Lady Vols prepare for Virginia

Tennessee used its practice session Friday to put in some new looks on offense and defense and will travel to Virginia on Saturday to go over its scouting report at the Cavaliers' arena before Sunday afternoon's game in Charlottesville. The Lady Vols also have piped in crowd noise at practice this week in anticipation of loud venues for the next two games.

Of the first four games last season, all but one was in Knoxville. Of the first four games this season, only one was in Knoxville. Tennessee travels to Virginia next and then to Middle Tennessee for a game Wednesday, and Coach Pat Summitt expects noisy crowds at both sites.

Nearly 8,000 tickets have been pre-sold for the Virginia game, and fans are expected to pack the Murphy Center to capacity in Murfreesboro, Tenn., next week.

"It's just important that we have been in an arena when the noise is loud," Summitt said. "I think it helped us when we had Baylor in here."

Tennessee used the noise – and it is very loud – last week before the Baylor game at home and again on Thursday. The team was in Pratt on Friday, and it is not set up for the audio effect, plus the session included the installation of a lot of new looks on both sides of the ball, so the coaches spent quite a bit of time teaching.

Junior guard Angie Bjorklund said the simulated noise has helped the team's overall preparations.

"It actually does," Bjorklund said. "It brings up your adrenaline a little bit. It definitely makes you talk and use signals more, because you can't hear. It's more of a game situation in a sense where Coach blows the whistle you're not going to hear it. You're not going to hear her yelling. It's you playing out there, kind of like a game."

Sunday will be the first real road test of the season – the crowd in San Antonio was either quiet or pro-Tennessee – and the Lady Vols remain quite young with one junior, three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup.

That youth was apparent Friday in a practice session that was well executed at times but lacking sufficient energy. It left Summitt disappointed with the overall effort. The exception was Bjorklund, who has taken the leadership role this season, but she needs help all the way through the roster.

"That was just a terrible practice," Bjorklund said. "I don't think it even started out well. When we go into the half-court setting, we start getting a little lackadaisical. We need to be focused all the time, and that's what she was emphasizing in the circle (after practice). No matter what we're doing, we need to be into it and focused and ready to go and intense and ready to prepare ourselves.

"We didn't do that, and I think that's really why she was fired up today."

Bjorklund wasn't sure that youth was the culprit, but perhaps a lack of focus across the board that needs to change soon.

"It's almost like just a few players here and there," Bjorklund. "If one person breaks down the whole thing breaks down. So I think everyone has to buy into the system that we go hard every possession. You have just got to buy into her system and do it and be disciplined."

As the junior with the most experience on a team with no seniors that process starts with Bjorklund.

"Definitely, for sure" Bjorklund said. "But it's got to be more than me. I learned that last year. Last year it started with Alex, she was the leader, but unless it's trickling down throughout the whole team and I have three talking and I have Strick talking, it's not going to happen. I can't be the only one being the vocal leader.

"I've been getting on Strick (Shekinna Stricklen). Bree's (Briana Bass) been doing a great job. I think it's got to trickle down throughout the team. It can't just be me."

There is no doubt that Alex Fuller would agree. She was the lone senior last season with 11 underclassmen, and the task of leading the team was a trying one, though Summitt lauded her at the end of the season for being one of the best leaders that she had ever had in orange.

"They are a year older than last year so that's a given, but we know that leadership has not been a component that this group has been real strong at or exhibited with any level of consistency," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "In fairness to them they've never been called on (to do so).

"Alex needed a Robin sometimes, and I think she felt like a voice in the wilderness sometimes where she was calling out and no one was answering. They recognize that it hasn't been there, and they know there's a need for it, but I think they're still finding and searching their own styles, who's going to do it and how it's going to get done."

Lockwood was speaking before the season started, and he said leadership usually emerges in the crucible of live competition. With that in mind the team should get better as a whole as the season progresses.

"It better," Bjorklund said Friday.

Lockwood said the players ultimately have to chart that path.

"There are many roads to Rome, and this team has to find its own way," Lockwood said. "Through your personality and through the personalities of the people you're in the trenches with collectively you have to come up with something and a way that works. I think they are still seeking that out. There may be times they realize somebody might need a little more heat and other times somebody needs a little more support and love. I don't know that you fully forge all that until you get in competition.

"Angie is a very positive kid, very supportive but once in a while I've heard her with a little bit more edge in her voice when she's talking to somebody, when they got beat (on defense). I don't think she's settled on it yet. I do think she wants to be a voice more so than she's been (in the past season)."

Other candidates to help Bjorklund are junior forward Vicki Baugh and freshman forward/guard Taber Spani.

But Spani is just a freshman and has been moved into the starting lineup in the new position, for her, of power forward. She does have natural leadership skills and once she settles into a comfort zone she is likely to be a strong voice. But freshmen need room to make mistakes and adjust to collegiate ball before being thrust into leadership roles.

"I am trying to be vocal but also I am trying to absorb and be a sponge, so it's kind of like a two-way street," Spani said. "You have to earn respect, and I realize that and I know you have to prove yourself. So I am trying every day to prove myself in any aspect – in the weight room, in conditioning, on the court and off the court as well.

"It's a learning curve and you have to know when it's your time. For me, right now, I am trying to be energy, I am trying to be passion, I am trying to be encouragement and then hopefully as I continue to assert myself and I continue to prove myself then leadership comes with that."

Baugh brings a lot of energy, passion and competitive fire to the court, but she is rehabbing from her second ACL surgery and is not yet cleared to play. That limits her ability to lead at this time.

"I think she wants to be but she's been so isolated," Lockwood said. "She's just been trying to get her body back where she can join them. She has at times been a voice. In the film room she's been a voice. You have to earn that through performance on the battlefield, and she hasn't been on the battlefield a whole lot.

"Don't forget the law of the jungle. The big lion can roar and get mad, but the big lion still has to have capacity to kick butt. If you can make noise, but the young lion knows that the big lion really can't hurt me those roars don't strike as much fear into my heart.

"(Nicky) Anosike, (Candace) Parker, (Alexis) Hornbuckle, those people could take it out on you. They could vent it and give you the wrath and I think that's why I think Vicki is still reluctant because she still can't deliver the wrath like she's been able to."

One factor very much in the team's favor is its chemistry and closeness. They genuinely enjoy each other's company on and off the court.

"They are very tight-knit off the court," Lockwood said. "One thing I have found with close teams is you don't ever want to underestimate the chemistry factor. When it comes down to it and you know you can trust each other and have each other's back that counts for a lot.

"Now, that said, you've still got to be able to deliver the bacon. I've still got to be able to go in and kill that pig and put bacon on the table. If I can't do that all that closeness will get me to a point, but it won't necessarily get me to Rome."

The next stop is Charlottesville, where No. 12 Virginia awaits for a rematch with No. 6 Tennessee, a team the Cavaliers beat a year ago, 83-82, in Knoxville.

"Last year they were a young team, if you look at the season that they ended up having," Virginia sophomore guard Chelsea Shine said after the Cavaliers' 110-63 win over South Carolina Upstate on Wednesday. "But at the same time we are a different team as well, it's a new season and a new year. I think that it's going to be hard; it's going to be a good game.

"If we work really hard this week in practice, which I know we will, and we just go and give it our all I think that it should be a really good game and I know that we have a big crowd coming in. It is going to be an awesome environment."

Virginia Coach Debbie Ryan was pleased with her team's focus against South Carolina Upstate with Tennessee looming on the schedule.

"I was hoping that we would come in to this game and focus on the task at hand," Ryan said. "I did not want us thinking about the future or the past, I just wanted us to stay with USC Upstate.

"It's hard to do with Tennessee coming up, but I thought our team did a great job of it. I think they did a good job of focusing, although I was not happy with our defensive play after we started substituting. I decided to cut the numbers down and went with some toughness, and that is what really put the game away for us in the second half."

Neither Tennessee nor Virginia is likely to be at full strength for Sunday's game.

The Charlottesville newspaper reported that freshman point guard China Crosby, who starts for the Cavaliers, injured her tailbone in Wednesday's game and is doubtful for Sunday.

Freshman forward Faith Dupree, who has provided solid backup play in the post, didn't practice Friday because of recurring back pain and is not expected to play Sunday. She will travel with the team and continue her rehab with Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine.

"She won't play this weekend," Summitt said. "She's not being able to play very long, and we're having to pull her out. Right now she's just working on rehabbing her back. I'd say day by day."

That means Tennessee will have a roster of 10 for Sunday's game.

"They're all good to go," Summitt said. "They don't all appear to be good to play."

That was in reference to Friday's practice performance.

"It wasn't the whole group," Summitt said. "It's a team game and you hope everyone is committed, but we've got players who continue to give in to fatigue. They don't sprint hard. They pick and choose when they play hard."

The team will travel to Charlottesville and go over the scouting report at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday. Summitt expects to start Stricklen, Bjorklund, Spani, Glory Johnson and Kelley Cain.

"We'll do a scouting report and walk through some stuff and how we want to guard certain things and what we want to do against them," said Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick.

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