Taber Spani returns to practice

The Lady Vols returned to practice Saturday and were close to a full complement of players. Taber Spani practiced for the first time in a week after resting a chronic case of turf toe while Alicia Manning sat out under Tennessee's concussion protocol after taking a blow to the head late in the second half in Thursday's game.

Alicia Manning could be available for Monday's game against Vanderbilt if she continues to pass her cognitive and physical tests. She underwent a controlled cardio test on a stationary bicycle on the sideline and if she has no return of symptoms, Manning will be allowed to participate in a non-contact practice on Sunday.

The good news is that Sunday's workout should be non-contact for the entire Tennessee team. The Lady Vols will leave Sunday for Nashville and hold a short practice session in the afternoon at Memorial Gym.

"All we're going to do is get the balls out, Coach Pat Summitt said. "We'll go the length of the floor and run some ball handling drills and the next thing will be shooting."

That will be it until Monday when the team returns to the court for shoot-around. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2 as part of the network's Big Monday and Rivalry Week promotion.

Summitt wanted to get in a Sunday session and shoot-around the day of the game Monday to get her young team better acclimated to the odd configuration at Memorial Gym. The benches are on the baselines, and the court is above ground level. Also, the basket is supported by two beams that extend out from the sides of the backboard instead of the center support system, and the shot clock is off to the side on one beam and not above the basket.

"I think for our team, for our freshmen, it's a tough place to play," Summitt said. "They're going to have their backs to me a lot of the time. They're going to have to take ownership of the communication while we are at Vanderbilt. There's no doubt about that."

Tennessee also will take the floor with a freshman at point guard. Kamiko Williams, who is from Clarksville, Tenn. – about 53 miles northwest of Nashville – will make her second career start for the Lady Vols. A first-year player at the point position is a challenge, and Williams will handle the role with her head coach at the opposite end of the floor and with Williams' back to her for one half when the Lady Vols have the ball.

"We're going to need great communication," Summitt said.

Williams watched film before practice Saturday with Summitt to review her game against Arkansas, in which she had three points, two rebounds, two assists and two turnovers. It was an outing that both player and coach want to improve on, especially after how well Williams had performed off the bench for the past month.

"Kamiko, as opposed to really being the point guard of our team, she wanted to be the one to get to the paint and create for herself instead of creating for other players," Summitt said. "We watched that, and I think she truly understands now.

"I'm going to leave her in the starting lineup because she's just got to get better, and I told her, ‘I want you to be our starting point guard. You're not going to have to run it the whole game. If you get tired, you pull yourself out. Just come over and say, ‘Coach, I need a break.' And then I'll get you back into the game.' She had low energy late in that game."

Shekinna Stricklen has handled the bulk of the point guard duties this season, but the sophomore, just one game after telling Summitt she wanted to stay there, has moved to the wing, and she is apparently quite content to be there.

"She was very happy about moving to the wing," said Angie Bjorklund, her backcourt mate. "She's more comfortable at the wing spot. We do have with Bree (Briana Bass) and Kamiko two great point guards and the more they step up into that position the more pressure it will take off Shekinna fulfilling all those roles, being a scorer, being a point guard, being a rebounder. She's got a huge responsibility."

Summitt just smiled and shook her head about Stricklen, a player with skills at every spot on the court, according to the coach.

"Stricklen needs to understand that she is a player in this program," Summitt said. "She can play all five positions if I ask her, too. It's amazing that she is saying what she is saying, because I would love to have the ball in my hands. When I was a player I didn't ever get it until I got it in the paint. She gets it all the time (when playing point). She'll get through this."

Stricklen also will still get reps at point guard. Although Williams has skills suited to the slot, and Briana Bass had some effective minutes against Arkansas, it is still a position being filled by committee as needed.

Monday's starting lineup will be the 11th different combination this season because Glory Johnson, who came off the bench against Arkansas, will be on the floor for the opening tip against Vandy.

Forward Alyssia Brewer played extremely well against Arkansas – she had 20 points and nine rebounds – but Summitt decided the team needed Johnson's defense from the start Monday.

"I would start that (same) way except Glory's defense," Summitt said. "Glory can put a lot of pressure on the ball if we're in man."

Tennessee could have another player available for Monday's game. Freshman forward Taber Spani, who can line up inside or out and started 16 games this season before being sidelined with turf toe, participated in practice Saturday. She missed the past two games to rest her foot and had not practiced in over a week.

"She looks pretty good. She's moving pretty well," Summitt said.

Spani is officially listed as day to day because the symptoms can flare up again and force her to the sidelines. Spani has been dealing with the painful condition since last summer.

"It's all with Pat and Jenny (Moshak) on my status, and it's going to probably change game to game," Spani said. "It started in June. It's not just the turf toe. It's some complications with turf toe. The symptoms come from a variety of different sources."

Spani was mobile enough Saturday to lead Summitt to believe she could be used in a reserve role Monday.

"My focus is to help this team become the best they can be," Spani said. "Whatever my role is right now I am going to just accept it and go with what Coach wants. I just want to help this team."

Saturday's session lasted about two hours – the players cleared the court about 30 minutes before the doors opened for the Vols game against South Carolina – as they went over the multiple offensive sets that Vanderbilt is expected to run.

"We wanted to go over all of the sets that Vanderbilt runs," Summitt said. "They run more sets than I think I've ever had in my whole coaching career. So just being able to guard all of their action. They really do a great job in the high-low game, and you've got to take away the top of the floor or they're going to get inside touches. That is going to be a big challenge for us."

The team will reconvene today for the bus ride to Nashville and a session at the Commodores gym.

After that, Summitt will be in her hotel room to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday evening. There are some years that the head coach doesn't even know who's playing in pro football's biggest event, but Summitt has maintained close contact with former Vols quarterback Peyton Manning, and she follows the Indianapolis Colts.

"Peyton is going to win," Summitt said. "I'll be watching. I will definitely be watching."

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