Tough practice, tough team

After two significant scoring droughts in each half in Monday's loss to Duke, Tuesday's practice opened with offense. It ended with defense, free throws and then a wicked series of wind sprints – only seven players were available at that point – but the session left the coach praising her team's toughness.

"Actually pretty pleased with their toughness today," Pat Summitt said.

As the players headed to the weight room one wondered aloud if practice had lasted four hours. Not quite, but it did creep past the three-hour range after starting in Thompson-Boling Arena and then finishing in Pratt Pavilion because the men were scheduled to have the arena floor and Summitt was by no means done with the day's drills. However, the first hour was held in the locker room while the team watched film so it was not all court time.

"She's going to yell at us and she's going to kill us today in practice, but we just have to take it and learn from it," freshman Briana Bass said Tuesday.

The fact Bass said it with a smile before practice even started indicates resilience not necessarily common among freshmen.

"She's got a lot of grit," Summitt said.

The 5'2 Bass also has a skill set that the Lady Vols need on the floor right now. She pushes tempo and takes care of the basketball. She hits her free throws – she was 6-6 in the loss to Duke and 81-88 in practice the next day. It should be noted that free throws were the last segment of practice so the players shot them for 10 minutes when they were fatigued.

Bass also participated in the series of wind sprints despite two sore knees, including a bump on the right one that is the long-term residual effect of ACL surgery.

"It's post-surgical," said Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine. "When you have bilateral ACLs you're not the same anymore. It pops up and then it goes away."

Bass' left knee underwent ACL surgery last March and will still experience soreness that Moshak said is to be expected and can be treated.

"That's not even a year out yet," Moshak said. "She's built close to the ground, and she moves very well. She was just built with bad ACLs that reconstructing will be to her benefit. She's like a little soccer player. They tear theirs and they're OK. It's the long lever system you've got to worry about."

Vicki Baugh, a 6'4 sophomore forward, is of the long-lever build. She tore the ACL in her left knee for a second time in less than a year and has been rehabbing to get ready for surgery. The date has been set for Feb. 24, and Baugh has been in good spirits on the sideline – interacting with and encouraging her teammates.

Practice began with just eight players available to participate because Alex Fuller and Kelley Cain were both excused because of illness. Given that both also have sore knees – Fuller has had two left knee operations and Cain had her right kneecap completely realigned – missing practice could have been a godsend for the post players.

"Alex had a scare last night (when she fell against Duke), but everything checked out fine," Moshak said. "Kelley is more of the same."

Freshman forward Alyssia Brewer went down near the end of practice in the "Persistence Drill" – a defensive one in which players must make stops to get off the court – and missed the final segment and sprint work.

"I think she just jammed her knee," Moshak said. "Ligament-wise, cartilage-wise everything tests fine. She is sore and doesn't want to cut and run on it, but I think we (can) calm everything down."

All three players are expected to be available for Thursday's game, according to Moshak.

The team will take off Wednesday from the court and travel to Lexington by bus for Thursday's matchup with Kentucky (7 p.m. Eastern, FSN-South). The Lady Vols defeated the Wildcats in Knoxville, 69-64, and needed to come from behind in the second half to secure the win.

"We were fortunate to win that game and they led a big part of the way and especially down the stretch," Summitt said. "I know they probably got on the bus that night and said, ‘Wait until they come to Lexington. We'll be ready.'

"They're going to be ready and if we're not ready we're not going to beat them. We've got to make sure that we are committed as a team and that the team takes ownership of the scouting report defense and plays the kind of defense we have to play. And they have to take care of the ball and rebound."

Summitt used Tuesday's session to work on every aspect of her team's play – from the setting of screens on offense to getting stops on defense to boxing out to shooting free throws.

"My philosophy today was just to get them to understand how hard you have to compete on every possession," Summitt said. "When we're in practice coaches are in control. When we play the game players are in control. And what has happened with this group since we have a lot of people who aren't competitive all the time, they don't compete collectively together. It's hard to get five people to do that. I thought we played in a rush (against Duke) and today tried to do a better job of setting and using screens. I thought we got a little bit better at that.

"Just because of our lack of commitment to setting and using screens I wanted to go back and address that right away. But I wanted to finish out with our defense. The reason we ran was because we didn't box out."

Duke out-rebounded Tennessee 49-36 in Monday's game. Tennessee also left points at the free throw line with a 14-25 overall performance at the stripe.

"I have no answer for that," Summitt said. "We shoot them all the time. We make them in practice. And then come game time I don't know if they're feeling the pressure … . We've lost a number of ball games because of our free throw shooting. It's been a thorn in our side. There's no doubt."

The guards struggled to find any offensive flow – Shekinna Stricklen and Angie Bjorklund combined to go 4-23.

"I think Angie is the type of player we need her to step up and play a significant role every game," Summitt said. "The ball got stuck in her hands. We need the ball moving. But she just kept dribbling and dribbling and dribbling. I've not seen her do that. She didn't do that a year ago. Of course she had better post players a year ago."

Bjorklund also is being smothered on defense. She was Duke's primary target, and the Blue Devils never left her unattended.

"She's a marked woman," Summitt said. "She has to understand everybody in the country that we play when it's game time she is a target."

With the shooting guards' needing some space to operate, Bass will return to the starting lineup in all likelihood against Kentucky. Stricklen plays better off the ball and will command more attention from the defense on the wing.

"Bree was the best point guard on the floor so my thinking is probably, yes, start her at Kentucky," Summitt said. "I don't think they will try to exploit her (defensively) anymore than Duke tried to. I thought she did a great job."

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