, you do what you want to do to remind them that we have to do things in a different way," Summitt said. "But I haven't gone back to that game. I haven't gone back and said, ‘Well, if we'd have done this in the Vanderbilt game … .' That's history. That's my approach.

"If it was a veteran team I would have been throwing it in their face every day probably, ‘OK, so you won, but I'm not impressed. I'm still mad about the Vanderbilt game.' But with a young team I just feel like I've got to keep it in perspective and not dwell on that. We have to focus so much on the next opponent."


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