Tennessee to take on San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO - Tanya Haave was happy to see her former coach Monday afternoon, but the Tennessee staff member she especially wanted to have a conversation with was Heather Mason. After watching film of the Lady Vols this fall and comparing it to games last season, Haave, whose San Francisco team plays Tennessee tonight, sees a team that is mentally tougher.

"Heather deserves most of the credit on that one," Coach Pat Summitt said of the drills that Heather Mason, the strength and conditioning coach devised for the Lady Vols. "There's no doubt."

No. 4 Tennessee, 9-1, will play its second game on the West Coast against San Francisco, 4-9, on Tuesday at 10 p.m. Eastern (Lady Vol Radio Network). The players will scatter after the game to return home for the holidays.

Sometimes a team can have, figuratively speaking, one foot on the court and another on the bus - "I call it singing ‘Jingle Bells,' " Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said - but it would behoove the Lady Vols to play well and send the coaching staff home relatively at ease.

"Yes, yes, yes," Lockwood said. "For our sanity and for our well-being over the days that we have with nothing going on, it would be nice."

Two years ago, Tennessee lost to Stanford after veering well off script in terms of scouting report defense, and Summitt stewed for days over Christmas. She tried to act happy around her family, but what she wanted to do was to get back to work.

"You don't want to go home with a bad taste in your mouth at Christmas," Summitt said. "I've been there and done that. I can't let it go. I'm watching tape and I'm thinking of all of the things that maybe I should have done or tried.

"As a coach you go through every possession, and you watch it, but you don't want to go home and not be happy at Christmas. In some cases I had to fake it, try to be upbeat."

This time, Tennessee has one more game on the West Coast before heading home and a chance to shed a little negative baggage before going into the break.

San Francisco, which plays in the West Coast Conference, a league pretty much dominated by Gonzaga, is not expected to be a stiff test - a Dons' win would be on the scale of Chaminade over Virginia and Ralph Sampson in 1982 - but the coaches want to see what they didn't see in Saturday's loss to Stanford - executing the game plan, energy, excellent start and solid bench play.

"I think they've pulled together," Summitt said. "They're not happy about how they played. I think they all know Stanford is one of the best teams in the country, and we didn't measure up. We didn't follow our game plan."

San Francisco Coach Tanya Haave is a former Lady Vol (1980-84) and ranks eighth in the career record books in points at 1,771, and sixth in field goals made at 746. The three-year starter is tied for second place in the record book after scoring 43 points against Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 11, 1982. The media nicknamed the left-handed shooting Haave "LaMachine" because she was instant offense.

Haave brought her team to Knoxville last season for the 2008-09 opener when the Lady Vols raised the 2008 national title banner before the game, and Tennessee timed the return game for USF with the same trip to play Stanford.

For Haave it's a source of pride to see her former coach on the opposite bench and her alma mater inside War Memorial Gym. USF Assistant Coach Abby Conklin is also a former Lady Vol (1993-97).

"Tremendous sense of pride, and we feel privileged to have been a part of that," Haave said. "Last year the first couple of minutes (against Tennessee in Thompson-Boling Arena), it was just surreal. It was like, ‘I can't believe this is happening.'

"I think it's really good for the program, and I think it's really special for both Abby and I that she's going to come in our gym, and we get to play them in the Bay Area, and San Francisco gets to see the premier women's basketball program in the country. It's exciting. Having them come in and play us means a lot."

The capacity of the venue is 4,500, and presales were at 2,000, a 1,700-ticket boost over the average crowd for a women's basketball game . Classes are out so the students are not on campus; otherwise, attendance would have been boosted even more by them. Still, USF is hoping for a crowd close to 3,000 and Haave said those in orange are more than welcome.

"They're coming to see Tennessee, and I'm OK with that," Haave said. "I want us to play well and get some of those fans back. For the Bay Area and for the school to be able to have them in our gym, it's great. It's scary at the same time, but it's great."

Haave's team played at Washington State on Saturday - USF tipped off after the Tennessee-Stanford game - and she was hoping the Lady Vols would win. It wasn't so much that Haave is a Tennessee alum, but that as a coach she didn't want to face Summitt after a loss, because she had firsthand experience as a player of how Summitt deals with a loss after poor effort.

"We were watching," said Haave, who added her reaction was, "Please win, please win, please win.' One of our fans was like, ‘Hopefully they'll lose to Stanford,' and I'm like, ‘No! They need to win! We do not want Pat Summitt mad coming into our gym. You just don't.' "

Haave followed Tennessee closely last season - she watched the Ball State loss on television - and has watched game film this year.

"That's the one thing that I've been really impressed with with the film that I've watched," Haave said. "Playing against them last year and watching the Ball State game, it looked like a tremendous loss of confidence in that game. We went through the first half and I said, ‘I don't think they're going to win this game.'

"Watching them this year it's a transformation that's been remarkable, the mental toughness. The Stanford game, Stanford is really good, and I think they will learn. I think that's just another step in the process of them getting back to be a championship team. I've been impressed with the teamwork, the confidence, the going after it. It seems like they've grown up a lot. I've been impressed with (Shekinna) Stricklen's development. I've been really impressed with (Taber) Spani."

Haave said she had no doubt that Summitt would steer the team back on course.

"No, I really didn't," Haave said.

"But she was surprised at the speed with which it happened.

"I didn't think it would happen this quickly," Haave said. "That is why I've been impressed. I thought it would take another year, so I've been very impressed."

Haave was struck enough by the change to want to speak with one of its chief architects in Mason, and the two chatted after the Lady Vols practice session ended Monday.

"We lack mental toughness," Haave said. "I'll get some thoughts from Heather on what they did for mental toughness. I want to know what they did. That's what I want to know. I want to do that this spring. We've got some talent, but it's undeveloped. I definitely want to speak to her."

Mason's workouts included flipping massive tires, pushing weighted grocery carts, pulling sleds loaded with weights, tug-of-rope, human wheelbarrow races and ramp running at the football stadium. The demanding S&C program has generated media coverage after the Lady Vols' success to start this season following an 11-loss one and flameout in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago.

"A lot of people are calling asking what's going on," Summitt said. "I am sure Heather has gotten a lot of calls."

That process hardened the players' minds and taught them to fight through fatigue. They also have matured to the point of where Summitt felt like the Stanford loss upset them, something she would not have been certain of last season.

"They were hurt, too," Summitt said. "It wasn't just like the coaches were upset. They were upset. They're invested just like we are. I think they will feel a whole lot better if they can get a win here and not do anything (over Christmas break). I don't want them in the gym. We want to play the way we want to play, and we want to see it on the court.

"I want to see our defense, our box-outs, things that sometimes we've had lapses on, our ball security. We're probably going to play a lot of three out and two in to give them more freedom and see how they handle it."

The loss to Stanford was upsetting to the coaches, but Summitt recognized the overall benefits of the West Coast trip. She also knows a defeat can get players' attention in ways that a win won't.

"They're still getting to know each other and learning how to play together and spend time together," Summitt said of on and off-court pluses. "I think (the loss) was really good for us. Absolutely."

Taber Spani, a freshman forward was already absorbing lessons from the trip.

"We have to be tough on every possession, and we have to play hard on every possession," Spani said. "We have the talent, but it's about coming together as a team. Personally, I need to continue to work on defense and meeting coach's expectations on the defensive end and continuing to be aggressive on offense. I think I can help this team.

"We need everybody on the floor to be some kind of threat, and I really believe that I can be a big offensive threat. Continuing to get low on offense and defense and I talked to Coach more about that, too. So that's probably what I took out of it."

Summitt wants the team to even its record on this trip at 1-1 and then go home and rest for a few days.

"We should win here and go home and take those days completely off," Summitt said. "When they come back we're going to go back to work."

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard, No. 40 (15.2 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game, 3.9 assists per game, 1.4 steals per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (14.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.7 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 freshman guard/forward, No. 13 (8.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (13.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.6 spg); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (8.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.3 blocks per game).

San Francisco Coach Tanya Haave is expected to start: Brittany Brumfield, 5'7 junior guard, No. 4 (2.2 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 2.9 apg), hails from Long Beach, Calif., has started nine games this season, had six assists against Pacific, transferred from Trinity Valley Community College; Rheina Ale, 5'8 sophomore guard, No. 1 (14.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.3 apg), hails from Carson, Calif., has started all 13 games this season, had 19 points against Pac-10 foe Washington State, and a career-high 25 points against Pacific, including 5-5 performance behind the arc, father played football for Oregon, uncle played collegiate football for UCLA and Notre Dame and professionally for Kansas City and San Diego; Vania Singleterry, 5'11 sophomore guard, No. 32 (8.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), hails from Murrieta, Calif., has started all 13 games this season, scored 14 points against Washington State, cousin Mike Singletary, the Chicago Bears legendary linebacker, is the coach of the San Francisco 49ers, wants to attend medical school; Nnenna Okereke, 5'10 senior forward, No. 21 (1.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg), hails from Berkeley, Calif., lived in Nigeria for her first two years of high school and is fluent in English and Igbo, lone senior on the squad, has started past five games; and Donnisha Taylor, 5'10 junior forward, No. 20 (10.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.2 spg), hails from Oakland, Calif., has played in all 13 games this season and started 11, had 17 rebounds against Cal-Poly and career-high 23 points against Cal State-Fullerton, aspires to be an attorney.

Haave, who is in fourth season at USF, is trying to rebuild a program that hasn't been to the NCAA tourney since 1997. The bar in the West Coast Conference is set by Gonzaga.

"Gonzaga is definitely the measuring stick of our conference," Haave said. "We are so young this year. Every single player in our lineup is in a new role. We have one senior, (who) is a great role player. What we're running into is some confidence issues but also experience issues. They work really hard. They get frustrated, but I've challenged them with our schedule."

USF has hosted Utah State and traveled to Washington State. The Dons have played in the Tip-Off Tournament in Lubbock with losses to Texas Tech and Texas-Arlington and a win over Prairie View A&M, and the Hukilau Tournament in Hawai'i with losses to Hawai'i, BYU and BYU-Hawai'i.

After Christmas, San Francisco will travel to Philadelphia for the Villanova Tournament and will first face the host school.

"We've been traveling a whole lot, but in the back of my mind, and it comes back from the Tennessee days, is challenge them non-conference," Haave said. "I don't know if that's the right thing or not, but we did it. I think today kids are really resilient. They move on fast, and that's a good thing.

"I am a little concerned about the confidence but just getting our core group of sophomores and freshmen and couple of juniors, getting this core group that experience, and it's taken longer than I thought, but I think the end of this year and the next two years I think we really will be looking to turn that around."

With perennial power Tennessee on the schedule the Dons have definitely upgraded the out-of-conference slate, and Haave said her players are looking forward to the game - that and also getting a break for the holidays afterwards.

They've been real excited," Haave said. "They're getting ready to go home for Christmas, but they're really excited to play a top level team. They know that not everybody gets to have that kind of team come into their gym and play. I think they are really excited.

"They are probably a little bit nervous. If they weren't something would be wrong. I think they are taking the approach that they have nothing to lose at all.

"I just want them to see what a top five program, that they see the intensity and the tempo, so they know what playing at that level is. We don't have any illusions that that's us, but we want to have them experience that."

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-San Francisco game. Here is his assessment.

When San Francisco has the ball: "We've got to guard dribble drive action," Lockwood said. "They do a lot off stagger screens. They run some sets that we've seen before. They do a lot with (Rheina) Ale and (Donnisha) Taylor. Taylor is very good in the midrange. Ale is a guard that will shoot threes and also hit off the pull-up. But the main thing is guard dribble drive action and not give open looks."

Defensively, "I think we're going to see a majority of zone," he said. "But they have shown that they switch defenses, so I can see them trying to do that for the confusion part, but my anticipation is a lot of zone."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Dons don't have the personnel to match up with Kelley Cain, so Tennessee wants her to be busy early.

"To start, yes, but I think we want to have the balance," Lockwood said. "But to start the game we've got to establish that, because that's down the line exactly what we want to do as well."

Cain has stood out on film to Tanya Haave and her coaches, especially her size.

"Kelley is really, really, really good," Haave said. "She's amazing, some of the things we watch her do on film. They got the ball in to her and she's shooting over (Stanford's) Jayne Appel. She's shooting over one of the best centers in the country and not having a problem.

"She is big. She is truly 6'6. We were going over the matchups and we were like, ‘Wow.' I just think we try and move her a little bit, not let her get the position she wants. We'll try to pick her up a little bit earlier and when the ball goes in maybe try to make her become a passer."

Defensively,, the game plan is basically about Tennessee and its execution to the coaches' standards.

"We said that very same thing," Lockwood said. "We want to start out with man and just really do a good job shutting them down man. We want to do more with our man this game and we want to try some different combinations and let some other kids get on the floor and play man-to-man defense that they haven't done it in a while."

Lockwood also wants the players to be focused until the clock zeros out and not be thinking about rest and relaxation with family and the Christmas holidays.

"I call it singing ‘Jingle Bells,' " Lockwood said. "You can hear them singing ‘Jingle Bells' (when the focus drifts). I think that (Stanford loss) brought us down to Earth a little bit. I really do. There is always a danger of that (early mental exit for home) but our own mortality was brought to light, and I think that's good."

WEST COAST PROJECT: Tanya Haave is from Colorado, and she went to Tennessee - even paid for her own recruiting trip because that budget didn't yet exist for the Lady Vols until they went under the umbrella of the NCAA - because she wanted a new experience.

It's the same sales pitch she can use now, as Haave tries to attract recruits to the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit school and elite academic institution that requires that its student-athletes meet campus academic requirements and not just NCAA ones.

"We had a couple of players that would have helped us, but they weren't admitted," Haave said. "That's a challenge, too. It's not insurmountable but we need to get that next-level player."

Haave had success this fall in the signing of Alexa Hardick, a 5'8 shooting guard in the class of 2010 from Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, where she has won three straight state titles and could make it four this season. She hit 113 three-pointers last season.

"She wanted to leave Texas, and she was so excited talking to her on the phone and when she got here the reality of, ‘Wow, this is far from home. This is a big city,' " Haave said. "Dallas is huge, but it's spread out. I said, ‘Home is always going to be there.' She really wanted to get away. She wanted to experience something completely different. She's Catholic, so she wanted a Catholic institution."

Haave tracks the Catholic high schools for prospects, too, but she has decided she will have to expand her recruiting areas farther, as in overseas. USF has to compete with so many in-state schools and Pac-10 powers Stanford and Cal in the Bay Area. Oddly enough, most of her players are from the southern portion of the state, while Northern California prospects she was looking at headed south to the Los Angeles area.

"We're kind of having that flip-flop," Haave said. "We're looking to adjust some of our recruiting to do more national and international. Everyone on our roster is from California except for one girl from Colorado, a junior college player from Western Nebraska."

Haave played overseas so she will use that experience to navigate Australia, the Scandinavian countries, Croatia and Serbia. The same NCAA rules apply as stateside - she can only travel during evaluation and contact periods.

San Francisco also would have name recognition for international players - something Haave didn't have when she was coaching in the state of Colorado - and a possible built-in fan base in what is a very diverse city.

"You've got a great city, but it's got to be a fit and they want to go to school on an urban campus," said Haave, who added some recruits have rejected USF because it doesn't have a football program, and they want that part of the college experience. "The student body is so eclectic. There are so many other things going on."

Haave said her rebuilding project has support from the administration, which recognizes the challenges.

"We have good support," Haave said. "They are very patient. The first class that we had, that was with the class that (former coach) Mary (Hile-Nepfel) signed, they would be seniors now and there is nobody in that class. A couple transferred. They were rural kids. They went to rural campuses. You have to really find a fit. This is city living."

FIRST LADY OF HOOPS: The "Pat Summitt Story," a three-disc product of Vol Network Home Entertainment is now available at: Vol Network.

Disc One traces Summitt's humble beginnings in Henrietta to her lofty spot in the game today. Discs Two and Three provide bonus and feature material, including the "Day of 1000 Stories" gala captured in its entirety, along with Summitt's 1000th career victory over Georgia wired for sound.

ON TAP: Only three other SEC teams are in action Tuesday in the following matchups: Detroit at Georgia; Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky; and SE Louisiana at LSU.

The conference takes a break for Christmas and then games resume on Dec. 28 in these matchups: Auburn at Valparaiso; Ohio at Florida; Georgia at Clemson; Kentucky at Middle Tennessee; South Carolina vs. Boston; and East Tennessee State University at Vanderbilt.

The Tennessee players report back to campus on Dec. 27 and will face Old Dominion on Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. Eastern (SportSouth) in Thompson-Boling Arena.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with San Francisco, 1-0. The previous matchup was in Knoxville on Nov. 15, 2008, a 68-39 win for the Lady Vols to open the season. … Tennessee is 4-1 in games played on December 22. The last game on this date was a loss to Stanford, 73-69, in 2007. The first win on this date was against Southern Cal, 87-53, in 1989. … Tennessee is 8-0 against teams from the West Coast Conference. Three of the wins were over Gonzaga, two over Portland and one each over San Francisco, Santa Clara and Saint Mary's. … Stanford's 39.3 shooting percentage was the highest tallied against the Lady Vols this season so far. Virginia shot 50 percent against Tennessee in the second game of the season a year ago, but no opponent has even reached 40 percent this season. The 32.8 percent that Tennessee shot against Stanford was its lowest mark of the season. … War Memorial Gym, which opened in 1958, is an historic venue on the campus of San Francisco. It was the site of the first nationally televised college basketball game when Georgia's Dominique Wilkins lost to the Dons, 92-84, on Nov. 28, 1981. Famous alums of the hardwood include Bill Russell, Bill Cartwright and KC Jones. Russell and Jones are both in the NBA Hall of Fame. All-American Mary Hile, the former coach, holds the all-time school scoring record, men or women, with 2,324 points. Another notable alum is Pete Rozelle, the former commissioner of the NFL and the man largely credited with turning the league into this country's premier sport.

BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 74.9 points a game while allowing opponents to score 56.8. San Francisco averages 57.5 points a game while allowing 66.1. The Lady Vols are shooting 43.9 percent overall, 33.1 percent behind the arc and 69.5 percent from the free throw line. The Dons are shooting 36.9 percent overall, 31.7 percent from long range and 69.0 percent from the line. Tennessee makes an average of 5.6 three-pointers a game while allowing 5.1. San Francisco makes 5.0 threes a game while allowing 4.3.

Tennessee averages 44.1 rebounds a game for a +7.5 margin. San Francisco averages 35.5 boards with a -0.8 margin. The Lady Vols average 14.2 assists and 14.7 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 17.1 times a game. The Dons average 11.8 assists and 20.2 turnovers with foes losing the ball 16.8 times a game. Tennessee averages 7.3 steals and 5.3 blocks a game. San Francisco averages 6.3 steals and 1.6 blocks.

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