Pat Summitt in postseason form

Pat Summitt walked into practice this week in postseason form with a combustible mixture of energy, demands, expectations and praise. Junior guard Angie Bjorklund has been around long enough to know that spring does indeed come in to Tennessee like a lion but it has nothing to do with the weather.

"She was everywhere," said sophomore forward Glory Johnson, who laughed when she was jokingly asked if Pat Summitt must have just chugged an energy drink. "I don't know what she did before practice, but she was everywhere."

Summitt was indeed all over the court Monday afternoon, shouting an assortment of criticisms, praise and observations. Her facial expressions ranged from scowls to smiles. Good plays were noted. Lack of enough effort was duly noted.

"I think the excitement of the week and it's getting towards that time where Coach is going to be a little more intense," Angie Bjorklund said. "But at the same time she's going to be a lot more positive with us just because things have to lighten up. We're all going to kind of be on edge. We're very excited about what's ahead of us."

The assistant coaches also have helped to keep the Tennessee players loose in postseason. Before the 2008 NCAA tourney began, Dean Lockwood, Holly Warlick and then-assistant Nikki Caldwell did a Soulja Boy routine in fatigues in the locker room. Lockwood, who already has endured teasing from his former players in the state of Michigan about his stint as a cheerleader when Pat Summitt sang "Rocky Top" on ESPN during halftime of a Vols-Gators basketball game, is grateful no photos have been leaked.

"All the coaches before the game they'll put together something fun for us to kind of calm the nerves," Bjorklund said.

The official first day of spring 2010 is this Saturday, March 20. It's also No. 1 seed Tennessee's opening NCAA Tournament game against No. 16 seed Austin Peay (15-17) at 12:16 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2). The second game at Thompson-Boling Arena features No. 8 seed Dayton (24-7) vs. No. 9 seed TCU (22-8). The winners meet Monday evening for the right to advance to the Memphis Region.

Freshman Taber Spani also noticed that her head coach had ratcheted up the intensity.

"She's intense all the time, but I think we expect her to pump it up," Spani said. "It is postseason. We expect it not only with Pat, but with the other coaches and each other. I love it, and I think that this team is really focused. I am really excited about where we are right now."

"You've got to be at tournament time," sophomore forward Alicia Manning said. "What do you expect?"

Manning has been described by Summitt as one of the fiercest competitors on the team and someone who will relentlessly pursue the basketball. That explains why the second-year player has moved into the starting lineup.

Summitt hasn't hesitated to change her starters – the baker's dozen of lineups this season surpassed the even dozen of last season – as she adjusted to injuries and performance combinations.

The one constant on the season is Shekinna Stricklen. The sophomore has started all 32 games with nearly all of those at the position of point guard. Bjorklund is just one game behind her at 31 starts. One of Stricklen's backups at the spot, Briana Bass, has had an excellent week of practice since the SEC tourney ended.

"I feel totally confident (in Bass)," Stricklen said. "In practices she has turned it up to another level. I feel like she could come in at any time. When she comes in she's more confident, and she's going to keep it going. She's going to control the team, and she's going to step up and be that leader.

"I feel a lot more relaxed. I can still be in, and she can come in and play the point, and I can move to the wing."

During a Tuesday radio interview with InsideTennessee's morning show on ESPN 1180-AM in Knoxville, Summitt said she expected that Stricklen would play the bulk of her minutes at point with help from Bass and freshman Kamiko Williams.

"We are going to have to communicate a lot," Stricklen said. "In the Ball State game (a year ago in the tourney) when they got the lead, the point guards aren't supposed to get down. They've got to stay confident, and they have to have energy. You have to bring up the team. You're the one pushing the ball, you're controlling the offense, you've got to pick everyone up."

Bass added, "The point guard keeps the team running. They have to take that leadership role. They have to be confident in themselves and be ready to make that extra play or do the hustle play and whatever they need to do for the team."

Keeping everyone engaged is also the balance Summitt will try to strike with her usual high expectations. Two players, Williams and Johnson, ran afoul of that during a Sunday session and ended up getting an earful from the coach about focus and effort.

The other players have now learned to pick up their teammates when something like that happens. A year ago, they just seemed grateful to not be the ones being targeted by the head coach.

"Like (Sunday), Miko and Glory, I saw three or four people go up to them and be like, ‘Hey, you guys got it. Pick it up next time,' " Bjorklund said. "I think encouraging and communicating to each other and having each other's backs is going to be really huge.

"We're taking ownership now. We're kind of like, ‘OK, we know what it takes.' We won the SEC this year, and we haven't gone far in the tournament (in the past), but we have a higher sense of urgency, and we're a lot more competitive."

For their part, Williams and Johnson are showing signs that they understand Summitt. Williams has also maintained her sense of humor about the pair's position in the coach's doghouse.

"I call (Johnson) the dog and I'm the puppy," Williams said.

So how do they get unleashed?

"Just play – use our athleticism, use our ability to help the team," Williams said. "We've done it on occasion. We do it when they really need us, but like Pat said, she needs it all the time, not just when we're down or we're tied. If we're up by 50 she still needs us to go out there and go play, and I think we're really starting to understand and see that that's what she needs and that's what she wants. We're getting into that mindset. We've just got to go out there and do it.

"The team has been telling me, and Glory, too, ‘Pat is going to be like that. You've got to work with it and keep it moving.' She needs me, and she needs Glory, so she's going to push us. When we play difficult teams, she's going to need us in there, and she needs to make sure that we'll go out there and do what we're supposed to do. I take it for what it is and go out there and go play."

Summitt has a little more patience when a freshman needs some time to mature – she dealt with a team full of youngsters last season – but not so much with a second-year player. Summitt did take a different approach with Johnson on Monday in that she took the sophomore forward to the locker room for a different kind of film session.

Johnson wasn't sure why she was being taken off the floor until they got in the locker room.

"I didn't know, but it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be," Johnson said.

Summitt showed her film clips of Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike, a sophomore of similar build and athleticism who has elevated her play this season.

"She basically said everybody knows they need me to step up, more offensively than anything I think, just being consistent scoring-wise," Johnson said. "I think my defense has picked up. My rebounding, me and Dean set levels for rebounding, stay around the 10 range."

When Rebecca Lobo mentioned the film incident Monday during the Selection Show, it served as a direct message to Johnson, who nodded her head.

"Thank you, Rebecca," said Summitt, who was seated on a couch near Johnson during the show, which the team watched inside the coach's pool house.

On Tuesday, Summitt said Johnson had to be invested in the team and her game at a different level because she could be a major difference maker in postseason.

When Johnson emerged from the locker room Monday – both coach and player were upbeat – she rejoined her teammates in shooting drills. When they segued into free throws, sophomore Alyssia Brewer used the time between shots to talk to Johnson.

"I was talking to her during practice," Brewer said. "I said, ‘Glory, she's just testing you right now. Don't let that get to you. Last year I got it 10 times worse. I know how it is. She's just trying to get you to where we need to be.'

"I told her, ‘Glory, we need you.' As well as Kamiko, we need both of them. That's just something she's going to have to be able to do."

That is not a conversation Brewer could have had with a teammate last season. The words appear to be sinking in with Johnson, though the proof ultimately comes on the court.

"I see it and being consistent in what I can do and knowing I can do it at the same time," Johnson said.

When Johnson is performing at a high level Tennessee is a more formidable team. Against Mississippi State on Jan. 10, Johnson was 7-12 from the field for 16 points and 15 boards. She overpowered and overwhelmed an athletic team, and the Lady Vols won 75-48 in Starkville.

It is that ability that fires up Summitt, especially if she doesn't see that effort on a regular basis. Johnson's performance came off the bench after she had rankled Summitt in the days leading up to the game.

Bjorklund said Summitt's expectations don't change in postseason – they usually elevate – but her tone can be tempered at times.

"I think there is going to be a little bit of tension, but that's with everyone because the expectations are high at this program," Bjorklund said. "But at the same time she doesn't want to make us nervous (in postseason). There is usually a lighter (tone). We'll have more fun here and there. She'll cook for us and we'll kind of joke around there. When we start practice, it's all serious, we're working, and it's going to be tough.

"I think what's great about Coach and the coaching staff and what we do here is that we have a routine. Every routine is going to help."

Two freshmen will be making their NCAA tourney debuts in Williams and Spani, and both think they will get past the jitters relatively quickly. Both have started games this season. Spani was a regular in the lineup until being hindered by turf toe. Summitt experimented with starting Williams at the point spot for a few games, but the freshman was overwhelmed, and Stricklen shifted back to the top from the wing with Williams coming off the bench.

"After the whole starting incident and the SECs, I learned through those experiences how to deal with it," Williams said. "My dad said, ‘Just breathe. Calm yourself down.' Same thing with (sports psychologist) Carolyn (Savoy), ‘Stay in the present. Don't worry about this or what's going to happen.'

"Just go one possession at a time and take it game by game. All games are the same. Nothing's different. The competition gets harder, but it's still a 40-minute game, 94 feet, still got a goal, you've got to put the ball in."

Spani said, "Of course there are going to be butterflies. My mom is always saying as long as they're in the right direction that's good. I think it's just the fact that it's one and done and it's the culmination of what we've worked for, and this is it.

"I think the fact that we want to capture the moment makes it that much more intense. I think hopefully it will be less nerves and more excitement."

After a day off Tuesday, the team returns to practice Wednesday to begin specific preparations now that the NCAA brackets have been released.

Summitt wants those postseason moments to be memorable ones for the right reasons.

"That's got to be a feel good time when we start playing in the tournament," Summitt said. "(But) it's all a feel. I don't predetermine I'm going to go in and chew their butt out. Or I'm going to go in and be rah rah.

"That's part of coaching is having a feel. I can't predict the future. It's what I see on the floor and what I'm hearing on the bench and what I'm hearing from my staff."


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