Lady Vols return to practice

After two days off following their SEC Tournament title run the Lady Vols returned to practice Wednesday to work on essentially everything – offense, defense, rebounding and breaking pressure. Pat Summitt, who departed as soon as the session ended – to go recruiting as it turned out – said the time between tourneys would be used to get better.

"That's exactly what we talked about as a coaching staff," Coach Pat Summitt while her players shot free throws towards the end of practice Wednesday morning. "We will put in some different looks, but right now it's up-and-down basketball."

Tennessee last week put in offensive wrinkles that Summitt said would be used in Duluth, Ga., for the SEC tourney, if needed. They weren't needed, so the plays will remain un-scouted by potential opponents and could be used in the NCAA tourney.

"We've got 'em," Summitt said.

The NCAA brackets will be revealed next Monday, and Summitt said "absolutely" when asked if she expected Tennessee to receive a one seed.

"I think we deserve it. We'll see where we land," said Summitt, who was hoping for the Memphis regional "of course."

"I think that makes sense for us to be in that bracket (but) who knows?" Summitt said.

Tennessee will host the first two rounds March 20 and 22 and tickets are available for purchase on the Lady Vols website. General admission tickets are good for the sections behind the baskets, provided the ticket holder arrive early enough to claim the lower level seats, which are available on a first come-first served basis.

As of Wednesday, pre-sales were 5,501, which leads all sites, according to Debby Jennings, media relations chief for the Lady Vols.

Some 500 tickets were sold over the weekend, a result of the excitement generated by Tennessee claiming the SEC tourney title on top of the regular season championship. The pre-sales were high considering the fact the other three teams to be assigned to Knoxville haven't been announced yet.

"That's great," Summitt said.

If Tennessee were to survive rounds one and two at home, the Lady Vols would advance to regional play. The four sites this year are Sacramento, Kansas City, Dayton and Memphis.

Memphis is close to Morrilton, Ark., the hometown of Shekinna Stricklen, so that would be a desired destination for the sophomore. Her grandfather and two uncles were able to make it to Duluth.

"We want her family there," Summitt said with a smile. "She gets motivated with family there."

Several family members formed a mini-blockade Sunday evening to stop the team bus as it left Duluth. The families couldn't get to the back parking lot behind The Arena at Gwinnett Center for security reasons, so they lined up their cars at the spot where the bus would exit the arena/business complex.

The blockade was amusing but not absolutely necessary.

"They had asked about it, and I asked the team, ‘Do y'all want to hook up with your families?' " Summitt said. "And they said, ‘Yes.' We made it happen. I told them that we would make sure that they got to see their families."

The players got to visit with and then say goodbye to their families before the bus headed to Knoxville late Sunday night.

This week is spring break so the players don't have classes, and Summitt gave them two consecutive days off after the SEC tourney. They are scheduled to practice four days this week with an additional day off over the weekend.

The time spent on the court will be up-tempo, as Wednesday was, and it didn't take long for the players to feel the effects of running up and down again.

"You think?" Summitt said with a smile. "I knew they would come in and be a little winded. That's OK. We want it to be live action every day on the court getting up and down. Eventually we'll be getting in some other offensive sets.

"We want to get up and down and work on our defense, our offense, our boards. We're going to challenge them."

The 10 players on the active roster were all cleared to practice Wednesday and emerged relatively unscathed from Duluth. The concern for Kelley Cain was three consecutive days on her surgically repaired right knee.

"Kelley's knee is great. The refs gave her more time off," Jenny Moshak joked.

Cain did spend portions of the tourney in foul trouble, but fellow posts Glory Johnson and Alyssia Brewer also stepped up for Tennessee. Brewer was the leading scorer for the Lady Vols at 14.7 points per game, and she shot 70.4 percent from the field. She averaged 5.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks over the three games and was selected as the tourney's MVP. Stricklen and Alicia Manning were named to the all-tourney team. Summitt said Johnson gave an MVP-worthy effort in the title game.

As a team, the Lady Vols faced Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and out-rebounded their three opponents, 141-81.

"You've got to give credit to this team," Summitt said. "They had a nose for the ball and went after it."

The players were upbeat Wednesday as they took the practice court – Angie Bjorklund was already on the floor taking jumpers before the session started – and Summitt said the wins in Duluth should have a carryover effect.

"They've got to feel good about themselves the way they played there," Summitt said. "We were able to separate ourselves from Kentucky. That was a hard-fought game. For us to win that I thought it was really big for them."

One of the first orders of business Wednesday was working on full court pressure. The ball handlers were subjected to physical traps and hacks at the ball. The drill emphasized both dealing with physical play and moving the ball before the trap formed.

"We'll definitely look at that," Summitt said. "When it gets into tournament time it goes up to a whole different level of intensity, and we've got to take care of the basketball, and we've got to own the glass. I like where we are rebounding-wise, but we can always get better.

"They are in a very good place right now, and they're working hard. The communication has been really good."

Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow may have started a new tradition with line dancing after a tournament championship, as she did in Duluth with players and cheerleaders joining her on the court for "The Electric Slide," a choreographed routine that has been popular at dance clubs for some 20 years.

"Who knows?" said Summitt, who sang "Rocky Top" for the fans but didn't dance. "I don't have any rhythm."

Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, said the team handled the consecutive days well but won't have to face that format in the NCAA tourney where there is a day between games. Her focus in Duluth was getting players ready in 24 hours.

"We did a lot of recovery work," Moshak said. "We did ice baths in the hotel. We focused on nutrition. We focused on fluids. We focused on massage. We focused on a lot of treatments, and it paid off for us. We were busy, but we were busy with the intent of prevention."

Summitt was happy to get the team back on the court.

"They had their days off and now they know we've got to get down to business," Summitt said. "I think they feel good about themselves, and I want them to, but they also are going to understand how hard we're going to work before we get a seed and see where we're going and what we're doing. Obviously first/second round here. I'm excited about that."

Summitt also scooted out of the arena after the morning practice. Turns out, according to a newspaper report, that she was bound for Virginia to watch top 2011 recruit Elizabeth Williams.

Summitt will be back on the court Thursday with her team to continue preparations for postseason.

"The up-and-down pace, we're going to get up and down every day we're on this court," Summitt said. We're pushing. We're pushing hard. We're not settling. We've got to get better."


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