Lady Vols get extra practice in California

PALO ALTO, Calif. - The Lady Vols used Stanford's weight room and basketball facility Sunday morning for a prescheduled workout and an unplanned practice session the day after Tennessee lost to the Cardinal in a game vexing for the coaches because of the team's failure to bring sufficient energy or execute its game plan.

After the sessions ended a little more than two hours later, the team checked out of its Palo Alto hotel and took a bus up the peninsula to the city of San Francisco in the Fisherman Wharf's area. Tennessee will practice Monday on the campus of the University of San Francisco in a neighborhood called the Panhandle near Golden Gate Park.

The game against USF is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday at War Memorial Gym and afterwards the players will head to their homes for a brief holiday break. They report back to Tennessee on Dec. 27.

Amber Gray can officially rejoin the team and travel with her teammates as soon as classes start on Jan. 13, 2010. The forward, who has friends and family in the area, was sitting in the stands behind the bench Saturday at the Stanford game after paying her own way to California. Gray, who will enroll for the spring semester, is taking a redshirt year to recover from shoulder surgery and a stroke.

The team had plans to go out to eat Sunday - they worked up an appetite at practice in an energetic session that struck observers as a stark contrast to what was on display Saturday - and will do some sightseeing Monday after practice, including a possible trip to Alcatraz. After Saturday's desultory performance, Pat Summitt might have given consideration to leaving the players at the abandoned prison turned tourist destination, but she was in a slightly better state of mind after practice.

Summitt held a film session with the team Saturday and then watched the game tape twice herself and realized she should have provided more minutes for point guard Briana Bass with Shekinna Stricklen struggling throughout the game. The player with the ball in her hand sets the tone on offense and defense, and Stricklen had trouble getting in gear.

"I probably should have played Bree more," Summitt said. "Strick just never went left. We ran too many set plays trying to get people looks instead of just playing. I'll take full responsibility. We ran too many set plays and didn't play with freedom. We got late in the clock a lot because of it."

Summitt was upset at her team's overall effort and execution, but she also saluted the play of Stanford.

"We tried a lot of different things," Summitt said. "They're just a better team than us right now."

The original plan was to use Sunday strictly for weights and conditioning and then relocate to San Francisco, but Summitt wanted court time, too, after Saturday's game, and Stanford offered the use of its volleyball and basketball practice facility adjacent to Maples Pavilion.

"The way we played is totally unacceptable," Summitt said after practice ended. "Stanford is obviously one of the best teams in the country, and it was a great lesson for us but why prolong it and be on vacation before we go play another game when we have an opportunity … this is a teaching moment, this is a conditioning opportunity, and it's also a gut check."

An encouraging sign for the coaches Sunday was the body language of the players. The blowback from a bad loss a year ago could leave distinct signs of defeat - slumped shoulders and blank looks from the freshmen as the coaches tried to explain what went wrong and what must change. But the players were attentive for a pre-practice talk and communicative during the session.

"No, no, no," Summitt said, agreeing that the players weren't hanging their heads. "I think the leadership has a lot to do with it."

The sessions focused on both sides of the ball, including a layup drill in which players had to rotate at game speed on six goals and not miss a layup for two minutes with the right hand and then two minutes with the left hand, or the clock would reset. After several hiccups right-handed, the players settled down - the drill forces focus, especially when fatigued - and completed that portion of the drill and got through the left side with just one restart.

The players also worked on offensive decision-making - a bright spot before Saturday - and ball pressure at the same time since they played five on five in the absence of a practice squad.

Summitt designated Glory Johnson and Kelley Cain to hold the posts accountable and Angie Bjorklund and Stricklen to take the same approach with the guards in what amounts to police roles.

"When it comes from your peers, when they call you out … sometimes they just blow the coaches off, especially with their youth and immaturity at times," Summitt said. "I think Glory's earned that right, I think Kelley's earned that right and our two guards have."

The players will also have a new coaching voice in their ear on a temporary basis. Stephanie Glance was activated for coaching duties to assist in the absence of Daedra Charles-Furlow, who is undergoing medical treatment, is not always able to travel and didn't make the West Coast trip. Charles-Furlow also wasn't on the bench for the home game against Louisville. Glance had already assumed Charles-Furlow's recruiting duties on the road, and now will be allowed to coach on the bench.

Tennessee had to submit the change in status to the SEC and NCAA, which has already been done and approved, so Glance was allowed to take the floor Sunday with the players.

"We activated her," Summitt said. "I spoke with Daedra (on Sunday) and just wanted to make sure that she is comfortable with it. She was excited. Obviously she's got a lot that she's got to focus on to take care of her own health, and she said, ‘That's a great idea.' She said, ‘Anything that's going to help this team and give me a chance to get better and join up when I can.' "

Glance joined the Tennessee staff last August as a special assistant to Summitt - Vols Coach Bruce Pearl also has the spot filled on his staff - after her interim title as head coach of North Carolina State came to an end when the Wolfpack administration hired former Lady Vol Kellie Jolly Harper, who had been successful at Western Carolina. Glance, a Wolfpack assistant, had filled the position at N.C. State while Kay Yow battled breast cancer and then again in January 2009 after Yow's death. Yow and Summitt were very close friends.

"A big part of my decision had to do with Coach Yow and our relationship and then the fact that they didn't hire her," said Summitt, who recommended to the N.C. State administration that Glance be hired, "because I thought she had earned the right."

When Summitt had the administrative opening on her staff she had to choose between Glance and former Lady Vol Dena Head, who lacked experience at the college level.

"I chose Stephanie because of the relationship I had with Kay and thinking that she would be an asset," Summitt said. "She's very bright. She's helped me so much and she's taken a lot off of Kathy's plate (Kathy Harston, the director of basketball operations), and they work very well together. I've got so many time demands and she's been great to handle my schedule. I didn't expect her to be on the floor."

Glance, who has 23 years of coaching experience, will now have court responsibilities and will be able to participate in coach huddles during the game.

"Today, I put her with the guards (at practice), but she's comfortable working with either (guards or posts)," Summitt said. "We can split it up and give more attention to smaller groups."

Some of that attention is likely to be increased when the players report back to campus between semesters and aren't restricted by NCAA rules in terms of hours allotted to basketball per week, as they are when classes are in session.

Part of Summitt's extra quality time with the team after Saturday's game was to determine who had been putting in extra work. The junior class of Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone has been solid in terms of that commitment, but there are gaps on the rest of the team.

"Very few of them have put in any extra time," Summitt said. "That sent me over the edge. They haven't been getting in and getting reps."

Cain and Johnson have spent extra sessions with Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood and the three post players, Cain, Johnson and Alyssia Brewer, are shooting well, though Cain and Brewer's numbers at the free throw line are nearly subterranean - 44 percent for Cain and 38.5 percent for Brewer.

Overall, the shooting percentages of the perimeter players need a boost, and Summitt said there is only one path to improvement.

"They've got to get in the gym more, Summitt said.

Stricklen also needs to diversify her handle, according to Summitt.

"Use your left hand," Summitt said of her conversation with the sophomore guard and her tendency to stay on one side of the court. "I asked her, ‘Why don't you have a better left hand?" She said, ‘I haven't worked on it.'

"She has not invested at the level she has to to learn all of our sets, to get in the gym and get in reps. She just hasn't. She's one of our best athletes, (which can sometimes hinder a player's early development after getting used to being better than everyone else and getting by on athleticism)."

Saturday's session had a twofold purpose to point out the need for extra work - Summitt has saluted the team's off-season commitment, but there was a significant drop-off this fall by several players - and to get to work on the next game and the rest of the season in terms of commitment to defense and playing smarter on offense. A portion of the session was spent on screening action and the need for the screener to set better ones and the player trying to get loose to take a more linear path to shed the defender.

Summitt wasn't dismissing the success she saw in the first nine games of the season, but she was upset by what she witnessed in the 10th.

"That's what I love about her," said forward Taber Spani, as she lifted her backpack across her shoulders and walked to the team bus after Sunday's session.

The freshman wasn't the least bit surprised about the previously unscheduled trip to the gym to get back to work.

"We expect that, too," Spani said. "This team needs to learn to expect a lot out of itself, so the coaches' expectations don't exceed ours. We realize that we did not play well or anywhere close to what we can be, so as a team and holding each other unaccountable, we felt like we needed to be in the gym."

Essentially, the Lady Vols hit the reset button after Saturday.

"We needed to," Summitt said. "That's the perfect way to say it."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories