Lady Vols hold scrimmages

The Lady Vols held scrimmages Saturday morning with officials to simulate game conditions, and several players have separated themselves from the pack, particularly Angie Bjorklund, Kelley Cain and Shekinna Stricklen. Briana Bass pushed tempo to the coach's expectations, and Vicki Baugh continued her comeback with some limited minutes that were tantalizing in how good she can be when healthy.

The team used the slightly more than two-hour practice session primarily in five-minute scrimmage segments with various combinations on the court. The first group – a potential starting lineup in Briana Bass, Angie Bjorklund, Shekinna Stricklen, Glory Johnson and Kelley Cain – set the tone by getting a double-digit lead on the practice squad behind the dead-eye shooting of Bjorklund and post presence of Cain.

That group went for five minutes without a break – Pat Summitt said the point now is to determine who will fight through fatigue without a drop in effort – and left the coaches feeling significantly better about where the team stands in preseason this fall versus a year ago.

"I think when you put a veteran group on the court – and particularly that group has invested a lot in the off-season – I think, as a coaching staff, it makes you feel like they have made a commitment, and they get it," Summitt said. "Overall a lot of good things."

That lineup also means the coaches don't have to start a freshman – unlike last season – unless they want to. That is a considerable source of comfort for the coaches.

"Absolutely, no doubt," Summitt said.

Interspersed between the segments were coaching instructions, refresher drills and free throw shooting.

Despite the 10 a.m. start on a Saturday morning, Bjorklund was ready from the opening tip. She also was active even when not on the court and shouted instructions and encouragement from the sideline as she walked end to end like the coaches did.

Bjorklund benefited from some well-placed screens – Cain set one on an in-bounds play that basically created a one-woman wall on Bjorklund's defender – and she repeatedly drained shots from behind the arc and midrange. After establishing that part of her game, she took her defender off the dribble and got to the rim.

"Angie deserves to be able to play this way because she has worked on her game so much," Summitt said. "That is what it is all about. If players want to be go-to players they get in the gym and they prove that they can do whatever they need to do. Right now she wants the ball."

A pleasant sight for the coaches was limited but very effective minutes for Vicki Baugh. The junior forward remains one of the most athletic players on the floor, even as she comes back from two ACL surgeries in one year on her left knee. Baugh had a smile on her face after practice ended.

"The thing that I'm pleased with is she is playing on balance, being able to sprint and get up and down," Summitt said. "Still, around the basket she is just so good."

Baugh got position on the low block, cleaned up missed shots and left her defender flat-footed with a fake and hesitation move to the basket from just outside the paint.

That brought a raucous cheer from her teammates on the sideline, as much for the move and finish, as the fact that Baugh was capable of making it.

"She has still got a good feel for the game," Summitt said.

The coaches also saw plenty for the team to work on – they will watch film before Sunday's practice – but they were mostly pleased with the effort. They also used an assortment of combinations to see how players reacted to each other.

"We're going to continue every day to look at (combos)," Summitt said. "We have obviously some options as to who starts. Bree can start at the point, or we can go big and start Kinna there. I think it just depends. A lot may be the matchups that we face and if we're facing a team with size and presence we'll go big. If not we've got flexibility and other options that we can go with. Bree pushes tempo and that gets Kinna and Angie on the wings."

Bjorklund and Stricklen, who also shot well, have a calming effect on the perimeter game. They also allow Cain to find some space inside, and when the double team came she passed back out to the guards, who, more often than not, drained the shot.

Cain is still getting into basketball condition, but she ran the floor fairly well and picked up where she left off last season in terms of finishing at the rim. Summitt praised Cain specifically for her composure.

Summitt said the three players who have most separated themselves from the pack are Cain, Bjorklund and Stricklen.

"Definitely," Summitt said.

Glory Johnson had some effective minutes – she got to the rim and cleaned up some other players' missed shots – but the coaches still want her to play more consistently on offense. Her defense was solid inside and out.

"Glory did some good things," Summitt said. "Glory has got to be a more efficient scorer for us. She'll get in there and she rushes a little bit too much."

The plan with Johnson is to schedule more one-on-one sessions with the post coaches.

"I told Dean (Lockwood), she has got to be a priority for us," Summitt said.

The scrimmages simulate a game as much as possible with officials, the clock and scoreboard. The practice guys also are trying a little bit harder as competitive instincts take over to win the segments. For the freshmen, Taber Spani, Kamiko Williams and Faith Dupree, it's their first true test.

"I thought OK," Summitt said, when asked how the first-year players performed. "With Taber she has got to relax. I think she's the type of player, in her mind as I watch her, she wants to be a perfectionist, she wants to make every shot, she wants to do everything the right way. I like that, but as I told her today, ‘You just need to relax.'

"Kamiko gives in to fatigue quite a bit. Faith did today. She typically hasn't done that."

Summitt did note that the pace was considerably quickened and was initially longer than a game situation.

"We went up and down a lot. We'll only be playing four-minute segments in a game," said Summitt, as, so far, 22 of Tennessee's 29 regular season games are televised by a national or regional network – including all conference games – so that will also mean TV timeouts. "That works to our advantage."

Summitt will watch the film to fully evaluate the scrimmages, but a few things stood out live as needing immediate improvement.

"Late in transition on pickups," Summitt said. "We would have maybe two or three people picking up and then not everyone talking. There has got to be a sense of urgency in identifying the ball and matching up and not allowing a team to hit us down the middle or get the long passes."

Still, she seemed much more at ease after this set of scrimmages than a year ago and plans to hold a few more Sunday – sans officials until next week.

"I thought it was really good for them," Summitt said. "We'll get up and down."

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