Shekinna Stricklen able to practice

Shekinna Stricklen returned to practice Thursday and was able to participate in the team weight-lifting session and court work. The sophomore guard's right knee was a little sore from the mishap in the game against Old Dominion, but it didn't affect her at practice, and she was cleared for all drills.

That was the best possible news for Coach Pat Summitt as the final practice of 2009 was officially completed. Before the players left the court – several have family in town for the holidays – Summitt reminded them that New Year's Eve was a festive event, but "nothing good happens after midnight" and to be safely at home when 2010 rolls in.

Sophomore forward Alyssia Brewer said the coach didn't need to worry about her. She expected to be asleep "before the ball drops."

"My mom and my grandmother and my little brother are here," said Brewer, who is from Sapulpa, Okla., and doesn't get to have family in town very often.

No. 4/4 Tennessee plays No. 14/15 Oklahoma on Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2) at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The team held a weight-lifting session Thursday morning and then practiced for about two-and-a-half hours in the afternoon. Shekinna Stricklen was a little sore but participated in the weight workout and was also cleared to practice.

"We just dodged another bullet, and it's great to have her out here," Summitt said.

Stricklen was injured at the 17:05 mark of the first half when she landed awkwardly after snaring an offensive rebound and fell to the court clutching her right knee. On Dec. 6, she hyper-extended her left knee against Texas, missed one day of practice and then was back on the court.

Immediately after Wednesday's mishap the Lady Vol players gathered near their bench to pray.

"For me, I go straight to God and I say, ‘God, this is in your hands,' " junior guard Angie Bjorklund said. "We got together and prayed. Taber and I both prayed."

Glory Johnson continued the spiritual efforts into the evening.

"We were praying for her all day and all night," Johnson said. "I went home praying for her some more. Me and my mom were praying for her. We were hoping for the best, and it helped a lot."

Johnson came off the bench in the 102-62 win and electrified the crowd of 12,503 with her performance. Among those in the crowd Wednesday evening was Ariel Massengale, a 5'6 guard from Bolingbrook, Ill., the top point guard in the class of 2011. Massengale was on an unofficial visit to Tennessee. The Lady Vols already have one commitment from the class of 2011 in Cierra Burdick, a 6'2 wing from Charlotte, N.C., and a top five prospect in that class.

It wasn't so much Johnson's points, 15, or her rebounds, 10, as the energy and athleticism she brought to the court.

One play in particular stood out when Kamiko Williams fired a pass from mid-court to Johnson in the paint that appeared as if it would sail over her head and out of bounds. Johnson leaped, tipped it with one hand, secured the ball with three ODU defenders around her and fired the ball to a wide-open Briana Bass, who drained the three from the left wing.

The crowd went from gasping in amazement, a frequent noise when Johnson leaves her feet, to cheering the overall effort. At times the crowd's reactions register with the sophomore forward.

"Sometimes I do and sometimes I'm in my own zone and I can't really hear anything off the floor," Johnson said. "I just saw the ball and I could either go for it, or it could be a turnover. I wanted the ball so I went for it and got it. I didn't think I was going to."

Johnson's fellow post player, Brewer, had a solid game with 16 points and six rebounds. She also did what the coaches have implored her to do – establish position on the low block and use her strength and size to get to the rim.

In one second half series, Brewer had a moment of guard relapse. She dribbled the ball to mid-court and a split second before an Old Dominion defender was about to poke the ball free, Brewer came to an abrupt stop, secured the ball and passed it to Bass. Brewer then scooted to the low block, got position, received the entry pass from Williams and powered her way to the basket.

Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, who works extensively with the posts, must have channeled Johnson's energy because he leaped off the bench in celebration. Lockwood's enthusiasm is appreciated by the players.

"It's awesome," Brewer said. "It's just awesome, because you have someone who is there for you no matter what, telling you what to do from the sideline. When you have somebody like that that is happy for you that just makes you happy.

"It's kind of like, I don't want to say a big brother-type aspect, but it kind of is in a way. I also think Dean feels good because what he's teaching us we're using it."

Old Dominion Coach Wendy Larry saw an improved Tennessee team over the one that barely beat the Lady Monarchs a year ago in Norfolk, Va. Although the personnel remain largely the same – Taber Spani and Williams are the only newcomers on the court; Spani starts and Williams comes off the bench – the team is noticeably different as a whole.

"I would say they're in another world as far as their focus and their attention is concerned," Larry said. "I think they're listening significantly to what Coach Summitt and her staff have to say, and I think they're playing with a lot more chutzpah.

"I like how Brewer plays now. I wasn't enamored so much last year, but I think she's turned a great corner. Another one that I thought was really impressive is Kelley Cain. She's much more controlled, she's stays in her lane, she doesn't get outside the lane, she does what she does best, blocked some shots and rebounded the basketball. She's not looking to be the whole show, but they've got an awful lot of good complementary pieces that work with a nice, big lineup like that."

A key piece of that big lineup was back at practice in Stricklen, a 6'2 perimeter player who can line up at point guard or small forward.

"She's such a difference maker at the point position because of her size and her skill set," Summitt said. "We were all concerned about it, but Jenny (Moshak) reassured me last night that she was going to be OK. Doctor Moshak did it."

Tennessee's practice plan Thursday was to both do some early preparation for Oklahoma and get a lot of shots lofted.

"We wanted to come in and go over some of the defensive schemes that we're going to have to play," Summitt said. "We got in quite a bit of the defensive coverage for Oklahoma. We just wanted to get them a lot of shots and a lot of reps and then get them up and down."

Summitt intended to spend New Year's Eve at her home, but it would not be a quiet one, as she expected a house full for dinner, including her mother, Hazel Head.

"I am cooking for a bunch of people," Summitt said.

Before the team left the arena, Summitt gathered the players together for a reminder.

"I told them nothing good ever happens after midnight, but they're all going to be together and not be out late," Summitt said.


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