Lady Vols prepare for Duke

The Lady Vols had a practice session that pleased even their demanding coach Friday – they will get the day off Saturday – as they worked full court and on both sides of the ball. Shekinna Stricklen, who injured her right knee in Thursday's game, was sidelined, but Pat Summitt said she was "optimistic" that the freshman guard would play Monday against Duke.

The team added a few offensive wrinkles and conducted its "Persistence Drill," a staple for the Lady Vols and credited for the Final Four win over North Carolina in 2007.

"I thought today's practice was good in a lot of ways," Pat Summitt said after Friday's 2.5-hour session. "We got to go over a lot of what we're going to have to defend against Duke, and we got up and down and got in some competitive drills.

"Our ‘Persistence Drill' is obviously one of our favorites. Dean is passionate about it. I thought Holly presented a lot of the sets that we're going to have to defend. We wanted to get them focused right away on that game because we know it's going to be a big challenge for us."

Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick has the scout for the Duke game – and the players will participate again – and went over parts of that report Friday.

Senior forward Alex Fuller said it's the responsibility of the players to watch film on their own but they also will do it as a team, in much the same fashion as they did before the game against Georgia.

"I know for sure that we're going to do it as a team with Duke," Fuller said.

Dean Lockwood is the official clock keeper for the "Persistence Drill," one the coaches use to sort out who is ready to compete when the other team has the ball.

"It's a very, very grueling drill, but it's all about defense and physical and mental toughness, and you've got to complete the whole series," Lockwood said.

The male practice players always have the ball. The Lady Vols are on defense and rotate in groups of five. Some days players have to double up on rotations – such as Friday when Shekinna Stricklen missed practice because of the subluxed right kneecap she sustained in Thursday's 80-61 win over Alabama and only nine players were available.

"Thirty seconds on the clock," Lockwood said. "Two teams out there. It's always the scout team on offense. The defense's job, the Lady Vols' job, they have to get that clock to read 0.00.

The guys have 30 seconds with the ball and the Lady Vols want the time to tick down without three things happening – getting scored on, committing a foul or allowing an offensive rebound. If either of those three happens, the clock resets to 30 seconds.

"So you are literally in this defensive pit and the only way you can get out is clean stops," Lockwood said. "You will find out very quick who your competitors and battlers are because it tests your will."

A stop can include a defensive rebound, a steal or a turnover such as taking a charge. With each stop, the clock stops at that point and then starts ticking again on the next possession. The same five stay on the floor until the clock reads zero. The better the defense, the quicker zero arrives. It can take multiple possessions and resets to get to that point.

"We get it down to 19 seconds. We get a stop," Lockwood said. "Then we get it down to 10 seconds. We get a stop. Then the next possession they get an offensive rebound. Reset. That happens twice. (Somebody) is ready to break. That is when you get to find out who your warriors are."

During the 2007 comeback win over North Carolina, the players huddled with the coaches while down by 12 points late in the second half. Candace Parker summoned that drill when Summitt asked how many stops the team could get. Tennessee wiped out the deficit and took the lead to earn the right to play in the national title game.

"That is what Candace referred to is that drill," Lockwood said. "You've got to make stop after stop after stop and there can be no questions asked. You've got to get stops and you've got to make stops."

Lockwood will be stingy with the turnovers sometimes, depending on if he felt it was forced – five seconds in favor of the Lady Vols – or just a sloppy play by the guys, which won't take any additional time off the clock.

On Friday one group got it down to two seconds when a male practice player drained a three-pointer from about 35 feet, and the players protested. Lockwood's ruling was swift.

"Sometimes, life ain't fair," he told them and reset the clock to 30 seconds and the drill started anew with the same five players.

"They thought they should have had the one before because anytime you force a turnover, it's minus five seconds, or take a charge, minus five," Lockwood said. "They thought there was one they should have gotten credit for a turnover and I didn't give them credit for and then on the very next play the clock is winding down and the kid hits a bomb. Sometimes life just ain't fair. It's good for them.

"It's like a fighter. How many guys do you know to ever win a belt that don't get punched? You're going to get your nose broken, your ribs broken, your eye swollen shut. Guess what? That's what fighters do and in order to persevere you've got to be able to take punches.

"A good team you're going to get scored on, so you have to show collectively that five people can take a punch and come back. They can get knocked down and come back. And some people in this day and age and our life and society some people don't grow up like that. Life is very padded and very soft and they have lived very protected lives. Well this gives them a real dose of basketball reality real fast. We love it from that standpoint."

Friday's session was frisky and upbeat – the players protested Lockwood's decision but got back to work and got successive stops to finish the drill – and productive enough to earn them a day off.

"We just came off of a game in which we had a lot of players play a lot of minutes and my thought behind that was let's give them a day off and then come back and prepare for our next opponent," Summitt said.

Summitt watched the game film overnight, and the clips pulled out for the team film session were the ones that showed them doing the right things.

"We did some good things," Summitt said. "I think our post game has got to be a little bit better. We are really challenging Lyssi (Brewer) because she can bring so much to our team. I think our post game is better and our guard play has got to get a lot better as well. I didn't think Bree (Briana Bass) put any pressure really (on the ball); she was soft on defense. I watched tape with her today. I am just hopeful that she's going to learn from what she saw because if not, with her size, people are taking advantage of that when she's not bringing the intensity."

Given that Friday was the 13th and the run of injuries suffered by the Lady Vols, Summitt might have considered taking off Friday.

"I never know what day it is," Summitt said. "Today is Friday the 13th? I guess I'll stay home tonight."

Stricklen, who was on crutches, got treatment Friday and also did some sideline rehab exercises. She was injured in the first half against Alabama in a collision on a drive to the basket. Summitt believes Stricklen will be able to play Monday.

"We're planning on her being there," Summitt said. "She looks good, we've got some days and I have a lot of faith in Jenny Moshak and if she's not ready, she's not ready. But I'm optimistic. I just think she'll be back. We dodged a bullet. Bottom line."

Moshak's prognosis remained straightforward: "She's rehabbing well, progressing nicely. We're day to day."

If Stricklen is not able to play or is limited that thrusts freshman forward/guard Alicia Manning into a bigger role since she becomes the backup point guard to Bass.

"Shekinna is such a big part of the team and it's going to take a lot for us to step up," Manning said. "Nobody can replace Shekinna, but we're going to have to do our best to fill that role."

"Bree has to step up. Alicia has to step up," sophomore guard Angie Bjorklund said. "If I need to step up and take point, Syd (Smallbone), all of our guards. Kelley, who knows? She can dribble down the court. We'll make it happen. We're going to have to work around that. Injuries happen, but hopefully she'll be ready."

Bjorklund was referring to Kelley Cain's steal and dribble down the court on Thursday as she led the break. Cain found Sydney Smallbone for a short jumper.

Although the injury list has been long this season – Bjorklund inhabited it earlier with bulging discs in her lower back – the players take a circumspect attitude to the losses.

"That's just part of the game and you have to work around it," Bjorklund said.

One key player back from injury is Cain, a 6'6 center, who had surgery to re-track her kneecap and sustained three blows to the repaired joint this season.

"Kelley has made a big difference for us – her size and her shooting touch," Summitt said. "That's a player that has a presence not only offensively but defensively as well."

Manning, who also hails from Georgia, gave a shout-out to her home-state teammate.

"Kelley has been phenomenal lately," Manning said. "She's really been stepping up her game and I think having that big of a force in the paint is going to be really good for us. As y'all saw in last night's game working the inside-out, she had five assists, that's something we really need."

The win over Alabama was needed, too, as the team was bouncing back from a disappointing loss to Florida that cost Tennessee position in the SEC standings.

"I think it was great for us especially coming off that loss," Bjorklund said. "We'd been working all week to get that back and (Thursday) night's game really helped us out."

In the last four games Tennessee has lost (Oklahoma), won (Georgia), lost (Florida) and won (Alabama). They would like to string together a winning streak starting with Monday's matchup.

"That trend needs to stop, and I think we're all really looking forward to the game," Bjorklund said. "We're getting ready and scouting them as a team. We'll be ready."

TABER SPANI SELECTED: Tennessee signee Taber Spani, a guard for Metro Academy from Lee's Summit, Mo., was one of 20 players selected Friday to play in the WBCA High School All-American Game.

"I wish I had Taber here right now," Pat Summitt said. "You talk about a player that can stretch the defense. She's shoots the deep, deep three ball. She is playing well."

The game, which is played in conjunction with the Final Four is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, April 4, at Washington University's Athletic Complex in St. Louis.

"The 20 members of this year's High School All-America Team are a great representation of the future of the college game and beyond," said WBCA CEO Beth Bass. "I always look forward to watching this group in action and the committee has done a terrific job once again in selecting these talented young women."

Tennessee's two other signees from the class of 2009, Kamiko Williams and Faith Dupree, were among the 20 selected for Honorable Mention recognition to the WBCA team. Williams plays for Northeast High School, and Dupree plays for Webb School of Knoxville and was a teammate of current Lady Vol Glory Johnson.

"Kamiko Williams had 35 (points) last night," Summitt said. "You're talking about another player if she's here she's going to help us. Faith Dupree, she's been putting up some big numbers at Webb. For me I try not to think about that but when you mentioned what's going on, it's good stuff. We've got help on the way. But right now we've got to help ourselves."

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