Lady Vols prepare for Vandy

The Lady Vols returned to practice Friday after escaping from Gainesville with a two-point win on an Angie Bjorklund reverse layup. With the upcoming stretch of SEC games for Tennessee, the coaches opted to look forward by watching film with the team to prepare for Vanderbilt and having the players take off Saturday to rest their legs.

The Tennessee team won't take the court Saturday and instead will hold another film session to get ready for Vanderbilt and then find Jenny Moshak, the chief of sports medicine, in the training room for assorted treatments. Thursday night was a trademark SEC contest in terms of physicality, and Friday's practice session wasn't particularly rigorous.

"We just wanted to go through a lot of their sets and then wanted to watch tape on them," Coach Pat Summitt said.

Tennessee had all 10 players at practice, including Kelley Cain, the 6'6 centerpiece of the post game, who took a blow to her right hip 21 seconds before halftime against Florida. Cain, who suffered a hip contusion, was not able to start the second half but got back into the game and finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Cain participated fully in practice – she needed a little extra time to warm up – and was loaded down with ice bags and a smile after the session ended. She also felt good enough to get in some extra work after practice and then join the other posts for a film session with Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood.

Tennessee got a tough draw in the SEC schedule by playing the conference's top teams, only one at home, to open league play. After a trip last Sunday to Mississippi State, the Lady Vols host Vanderbilt this Sunday (6 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU) and then travel to Georgia and LSU next week. The media's predicted order of finish in the league was LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.

Summitt is known for a tough non-conference slate, but the league determines the various SEC matchups and when they are held.

"She must have made somebody mad," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said with a laugh. "We're looking forward to February (when Tennessee has five SEC home games). It's a tough (start)."

The media picked Florida to finish sixth, and the Lady Vols slipped past the Gators, 66-64, on Thursday after Angie Bjorklund cut to the basket, received a pass from Glory Johnson and converted the reverse layup.

That game – three starters in Bjorklund, Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen, logged extensive minutes – and the slate ahead caused the coaches to scale back court time in practice Friday, and they won't have the players return to the hardwood until shoot-around Sunday.

"It was rough, and we've got a huge week ahead of us," Warlick said. "I don't know who isn't physical in our league. They all are. Vandy is not going to sit there and let us do what we want to do."

Stricklen was under the weather in Thursday's game – she had stomach issues at Tuesday's practice but didn't miss the session; three others players did, including Cain – and she struggled against Florida's pressure and accumulated nine turnovers.

"Stricklen struggled the whole night," Summitt said. "I know she wasn't feeling well, but she really struggled, turned the ball over. Angie had a hard time getting open, couldn't make shots. When two of our best players struggle, we're going to struggle. Thank goodness that Kelley and Glory came to play."

Summitt also noted the play of Alyssia Brewer and Kamiko Williams, who combined for 15 points off the bench.

Backup point guard Briana Bass struggled for the second consecutive game and after she backed up when a double team came and then threw the ball away in the first half, she took a seat on the bench. The quick hook likely stemmed from Bass' similar struggles against Mississippi State.

"She texted me (Friday), and we had talked last night," Summitt said. "She's got to get tougher. I met with her today. I was pleased with what she did today. She had a great practice today."

Bass' ability to relieve Stricklen is key, and she had a solid practice Friday on both sides of the ball.

Summitt had said in her post-game remarks Thursday that she didn't think her team showed enough respect to Florida. The Gators defeated Tennessee in Gainesville a year ago in a 66-57 game that could have gone either way late. It ended up being one of Tennessee's five losses on the road in conference play.

"I think they probably didn't think it would happen again to them like it happened the year before," Warlick said. "We started off really strong and once we started turning the ball over it snowballed. We get trapped and we throw it away and it kept spiraling down."

Stricklen wasn't the only one having trouble holding on to the ball as the team tallied 25 turnovers, a season high. The miscues came from poor passes, traveling, three-second calls and offensive fouls. Florida accumulated 16 steals.

Somehow, the coaches maintained a relative sense of calm on the sideline to try to lessen the team's panic and not undercut any chance to win. A year ago, Tennessee loses under the same set of circumstances.

"Exactly," Warlick. "We've seen them this year; we've seen how they've responded. We kept saying there is plenty of time on the clock. Last year we didn't handle how we played very well, and we know it was a learning experience for us. We got a little upset (Thursday) but not as much as we could have.

"I think we were more disappointed, and I'll be honest with you I was more in disbelief of some of the passes we were throwing."

The coaches sometimes looked apoplectic on the sideline as assorted players found various ways to turn loose of the ball. The long tosses were particularly vexing because the coaches had emphasized shortening passes to ensure completion.

Warlick assigned one turnover to the bench when the Lady Vols lost possession on a shot clock violation coming out of a timeout. There was a scramble for a loose ball at Tennessee's end, and Florida knocked it out of bounds without a reset of the clock.

"The coaches didn't look at the clock," Warlick said. "That is totally our fault. That can't happen. There are four of us sitting there. I will be very honest with you. That should not happen."

Florida had a final chance to win on a well-executed in-bounds play that Tennessee didn't defend as drawn up on the Gators' end of the floor.

Cain was told to guard the player throwing in the ball, and if she ran the baseline, Cain was to stand still. Summitt thought Florida might slip a smaller guard along the baseline, and if Cain runs over her, it's a charge, and Florida is at the free throw line with a chance to tie the game. So Summitt told Cain not to move.

"I did," Summitt said. "If she's in that situation and moves and runs over somebody, boom. I've been there and done that several times."

Summitt figured that Florida would make use of the baseline – and especially if Cain was stationed there – but she counted on the three players down court to match up with shooters.

"I figured that our three were not going to stand there," Summitt said. "Everybody went to the ball."

That left Lonnika Thompson, who had just tied the game on a short jumper in the paint, wide open behind the arc, but the shot hit iron and bounced away.

On Friday, the coaches quizzed the players about the game before the film session.

"I went in today and I said, ‘You know what was great about that game? And everyone of them said, ‘It was a win,' " Warlick said. "It wasn't a win last year. As long as we learn from it, we're in business. It goes down as a win. Now, if we don't learn from it then (that's a bad development.)

"We gave ourselves a chance to get the win, and we did."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories