Briana Bass growing into role

Briana Bass is just a sophomore, but she has already absorbed a vital Lady Vol lesson: Bring it at Tennessee, whether starting or coming off the bench. The point guard said in preseason that she would play hard no matter when she entered a game, and she proved that in the first exhibition. For the second one she is expected to start.

After her freshman season ended, the coaches asked Briana Bass to come back ready to lead the team. She had to be more vocal and push tempo. She had to play better position defense, and she had to box out.

"It was a challenge (issued to) her to set the tone on how she was this year versus last year," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "I think she's more vocal. She attacked the basket a little bit more aggressively. She took charge more, and that's what we've been asking her to do.

"I think it was a great game for Bree. It was a good start for Bree, and it's something she needs to build on. I was pleased with how she played and what all she did."

Tennessee was back at practice Friday afternoon to work on its half-court offense and defense. The Lady Vols knew they could turn Thursday's exhibition game into a track meet. They want to be ready next for a team that could force an opponent to execute in the half court. The players also went against the male practice team in full-court scrimmages and shot a lot of free throws.

Tennessee also worked extensively on its two-three matchup zone.

"Today we wanted to put in a matchup and give us a changeup there," Pat Summitt said. "I want to be able to play the matchup, and also I think we're going to see a lot of zone. I would be surprised if we didn't.

"Work on our zone and work against the zone. That was our main thing that we wanted to do and then run some different half-court sets. It could open things up (inside) because we've got people who can stretch the defense."

Bass saw room for improvement on team defense, among other things.

"Communication, and matching up sooner and getting our posts involved a little bit more," Bass said. "Kelley Cain did awesome, and I think we should get her the ball a little bit more and that will open up more outside for the guards."

Summitt also wants to see better spacing on defense.

"We were all ball magnets," she said. "We need to space out."

By plan, Bass is expected to start this Monday's exhibition game against Delta State, and Shekinna Stricklen, who started at point Thursday in the 124-34 win over Carson-Newman, will shift to the wing.

Pat Summitt and the coaching staff anticipate that they will continue to use both options at point guard, and Bass showed Thursday – she was 2-2 from the field with eight assists – that she belonged in the rotation.

Last year the 5'2 Bass sometimes got too deep with the ball and had to force a shot against taller players. On Thursday, she found the seams in the paint, but she also was much more interested in passing the ball than shooting it.

"Yes," Bass said after Friday's practice. "I have that true point guard mentality, getting others involved first and then I'll take mine when the opportunity presents itself."

Bass got a big cheer from the crowd when she drove to the rim, faked the pass and then finished the layup. On another drive, Bass, after the defense committed to her, opted to dish off to Kelley Cain for the uncontested layup. Three of Bass' eight assists were to freshman forward Taber Spani – two in the first half on fast break attacks and one in the second half on a steal and a pass to Spani for a three-pointer.

The biggest plus with Bass is her ability, and willingness, to push tempo. It's a style of play she prefers, even though she has had two ACL surgeries – one on each knee – in high school.

"Yes, I love to run," Bass said.

The dynamo's motor was revved high Thursday, and Bass attributed that to knees that are not as sore as a year ago and adrenaline.

"My knees are better than they were last year," Bass said. "They still give me problems, but I feel they are way better than last year, and that might be a factor. I think the adrenaline was just going."

Bass looked at times as if she were on a pogo stick as she waited for the ball to be in-bounded to her.

"I'm ready to go," Bass said. "I want to get the other team off guard if they're kind of jogging back, not getting set up. I feel like if we get the ball and go one of my teammates is going to be open."

Bass has some targets to find for her assists – the 6'6 Cain inside and an assortment of shooters on the perimeter.

"It makes a big difference to trust in my teammates and know that they're going to do something right for the team," Bass said.

Warlick wants Bass to get the ball up court a little faster, and the coach pointed out Friday that Bass needs to get the in-bounds pass a little farther away.

"She gets the ball too deep on the court," Warlick said. "She needs to get the ball not so close to the end-line, so we can push it a little quicker."

It says a lot about Bass' development that an area of improvement cited after her first game this season is a tweak in where she receives the ball.

"I think she has an understanding of what we're doing on the offensive end a little bit more and what we want from her, so that eliminates a lot of confusion for her," Warlick said. "She and I have watched a lot of tape, and she's been very receptive. I think that has helped, too. I think watching herself perform and do things right, and correct things has been very helpful."

Warlick, a former Lady Vol point guard, has spent considerable one-on-one time with Bass on the court in preseason to help her make the transition from freshman to team leader in her second year. Stricklen also has reached the point where she's at ease at the point.

"I think it's all about comfort," Warlick said. "Our point position is very complicated. You're running the team, you're trying to get us set on defense, you're trying to get us set on offense, and if you're not used to that it's difficult, and Kinna wasn't ready for that (last year).

"I think Kinna has flourished at the two spot in preseason in practice, so I think it's helped her get more comfortable at the one."

With Bass at point on Monday, that will free Stricklen to go to the boards more often. She is an instinctive rebounder on both ends – much like former Lady Vol Alexis Hornbuckle – so she can hit stick-backs or start the break by getting the outlet pass to Bass.

Summitt said she would likely start Cain, Glory Johnson and Angie Bjorklund with Bass and Stricklen.

Bass came off the bench against Carson-Newman, and she said her approach to the game would not change as a starter.

"No, just go out there and play hard, just like I did (Thursday)," Bass said. "When the coaches see that you are giving it all you have, you will stay out there."


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