ODU Coach Wendy Larry was a surprise guest last May at the Tennessee Theatre when Pat Summitt was honored for reaching 1,000 wins during the 2008-09 season. Larry walked onto the stage wearing an orange blouse and sporting an orange purse and orange-and-white tennis shoes.
Larry told Summitt, "I am here to represent all the coaches in the world who are absolutely in awe of what you have done."
After ODU upset Stanford in the 1997 semifinal of the Final Four but fell to Tennessee, 68-59, behind 24 points from Chamique Holdsclaw in the title game, "I told everyone in Norfolk to never wear orange again," Larry said at the salute.
After joking that she first tried the sanitation and corrections departments but they didn't have loaner jumpsuits, Larry went to a Macy's in Norfolk, Va., to shop for something orange. She held up the orange purse and said, "I left the tags on so I could return everything."
It was a lighthearted moment on a day devoted to telling stories about Summitt on her way to 1,000 wins. Larry's appearance was a surprise even to Summitt, who didn't know until the last minute that Larry was coming to the event.
"Wendy Larry, she is just a great person," Summitt said during her Tuesday teleconference before tonight's game. "We've been friends throughout the competition we've faced against each other. We've remained good friends, and I have a lot of respect for her.
"It meant a lot for her to come and be there for that occasion. She gets it when it comes to helping people in the game and investing in her own team, but also in other people as well. She's one that's going to pick up the phone and call you, and she's going to reach out if she needs to, and we do the same here."
The longtime coaches – Summitt is in her 36th season, Larry in her 26th – will square off on the sideline Wednesday for a 7 p.m. Eastern tipoff (SportSouth, Lady Vol Radio Network).
Summitt's players are likely glad to see the game on the schedule. After two days of practice at a pace designed to leave the Lady Vols spent, the players gathered Tuesday afternoon at Pratt Pavilion for a short session devoted to the scouting report, film and free throws.
Defense and rebounding, the staples of Summitt's program, were focal points of the Sunday and Monday sessions, but so was offensive execution, especially in the paint.
At one point in Monday's practice, Summitt whistled for everyone to stop and freeze in place. She noted the position of two post players in that drill – opposite each other near the high block – and ordered the guards not to give them the ball until they established a foothold on the low block.
One player who will plant herself deep in the paint is Kelley Cain, the 6'6 redshirt sophomore center who has anchored the post play this season.
Cain is coming off two knee surgeries – one to completely realign her right kneecap that caused her to miss a full year and the other last April to remove two migrating screws from that operation – and has logged a lot of minutes in the first 11 games.
Cain is averaging 24.1 minutes per game, which would be ideal given her right knee, but the figure is misleading because she has gone for as long as 35 minutes against Rutgers and as few as 13 against Louisville.
If Alyssia Brewer can take more of those minutes in every game, then Cain will be better positioned to stay healthy throughout the season. The post depth already is thin with the loss of Amber Gray (shoulder, stroke) and Faith Dupree (back) for the season. Junior forward Vicki Baugh is coming back from ACL surgery, her second within a calendar year on her left knee, and has yet to play in a game this season.
Brewer has a solid build and at 6'3 she is the ideal player to provide relief for Cain at the center spot. Brewer's 61.5 percent field goal percentage leads the team. She is averaging 15.9 minutes a game but her playing time has ranged from a low of four minutes against Middle Tennessee to a high of 24 minutes against San Francisco.
Tennessee needs Brewer to average a fairly consistent number of minutes every game, rather than wide gaps from game to game, and even wants to pair her with Cain at times to present a bigger post presence. With the lack of big bodies available for paint duty at this time, this is a season that Brewer needs to seize.
Brewer's breakout game came against George Washington on Dec. 1, when Cain was out with a concussion, in which she was 11-15 from the field. Although Brewer is not expected to bring that level of production every game, the coaching staff does want her minutes on the court to be effective ones on both ends.
"Lyssi is definitely a huge part of our game because, as you can see, we are a little limited on the posts," Cain said. "Lyssi, her size and her skill level is way up there and when she uses it she's a phenomenal player. I even want to pass it to Lyssi. I'm like, ‘You go for it.' If you look at her shooting percentage she is in the 60s and that's awesome for a post.
"As long as she learns to stay in the post, that's the biggest thing, she could be one of the best players on this team, because she has the skill, she has the shot. If she has the want to do it, she could definitely be it. I have all the faith in her."
Summitt said Brewer is aware that Cain needs some help at the center spot. Johnson is an athletic power forward and jumps center because of her vertical leap, but she is lean in body type and lacks the build for the low block.
"I think she knows," Summitt said. "Now whether she's going to take that upon herself to invest more? She needs to. I am in Lyssi's ear. I think with her sometimes she'll pick and choose when she plays hard. Right now that drives the coaching staff just nuts. I told her, ‘I've got to watch and I've got to see if you're going to sprint.' "
Cain played in considerable pain last season, but she has started nine games this season after missing one game because of a concussion and coming off the bench in her first game back after that incident. Her right knee will always have to be managed in terms of excessive pounding – in a 2.5-hour practice she is best served with a few breaks as was done Monday – but Cain is playing with a freedom that she didn't enjoy last season when every step hurt.
"I can't say it feels like before I ever had any surgeries, but it feels as good as it's going to get," Cain said. "I've learned to tolerate a lot of pain. As long as I take care of what I need to do outside of basketball (in terms of rehab and preventive care) I'll be fine."
Cain wears a protective compression sleeve and kneepad in games, but she often doesn't use them at practice. Combined with her sock and ankle support the items completely cover her lower leg, and Cain laughed about the odd fashion look.
"The sleeve is definitely a security blanket," Cain said. "I think it's more of a comfort thing in games. It compresses it, so it keeps it warm. There's never any swelling, but if there ever is it keeps it to a minimum. I haven't even gotten hit. Knock on some wood. Hold on."
With that Cain ran to "The Summitt" court, knocked on the baseline and returned to the sideline for the rest of the press interview. Collisions with the knee cause extreme pain – because of the repeated subluxations of the kneecap before it was surgically realigned the area under the kneecap can remain irritated – and Cain tries to avoid them.
Because of the surgery and truncated season a year ago in which Cain was in and out of practice and in and out of games, this is really her first full year in basketball since her senior year of high school in 2006-07 at St. Pius X in Atlanta. For that reason Summitt is pleased with where Cain is so far.
"I am," Summitt said. "I think she's been a player who has really invested in her game. She's very focused; I think she's really challenging the other post players to step up. I'm pleased, overall, with Kelley and just how she responded after our loss at Stanford.
"I think our entire team learned a lot from that, but Kelley was vocal, in a good way, and that's why I put her in a position to lead in the post area. She's been very, very focused in trying to get everyone else to step up as well."
A vexing area of Cain's game at the moment is her free throw shooting, a situation Cain said was a mental block. She is 11-25 in games (44.0 percent) but routinely hits 70 to 100 percent in practice while getting in extra reps with Dean Lockwood.
"Kelley has to really embrace that she does shoot them well in practice and all the mechanics that she uses to go for nine for 10, 10 for 10 or eight for 10 when she and I have shot individually and rarely does she do less than seven for 10, if you can do that consistently in practice, you can do that in a game," Lockwood said. "You have to embrace and trust your shot.
"It's like a hitter in baseball. That's one phase of the game where you're completely isolated. You get no help from a teammate. There is nobody that can help you at that moment but you have to have supreme confidence in your practice and your preparation. We have to help her embrace the confidence that it takes to say, ‘You know what? The very same thing I am doing to get a high rate of success in practice, I can carry those principles over and get the same high rate in a game.'
"Free throw shooters have a mentality when you foul them it's almost like they're smiling because you just gave us points. When you're not confident there's a dread. You're starting to think about it. We've talked about that. There's a point where you draw a line in the sand with yourself and say, ‘Look, I've done this. I've done this time and again. I've seen it on tape. I've seen the ball go in when I shoot it. I'm going to trust my system and let it rip.' "
Cain will put in the time to get extra repetitions. It's a work ethic that Summitt wants to see team-wide and especially now that school is out for the next two weeks.
The players had been diligent about getting in the gym, but their good habits dwindled as the season went on.
"I think they thought they were all that when they started winning some ball games," Summitt said. "I've been chewing on that every day (over the holiday break). They thought they were just going to win. Stanford was obviously a wakeup."
Tyler Summitt, a practice player and gym rat, has made himself available to work with the players at any time. Angie Bjorklund, Taber Spani, Shekinna Stricklen and Briana Bass have already spent time in Pratt with Tyler since returning to campus. His next shooting partner will be freshman guard Kamiko Williams.
"She said her dad used to have to drag her off the couch, so if that's what I have to do that's what I'll do," Tyler said.
Williams, an athletic guard who can get to the rim and shoots extremely well off the bounce, followed up one of her worst practices of the season on Sunday with an excellent one on Monday.
"We've had two really healthy days," Summitt said of the two sessions overall. "It was long, and it was challenging. I think Kamiko Williams in our last practice was the best guard on the floor. That's good news. She can make such a difference both offensively and defensively so glad to see that. I'm excited to see how we come out and play (tonight).
"Obviously this series has gone on for a long time, and I think that our basketball team understands that we've got to do a great job of defending them because they want to constantly hunt for paint points. I think our defense and our board play will be what determines the outcome of this game.
"It's priority defense, and I think Dean did a great job of breaking it down and showing us when we were going to switch and when we were going to go under screens. I think the team understands our defensive scheme and hopefully will buy into it."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard, No. 40 (14.4 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, 3.7 assists per game, 1.4 steals per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (14.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.8 apg. 1.0 spg); Taber Spani, 6'1 freshman guard, No. 13 (7.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 apg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (13.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.5 spg); and Kelley Cain 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (8.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.5 blocks per game).
Summitt would like for some of the bench players to log significant minutes in both halves, as the starters piled up minutes to start the season, led by the 30.1 minutes that Bjorklund has averaged. She played the entire game against Rutgers and all but two minutes against Stanford.
"I would like to get everyone some playing time if the game allows," Summitt said. "If we do what we're supposed to do hopefully we can go to the bench."
Old Dominion Coach Wendy Larry is expected to start: Jasmine Parker, 5'6 junior guard, No. 2 (9.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.8 spg), hails from Norfolk, Va., has started every game this season after starting 14 times last season, nickname is J.P., scored a career-high 24 points against Maryland this season; Shadasia Green, 5'9 junior guard, No. 35 (13.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.1 apg), hails from Patterson, N.J., has started all nine games this season after 21 starts last season, had 20 points and five steals in ODU's Dec. 22 game against St. Joseph's, scored a career-high 24 points against Louisville; Vicki Collier, 5'11 junior guard, No. 31 (5.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg), hails from Upper Marlboro, Md., played in 11 games last season before suffering a knee injury, also missed the entire previous season because of a knee injury, was a state high jump and triple jump champion in high school, mother Barvenia Wooten-Collier led Virginia Union to a national title in basketball in 1983; Tia Lewis, 6'3 sophomore center/forward, No. 44 (13.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg), hails from Poulan, Ga., transfer from Central Florida, was the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2007-08, sat out last season after transfer, scored a career-high 24 points against Louisville, averages 5.0 offensive boards a game, had 17 rebounds against Ole Miss; and Mairi Buchan, 6'2 sophomore center, No. 3 (6.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg), hails from Stirlingshire, Scotland, has extensive experience with the Scotland national teams, scored 54 points in an U18 game, played in all 30 games last season for ODU and started 10, earned CAA Rookie of the Week honors once last season.
The Lady Monarchs are a young team with just one senior in Jessica Canady, a 6'1 senior forward who has started one game this season. In last season's 81-76 loss to Tennessee – a game in which Bjorklund scored a career-high 29 points and hit six 3-point shots, and the Lady Vols broke the Lady Monarchs' 29-game winning streak at the Ted Constant Center – Canady had 11 points, seven rebounds and six blocks.
Canady had been rehabbing a knee injury this season but has been cleared to play and had eight points and six rebounds in ODU's last game.
Both teams last played on Dec. 22 – Tennessee beat San Francisco, 89-34, and Old Dominion lost to St. Joseph's, 78-62 – so Wednesday will be the first game since the Christmas break for both teams.
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Old Dominion game. Here is his assessment.
When Old Dominion has the ball: "They're very dribble-drive oriented," Lockwood said. "This is another game where we've got to do a good job with penetration. What they can do is get to the basket and get to the paint pretty well. If this team gets in the lane, that's how they generate points. If we don't let them have easy lane scoring, we really think that we can make them struggle.
"But we've got to guard penetration. They've got to play five on five. They can't play two on two, two on one, three on two. They've got to play five on five. We like that a lot better. And then the rebounding is huge. If we can choke off the second and third shots we feel like that will make it really hard for them to win."
Old Dominion has played nine games and made 212 trips to the free throw line for an average of 23.5 attempts per game. The Lady Monarchs are 144-212 (67.9 percent) from the line.
By comparison, Tennessee has played two more games at 11 but made just eight more trips to the line at 220, for an average of 20 attempts per game. The Lady Vols are 155-220 (70.5 percent) from the stripe.
"You've either got a great post game or you've got a great, slashing, driving type team," Lockwood said of the circumstances in which a team gets to the line more often. "They are very athletic and they dribble drive and get to the free throw line. They are good in the open floor. They get steals and they convert and in the open floor they're taking it to the basket, taking it to the paint and they're getting fouled.
"We've got to play good defense without fouling. This is a team you could see getting in the bonus with 13 minutes left in the half. They can get you in trouble that way, so we can't let that happen."
Defensively, Coach Wendy Larry is inclined to play man, but Lockwood expects some different looks because of the size of Tennessee inside and out.
"She's done a lot of man to man," Lockwood said. "That's her core, so I would be surprised if we didn't see some man, but they play a 1-3-1 and a 3-2 zone. I think we're going to see both. I think she's going to try to keep us off balance a little bit."
When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols want to establish their post game and get easy shots for Kelley Cain, Glory Johnson and Alyssia Brewer.
"Getting the kind of shots you can make early, you see it go in and you feel it go in and your confidence goes up," Lockwood said. "Kelley, Glory, Lyssi, I think all three of them that's what we want to do."
An emphasis in practice was having the trio run "the post highway" and get to the rim. The coaches expect to see that Wednesday.
"We don't want them taking a lot of high post jumpers in this game," Lockwood said.
Defensively, Tennessee wants to establish that it can effectively deploy its man schemes to stop dribble penetration.
"The good thing about the timeliness of this game is they will challenge us in that way," Lockwood said. "We think our zone can be effective so we'll probably use it, but we would like to think that we can go out against Old Dominion and stop them one on one consistently. This will be a great challenge for our players to do that.
"The easy way out is zoning them. Most teams have zoned them all the way through. We'd like to say, ‘Let's take the challenge and try to stop them.'
The Lady Monarchs also will look for opportunities to run, so Tennessee must match up in transition.
"Our transition defense and our commitment to boxing out, it just hasn't been where it needs to be," Pat Summitt said. "That's why we're picking up early in transition (in practice) and also running some of our defensive schemes in the half-court. We've got to slow down the action (when on defense). The zone was very effective but then when we extend and go to our full court pressure, we've got a lot of things that we can look at in that regard.
"They want to get to the paint off the dribble over and over and over. With that said that's going to be key for us, just keeping them out of the paint and mixing up our defenses. I think our full court and our three-quarter court could at least slow them down a little bit because they want to play fast."
Tennessee will face teams back to back that want to score via dribble drives with Oklahoma in town on Sunday. It helps the team's preparation when the next two opponents play a similar style.
"I think it does because you're in a rhythm of what you're facing and how you're guarding it," Lockwood said. "Rather than changing I think it helps a player's mindset. You do so much of it in practice and you prepare your team for that. You're guarding something similar, and I think it's easier to retain."
ON TAP: Five other SEC schools are in action tonight in the following matchups: Southern Miss at Alabama; Jacksonville at Florida; Georgia at Savannah State; LSU at Xavier; and Alcorn State at Mississippi State.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Old Dominion, 33-9. The Lady Vols are 15-3 all-time in Knoxville. The Lady Monarchs last win in the series, which began in 1977, was an 83-72 win on Jan. 7, 1997, in Norfolk, Va. … Tennessee is 8-2 in games played on December 30. The last win on this date was against Gonzaga, 77-58, in 2008. The first win on December 30 was against Penn State, 74-72, in 1978. The two losses on this date were to Maryland, 77-72, in 1992, and Connecticut, 81-76, in 2000. … Tennessee's Shekinna Stricklen missed last season's game against Old Dominion. The then-freshman had a stomach illness and couldn't keep any food down on the day of the game. Tennessee played 33 games total last season, and Stricklen started in 32 of them. Stricklen has started all 11 games this season, as have Angie Bjorklund and Glory Johnson. … Tonight's broadcast on SportSouth will be ODU's first appearance on television this season. All but two of Tennessee's 29 regular season games are televised on regional or national networks. The two games not televised were Virginia and San Francisco. … Old Dominion was picked by the coaches to finish third in the Colonial Athletic Association behind Drexel and James Madison, which has moved into the top 25 poll. The Lady Monarchs are just eight wins away from 900 for the program. Wendy Larry needs 29 more wins to reach 600 for her career. ODU's first conference game is this Sunday against Delaware, which is led by former UConn recruit and high school national player of the year Elena Delle Donne.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 76.2 points a game while allowing opponents to score 54.7. Old Dominion averages 63.2 points a game while allowing 74.6. The Lady Vols are shooting 44.7 percent overall, 34.6 percent behind the arc and 70.5 percent from the free throw line. The Lady Monarchs are shooting 37.7 percent overall, 25.0 percent from long range and 67.9 percent from the line. Tennessee makes an average of 5.7 three-pointers a game while allowing 5.2. Old Dominion makes 3.4 threes a game while allowing 5.7.
Tennessee averages 44.8 rebounds a game for a +8.6 margin. Old Dominion averages 36.1 boards with a -5.8 margin. The Lady Vols average 14.5 assists and 14.5 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 17.2 times a game. The Lady Monarchs average 10.8 assists and 21.7 turnovers with foes losing the ball 21.1 times a game. Tennessee averages 7.7 steals and 5.5 blocks a game. Old Dominion averages 8.8 steals and 3.8 blocks.