Lady Vols take advantage of down time

The Lady Vols earned Saturday off after three consecutive days of practice this week that pleased even Pat Summitt with the overall focus and effort. "We're going hard," the head coach said after practice ended Friday and as her sweat-soaked players left the court for a weight-lifting session with Heather Mason.

Pat Summitt scheduled three days off this week following the team's three-day SEC tourney title run in Duluth, Ga., last weekend with the intent being to keep minds and legs fresh before the NCAA portion of postseason begins in a week.

Summitt also had a practical reason for additional rest.

"I don't want to get anybody hurt," Summitt said.

Alyssia Brewer, who pulled a calf muscle in the SEC tourney, missed practice Thursday but returned for nearly all of the session Friday in Pratt Pavilion. Taber Spani, who missed the tail end of Thursday's session, went the distance Friday. Summitt laughed out loud when told that the freshman had looked stricken when she was ordered to leave the court Thursday to treat her chronic case of turf toe.

"She's a great kid," Summitt said.

Summitt's on-court tone in postseason shifts towards the positive end of the continuum, but she is no less demanding. The two freshmen got some extra instruction Friday – Spani was reminded to get to the boards every time, and Kamiko Williams was reminded that effort must be sustained throughout the two-hour session.

But, overall, Summitt was pleased with the entire team and its commitment for the past three days. Practice started Friday morning, and the players looked a little tired when they first arrived, but they picked up the pace as soon as the session started.

"I told them, ‘We got a lot better. We got a lot better on defense. We got a lot better getting the ball inside,' " Summitt said.

When Tennessee has the ball, the focus this week has been on getting it to Angie Bjorklund despite gimmick defenses or at least making an opponent pay for the strategy; getting it inside by passes to the posts or by dribble penetration from the wing; and playing out of defensive traps. Summitt expects ball pressure in the postseason.

"We want to be ready for it," Summitt said. "I think they're going to be doubling on our posts. I would."

A lot of work has been done on defense for the past three days. The emphasis will shift more to offense at Sunday's session.

"Get in a lot of shots and review what we've put in," Summitt said of offensive wrinkles that get players in motion.

On Monday evening, the Lady Vols will learn who their next opponent will be when the NCAA tourney brackets are unveiled on ESPN at 7 p.m. Eastern. Tennessee, Connecticut, Stanford and Nebraska are the presumptive number one seeds.

While the players are enjoying a rare day off on the weekend, Summitt will spend the day signing copies of her Summitt Pictorial Retrospective book for former players. Each book inscription will be personalized by Summitt and sent to all former players.

One of those former players can pick up her copy in person. Kara Lawson, who will leave this weekend for her studio duties at ESPN, stayed with Summitt this week while she was in town to complete rehab on a quad injury suffered last summer during her WNBA season. Lawson's last recovery step was live basketball action, and she practiced twice with the team this week at Pratt.

Summitt made home-cooked meals for the former guard and gave her the use of the hot tub, which Lawson needed after two strenuous days on the court. Summitt also made her personal masseuse available, and Lawson underwent a two-hour session to recover.

Lawson's competitiveness was apparent both days, and she pushed the current players on both sides of the ball. She also got sliced under her eye during one scramble for the ball, but was expected to be none the worse for the wear for her national TV spots.

"It's great," Summitt said of having Lawson back in town and on the court.

One of Summitt's former players and assistant coaches, Nikki Caldwell, was honored this week when the Pac-10 media and coaches voted her the conference's coach of the year. Summitt called the native of Oak Ridge, Tenn., this week, to congratulate Caldwell on the honor in her second season at UCLA.

"I told her how proud I was and excited for her," Summitt said. "Am I surprised? No. To be honest if you take my staff over the years she is more demanding than anybody else. She is a Pat Summitt when she is on the floor, and she has done a tremendous job."

LEFTOVER FROM SEC TOURNEY: Fans held up a variety of signs expressing devotion to Pat Summitt and/or the Lady Vols. But one young female fan had a different objective.

Playing off the ESPN broadcast of Sunday's game, her sign read: TylEr Summitt's Phone Number?

HIGH-LOW: Lady Vol junior Angie Bjorklund has been at the highest level – a national title as a freshman – and the lowest – a first-round loss in the NCAA tourney as a sophomore.

"First year was really high," Bjorklund said. "Last year (was low). Now we're about middle."

Bjorklund, however, hasn't noticed any discernible difference in Pat Summitt's intensity level.

"I think it's Coach just knowing what we have in us and trying to get the best out of us and that's why she's the best coach in the country," Bjorklund said. "And she is going to continue to push us."

KEEP TALKING: Shekinna Stricklen's willingness to raise her voice has been beneficial for the team since the sophomore has the ball in her hands so much. Stricklen said she sometimes needs a reminder.

"I'm getting better, but Coach has to get on me and say, ‘You need to bring up your volume. You need to be a leader and step up,' " Stricklen said. "I feel like I did in (Duluth), pushing the ball a lot more, penetrating and finding the open person. I feel like it helped the team get started."

TIMEOUT VS. TEMPER: When Sydney Smallbone got trapped on the sideline during one game in Duluth she opted to call a timeout rather than take a turnover. That meant, of course, getting an earful from Pat Summitt, who had emphasized getting rid of the ball before the double team arrived.

"I'd rather get yelled at than turn the ball over," Smallbone said. "It was my fault for getting stuck on the sidelines."

After Tennessee throttled Ole Miss to open its tourney play, junior Vicki Baugh, who is taking a redshirt year this season, said the performance reminded her of the attitude of the 2008 team. A freshman Baugh won a national title in Tampa with that team. Smallbone also was a freshman that season and saw some similarities in 2010 in Duluth.

"I think there was an attitude that '08 team had," Smallbone said. "When we took the court our mentality was, ‘We're going to do whatever it takes to win, and no one is going to stand in our way.' I think we started off this tournament that way and if we can continue to keep it going I think we can become a team like that."

BREE TO THE LINE: When an Ole Miss player was assessed a technical foul after a skirmish inside, Tennessee got to shoot two free throws. When Pat Summitt asked Alicia Manning if she wanted to take them, the sophomore instead pointed out Briana Bass.

Manning is 17-27 (63.0 percent) on the season. Bass is 8-9 (88.9 percent). Bass went to the line and hit both free throws.

"She was aware of her percentage," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "That's what I like."

DAYS OFF: Pat Summitt's trust level of a team can sometimes be measured by its days off.

This season, she has been willing to take off the day before games sometimes to save players' legs and review the scouting report at shoot-around the day of the game. She has held lengthy practices at times but also has cut some short if she thinks the players have absorbed the needed info. Saturday will be the team's third day off this week.

"I sense more of an aptitude that we had my freshman year, kind of that we come in, we get work done, we leave," Angie Bjorklund said. "As long as we're doing what we're supposed to, the practices are going to be shorter because there is not as much teaching.

"We're a year older, and we're starting to understand things. They trust you more."

A year ago the coaches needed every available minute with a freshman-laden team, even if just for the practice repetitions. As the team has matured this season the players have shown the ability to get more work done in less court time.

"I think that it's important for us to not stay on the court as long," Summitt said. "I just think if you have your legs then you typically have your mind. It kind of goes together, because if you're fatigued here (pointing to legs), forget it."

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