Tennessee, Baylor meet in rematch

MEMPHIS - In the first game against Baylor this season, Alicia Manning and Alyssia Brewer came off the bench. They will be on the floor for the opening tip Saturday, and both are aware that the things they did to get in the starting lineup are what the coaches expect to see in the Sweet 16 matchup.

"We were talking about that," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said in an interview right before the Lady Vols took the court for their open practice Friday at the FedEx Forum.

The conversation about sophomores Alyssia Brewer and Alicia Manning had taken place among the coaches that morning.

"One of the reasons we're here and we were able to win a conference championship and a conference tournament championship is the fact that those two players produced for us," Lockwood said. "Lyssi had a longer stretch and A-Town came up absolutely huge for us at the end of the season. Bottom line is those two have to be productive."

Brewer, a 6'3 forward, has been on a steady upward incline in performance since she came off the bench against George Washington on Dec. 1 and scored a career-high 23 points on 11-15 shooting. Kelley Cain missed that game because of a concussion.

Brewer said the memory of how the post game had faltered when Cain was injured in postseason a year ago fueled her in that game to be a factor, as she didn't want to let down her team.

Manning, a 6'1 forward, solidified her role as a high-energy player who would defend and board in a Jan. 24 road game against LSU. She moved into the starting lineup on Feb. 11 against Ole Miss and has remained there since.

Neither Manning nor Brewer was a major factor in the season opener against Baylor, but both will be on the floor for the opening tip today in the rematch when No. 1 seed Tennessee (32-2) takes on No. 4 seed Baylor (25-9) at 11:04 a.m. Central time (ESPN2, Lady Vol Radio Network) at the FedEx Forum in a Sweet 16 matchup.

The second game between No. 2 seed Duke (29-5) and No. 11 seed San Diego State (23-10) will tip off 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first one. The winners will meet Monday evening for the right to go to San Antonio for the 2010 Women's Final Four.

In the first game against Baylor - the Lady Vols won in Knoxville, 74-65, in the State Farm Tipoff Classic - Brewer logged 13 minutes with four points and four fouls.

"I was in foul trouble," Brewer said when asked what she remembered about the first game.

Manning logged eight minutes with two points and, in an indication of what was to come from her in limited minutes, four rebounds.

"When we played Baylor the first time they were blips on the radar screen," Lockwood said. "Lyssi goes on to have a terrific overall season. A-Town is one of the pistons on this team right now that fires us. If you look at the scouting report in November, if I were writing I up, what I would have written versus what I'm writing now, very different scouting report for those two kids."

Manning's memory of that game was a sense of pre-game curiosity about freshman Brittney Griner, the 6'8 dunking sensation who had generated a lot of media coverage.

"We didn't really know what to expect," Manning said. "We had heard all the media about Brittney Griner. That game was so long ago. I'm expecting this team to be night and day compared to how they were."

That theme was oft repeated Friday from players and coaches from Tennessee and Baylor.

"I think they are lot more aggressive now and a lot more confident offensively," Coach Pat Summitt of Coach Kim Mulkey's Lady Bears team. "They defend the dribble drive really well, so you know you're going to have to work hard to get your paint points. But I think they're a much better team. They're shooting the ball better.

"And, obviously Kim's teams are always going to be tough-minded on the defensive end and on the boards. And that's probably going to be a defining situation for both teams is who can really dominate the glass."

Mulkey noted the different lineup for Tennessee, and Glory Johnson coming off the bench meant there wasn't a dropoff with a subbing player.

"Glory Johnson has been in and out of the lineup," Mulkey said. "All of their players are good enough to be in the lineup. You can't play but five at a time, but that's a good problem to have for Pat. She can choose any five at any given time to play."

Johnson, a 6'3 sophomore forward, logged 33 minutes in the first game and tallied nine points, seven boards and four steals. It was her help defense on Griner that was particularly effective.

Johnson's role with the team has changed from starter to sparkplug off the bench.

"The biggest change is that she's not starting right now," Lockwood said. "She is still an X factor. While she hasn't been as productive as she was earlier that is still in her. What you saw is still there. The question is if and when we're going to get that. I hope Glory really, really recognizes that she could be a game-changer with her defense, with her rebounding, with her energy, with her physicality, just overall athleticism. She can put some juice into the game.

"That is the thing she has to get to. She can be an energy player. She's got to know she can be one of those X factors, and when she's going well our team inches that much closer towards being the best it can be."

Johnson has started 25 games this season and played in all 34, and she can be called upon quickly if Brewer or Cain get in foul trouble - as occurred with Cain in the SEC tourney - as there are only three true posts on the active roster.

"Just play like I would be playing if I started," Johnson said. "Don't really let that affect me, because I don't really think about that. Just play the same way, come out playing hard and to the best of my abilities."

The starting lineup also was affected by the nagging foot injury to freshman forward Taber Spani, who logged 29 minutes in the first game with two points and four boards. Spani also comes off the bench now - she missed a week of games in February because of her ailing foot - and her minutes have been tailored to protect her foot. She had to adjust to the limitations and her revised role.

"My foot was up and down," Spani said. "It's taken me maybe a month to find my new role. Now, it's starting to come together. When I'm in I'm just looking to make an impact and provide a spark and some energy and some offense for our team."

Manning also clearly understands her role and her willingness to play it so unselfishly has kept her on the court. She will get on the boards and set up teammates. If opponents focus their attention on other players, Manning can knock down midrange jumpers or get to the rim, which keeps defenders honest if they have to account for everyone on the floor.

"I think I've found my role," Manning said. "I know my role. I know my strengths. I know what Coach wants from me, which is a huge thing. More confidence. I think I've gotten better all around. That came from practicing and the coaches helping me and getting in the gym extra."

The first game between the Lady Vols and the Lady Bears was the season opener for both teams, and Tennessee's players said the game now seems like a long time ago.

"It might be easy for them to forget because they won, but I know that Rocky Top song is still stuck in my head," Baylor junior guard Melissa Jones said. "We are excited to be on the same side of the bracket as them and to be able to play them now. It was awhile back, but we still have memories of what happened in that game. Watching film too, we realize how poorly we executed things and how much better we have gotten since the first game."

Jones played 39 minutes in the first game with 21 points - she was 10-10 from the free throw line - four boards and four assists. She is back in the starting lineup after battling a stress fracture in her leg and missing 15 games for Baylor, which was nearly the entire Big 12 regular season conference games. The Lady Bears struggled when she was not in the lineup but are back on course now with NCAA tourney wins over Fresno State and Georgetown.

"I feel great now," Jones said. "I'm ready to go full speed now. This year has been really frustrating. Dealing with a stress fracture isn't something I would like to go through again. It takes time to heal, and unfortunately, that is not something we had during the season.

"It put me in a different position as far as looking at things from the bench. It gave me a different perspective on what I see or what the coaches are seeing so that I can try and help the players on the court."

The benefit, as it were, is that Mulkey had to find a lot of minutes for her young players.

"A lot of freshmen that were probably not going to get significant minutes had to jump in there and learn during basketball games as opposed to practice," Mulkey said. "I suppose the silver lining to Melissa Jones' injury is that the freshmen had to grow up a lot quicker than we really wanted them to."

Both teams have watched scouting film on each other with the general assessment that players on both sides are better.

"We haven't played them in a while, but we're still familiar with them," Tennessee junior guard Angie Bjorklund said. "It's going to come down to execution and also who wants it more. That goes with this time of year for any game. It's whoever wants it more and how much effort you put into it."

Her backcourt mate, Shekinna Stricklen, agreed.

"I think it can go both ways, good or bad," Stricklen said. "The good thing is you kind of know the players and the personnel and what they do or how they play. I kind of like playing a team a second time, though. A rematch shows who's better."

Baylor is motivated by revenge, but both teams know the stakes.

"We're motivated because it's the Sweet 16," Spani said. "We're playing for an Elite Eight appearance. They might have that revenge factor, but it doesn't matter who we play we're going to be ready. I think we're going to be so pumped."

Baylor guard Kelli Griffin noted that Tennessee didn't seem as quick, but the offensive flow and the matchup zone defense was better.

"They are probably not as quick as they were when we first played them," Griffin said. "They are running their offense more fluently. They have different players on their team stepping up and making plays. They have Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson rebounding for them. Kelley Cain is definitely a big offensive threat for Tennessee.

"Their zone they played against us in the first meeting has gotten better. They are a lot similar to what we have seen with teams in the Big 12. Both teams have improved since the first time we have played."

Brewer also saw improvement on both sides and although the elevation of her game has been critical, she noted it was the same arc for several Lady Vol players.

"Both teams have gotten better," Brewer said. "I think we've turned into a whole different team since then, not necessarily just myself. As a team we've have everybody step up in more ways than one, and I think that's going to help us out a bunch because some people that are making factors now weren't making factors back then."

Cain was efficient in the first game - 6-12 from the field for 15 points and seven rebounds in just 17 minutes. Mulkey sees an even better player now on film.

"You can't play for Pat Summitt and not get better," Mulkey said. "She is tremendously better. Part of that has to do with her injuries because it is frustrating as an athlete. Part of getting better is getting accustomed to the system as well."

Cain has become more mobile since that game.

"I feel like I am more efficient while I am out there," Cain said. "I feel like my game has grown a lot. I can run the floor. Overall, I just think it's gotten to a new level. I just feel really comfortable when I come out on the court."

She also knows that she can't get into foul trouble in the second game. Griner also had issues with foul trouble - she picked up her fourth early in the second half but didn't foul out as Cain did - and both players seemed happy to be going against size.

When large players in the paint line up against smaller ones, sometimes the officials' sympathy gravitates to the shorter ones. The larger players also take a lot of shots to the knees, hips and torso as the smaller players try to dig in against them.

"People aren't at my ribcage or at my knees and stuff," said the 6'6 Cain. "They're on my level. Since it rarely happens, I enjoy it playing against somebody my size or taller. There are not that many girls out there that are my height or above."

Griner is the rare player than Cain won't see eye to eye, as Griner is two inches taller.

"The first game against Tennessee, they were all big," Griner said. "I was just glad to be playing against a team with size instead of a team that was short. They were really physical in the first game. We just have to go out and play our game (on Saturday).

"It definitely allows me to play my own game. This game I will definitely get back to the way I was playing before the incident happened and be able to go against someone in the post and not have someone on my hip where I go to the post hard and the defender falls over. I'm definitely looking forward to it."

The incident, of course, refers to a Big 12 matchup against Texas Tech on March 3 in which Griner got intertwined with and then spun by Jordan Barncastle and responded with a punch to Barncastle's face that broke her nose. Griner was ejected and suspended for the next two games. Mulkey said the incident caused Griner to play passively in subsequent games.

"She has been a little timid, and I think she has been a little softer than she was before the incident," Mulkey said. "That was to be expected; she has a conscience. She knows she did wrong, and it is going to take her a little while to get out of that."

It was a frequent topic for questions at both teams' press conferences - Cain declined to answer beyond, "That situation is just unfortunate. That's all I can say." - and Summitt said the incident wasn't likely to raise such sustained interest had it occurred on the men's side.

"I think most people are taken aback by it, but it was a reaction," Summitt said. "That's part of what goes on in the paint (the initial entanglement) when everyone is trying to make a play. That's part of our game now. It's physical. The game is at a different level intensity-wise. Things are going to happen. Players are going to be get tangled up. That's just part of it now. Let's just hope the officials can keep everything under control."

The Baylor players rallied around Griner after the suspension, a process made easier because of how the freshman responded.

"I think it all started with Brittney," Jones said. "She was the first one to apologize to us saying how sorry she was because it was so out of character for her. If you really know who Brittney Griner is, you know she is the furthest from what happened that night.

"When things get physical (such as in the Georgetown game), she was the first one to say, ‘Hey guys, this is going to be a real physical game so let's level ourselves.' So she was really encouraging about stuff like that. So our team was able to feed off that. We are all together no matter what happens. We are one team."

Neither side seemed inclined to plan to shy away from contact in the paint during the game Saturday and certainly not Tennessee, as physical play is a trademark for SEC teams.

Johnson can be a very physical player and that style was part of her game plan, especially when going against Griner.

"I might try to be physical," said Johnson, who gives up about six inches since she is closer to 6'2. "She really doesn't like being pushed around in the paint, and she shouldn't because she's bigger than everybody else."

Johnson also was grateful to be matched up against someone with size.

"The bigger people don't tend to fall over, flop over when you're playing," Johnson said. "When you have them posted up, they tend not to flop and try and take charges. That's good for me and Kelley because we get offensive fouls (in those cases). That allows us to play our game. Brittney Griner is a big girl so I'm kind of excited to play her again."

The key for Johnson, of course, is to still maintain control. Against Dayton, she made a power move to the paint but led with her elbow on the spin and was whistled for the offensive foul. She set the ball down and walked to the other end, clearly aware of the error.

"Try to get the ball back on the defensive end and then come back and try to learn from my mistakes," Johnson said. "Not be too aggressive, not try to go too fast, slow down, think about what I'm going to do before I do it. Just somehow help my team and showing my team I am there to help however I can."

That has been a tricky balance for Johnson for nearly two years on campus, but she has shown the ability to reach it. The key is staying there.

"That's the fine art of basketball," Lockwood said. "You have to do it in practice. That's something that you really have to build into your practice. Those are habits. We'll tell the practice guys to be very physical, and we'll respond and play physical and then say, ‘That's a foul. You're using hands too much. Be careful.'

"Good players will react and respond to how a game is called. It's so much about footwork and body. When you incorporate too much hands and arms in it I don't care who's calling the game, you're going to get fouls called on you. If you're playing more with your feet and body you're going to be OK. That is one of our big emphasis."

Summitt was asked in her pre-game press conference if Johnson's recent struggles had anything to do with being in the hot spotlight of Tennessee.

"She loves being in the spotlight. Don't they all?" Summitt said. "The thing about Glory is I've asked her to be a defensive stopper and a great rebounder for us. I said. ‘I'm not worried about your offense.' That's been her focus all the time - offense, offense, offense.

"I just said, ‘No, if we're going to get to San Antonio, you have to be the best defender on the floor. We need you.' I think she has embraced that role. You take her and add Kamiko to the mix you've got two pretty athletic (players)."

Freshman guard Kamiko Williams is having typical first-year issues of battling the fatigue of a long season, but she remains a threat for the Lady Vols because of her athleticism.

The early tip time likely won't help Williams - she was lethargic when Tennessee played early in Duluth, Ga., for one SEC game and again in a postseason game in Knoxville - but Johnson said she would wake up the freshman and try to get her in gear. When it was suggested that a glass of water might help - not to drink but tossed on her - Johnson laughed.

"I do have to be ready to go," Williams said. "I am going to pump myself up. I would get a little mad if she threw water on me, but that could be a good thing because I do play better when I'm mad."

The first Baylor game was Williams' debut as a Lady Vol, and she logged 14 minutes with four points, four boards and two steals.

"I was excited because it was the first game, first time I ever put my uniform on," Williams said. "As long as I get that feeling back, I'll be good. Proud to be a Lady Vol, proud to go out there and play basketball. The past two games I don't know what I've been thinking. I go back to what my dad said and just go out there and have fun and play the game that you love."

This season's second-year players had a lot to learn after their freshman season, which ended with a first round loss in the NCAA tourney.

"I would have to say as a team, we're more committed to defense and rebounding," Stricklen said. "Some of us played when we wanted to, and we didn't bring our A game all the time. We never reached a 40-minute game.

"I feel like now we're playing every possession, and we're all committed as a team, and we're all working hard and playing like Coach tells us how you can win games and that's defense and rebounding."

Bjorklund, a sophomore last season, knew the team wouldn't really turn a corner until players realized how hard they had to work - it was immediately after the Ball State loss a year ago that Bjorklund said players needed to commit or leave.

"It's buying into Coach's system," Bjorklund said. "She knows what it takes. And really committing to the scouting report defense that our coaches give us and understanding what our roles are individually and putting it together as a team. We're a year older, a lot more familiar with each other than and just a year better."

Cain, a honor roll student at Tennessee, absorbs scouting reports.

"It tells us how they operate basically," Cain said. "Like Coach says she calls it a little cheat sheet for a test, and the test is a game. We just have to use our little cheat sheets and recognize stuff when we are on the court so we can stop their offense or play around the defense."

Cain said the lesson from the first two rounds in the tourney is that every team is dangerous.

"No team is going to roll over," Cain said. "That Dayton team I have to give it to them they kept fighting until the very end. We need to have that fight in us all 40 minutes."

The Lady Vols and Lady Bears will find a familiar foe on the floor Saturday.

"We know how they play, but they also know how we play," Cain said. "So it's just a matter of who can execute their game plan better."

With Tennessee, Duke and Baylor plus upstart San Diego State, which took out three seed West Virginia, all in one regional, Memphis has a Final Four vibe - "Very much so," Lockwood said - but only one team will get to San Antonio from the River City.

Lockwood said the coaches have lauded the improvement of the Lady Vols, but the reminder is that a lot more remains to be accomplished.

"We believed that we could be good, but I don't think any of us were certain that we would definitely be here, because so much depended on what went into our off-season and what was between the ears collectively," Lockwood said. "So to be where we are right now we're certainly pleased but you have to resist the temptation to say, ‘Oh, boy, this is great.'

"There is a lot more we can do and there is a lot more work we want to do. This can't be, ‘Oh, look at the improvement.' There is more to get done."

STARTING LINEUPS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard/forward, No. 40 (12.6 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game), hails from Morrilton, Ark., leads the Lady Vols with 131 assists; Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (14.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg), hails from Spokane Valley, Wash., second on the team with 93 assists; Alicia Manning, 6'1 sophomore forward, No. 15 (5.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg), hails from Woodstock, Ga., will be starting her 14th game this season, ranked third on team with 81 assists; Alyssia Brewer, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 33 (10.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg), hails from Sapulpa, Okla., will be starting her 13th game of the season, ranks second on the team with 40 blocks; and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), hails from Atlanta, Ga., leads the team with 111 blocks, a single-season school record.

Key players off the bench for Tennessee are Glory Johnson, a 6'3 sophomore forward averaging 10.3 points and 7.7 rebounds a game; and Taber Spani, a 6'1 freshman guard/forward averaging 5.8 points and 2.8 rebounds a game.

Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey is expected to start: Kelli Griffin, 5'8 junior guard, No. 21 (7.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg), hails from Houston, Texas, had a career-high 11 assists against Fresno State in the first round; Shanay Washington, 6'1 freshman guard, No. 15 (7.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg), hails from Austin, Texas, was limited against Georgetown because of illness and a hip pointer; Melissa Jones, 5'10 junior guard, No. 5 (10.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg), hails from Thornton, Colo., had 10 boards against Georgetown in the second round; Morghan Medlock, 6'2 senior forward, No. 55 (9.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg), hails from Pasadena, Calif., tied a career high with 16 rebounds against Georgetown; and Brittney Griner, 6'8 freshman center, No. 42 (18.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg), hails from Houston, Texas, set an NCAA tourney record with 14 blocks against Georgetown.

Key players off the bench for Baylor are Terran Condrey, a 5'7 sophomore guard who started the first game against Tennessee and averages 3.5 points and 3.0 boards a game; and Kimetria Hayden, a 5'11 freshman guard who started against Georgetown and averages 5.4 points and 2.2 boards a game.

SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Baylor game. Here is her assessment.

When Baylor has the ball: "They're playing a lot better with Melissa Jones," Warlick said. "I just think she's the difference maker for their team. She gives them maturity, experience. She's very talented. She just gives them a lot of confidence. I think they're a different team when she's out on the floor from what I seen even from when we played them. They play a lot better with her.

"They're going to go to (Brittney) Griner. They're just an outstanding offensive rebounding team. They want to get paint points with penetration and get to the free throw line. They're aggressive on the offensive end. (Kelli) Griffin is really playing well, too. She's taken up a lot of slack when Griner's been in foul trouble. They're going to run. They need to get transition points off of us. They'll run off steals. They're very good in the open court."

Defensively,, Warlick expects to see a steady diet of man.

"Very aggressive, physical man to man," Warlick said.

Griner has become more active with her blocks not just against the player she is guarding but with swats coming as a result of roaming the paint as a help defender.

"Georgetown wasn't hitting their outside shots, so they felt like they had to penetrate inside, and Griner was there," Warlick said. "We're not going to be able to go all the way to the basket. She is going to block shots, so we've got to get paint points, but we've got to have pull-up jumpers. We've got to make mid-range jumpers.

"They're very physical, very aggressive, they are going to deny us very, very hard, they're going to put a lot of pressure on the ball. They're going to try to not let Angie (Bjorklund) touch the ball."

When Tennessee has the ball: Warlick said Tennessee must maintain possession of the ball against Baylor's stiff defense.

"The key for us, first of all, is to take care of the basketball," Warlick said. "We've got to make sure we get shots off and not just turn it over. They've (the Lady Vol guards) got to make shots, but they've had to make shots all year. It's not like this game the posts can't score, and they've got to make shots. That's not how it is. They do, and Kelley (Cain) has got to score, and so do Lyssi (Brewer) and Glory (Johnson)."

"We've got to move Kelley around. Kelley got shots off against Griner last game. We're not going to change what we do. Glory is going to face up. Lyssi has her moves. We're going to move Kelley around and do what we did the first game. I don't know too many people that can catch and shoot over Kelley Cain and they can't catch and shoot over Griner, so you've got to get some kind of edge, you've got to move them and lead them into a pivot and score."

Defensively,, Tennessee played a matchup zone for the entire game the last time the teams played, the first time in her career that Pat Summitt never deployed her team in a man defense for a single possession.

"We played them all zone," Summitt said in her Friday press conference. "Don't ask me why. I just looked at tape late that night (before the game), and I thought this is going to be our best defensive scheme. We started with it, we had success with it and so we didn't go away from it.

"It's a different team. They're a lot better. I think we're a lot better. I know Kim will have her team ready. And we may or may not change up our defensive schemes, but it all depends on how the game plays out and what we think will be our best defense."

The first objective is to slow down Griner.

"They go to her," Warlick said. "She's improved. I think their whole team has gotten better. Their guards are better, too. If they hadn't gotten better they wouldn't be winning games like they're winning.

"We're going to have to be focused. This is what it's all about."

ASSORTED NUMBERS: Tennessee leads the series with Baylor, 2-0. The wins came this regular season and in a 2004 Sweet 16 matchup in Norman, Oklahoma. Tennessee's overall record against the Big 12 Conference is 47-14 with the losses coming against Texas (12), Colorado (one) and Oklahoma (one). The Lady Vols are 7-0 against Big 12 teams in the NCAA tourney. Tennessee is 23-4 all-time in the Sweet 16 with the last loss coming in 2001 and the last win coming in 2008. … Tennessee is 7-2 in games played on March 27. The last win on this date came against Ole Miss, 98-62, in 2007 in a regional final game. The first win on March 27 came against Old Dominion, 68-65, in 1981, in an AIAW semifinal championship game. The two losses on this date were to Georgia, 67-63, in 1983 in a regional final; and Iowa, 72-56, in 1993 in a regional final.

BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 74.6 points a game while allowing opponents to score 56.5. Baylor averages 71.3 points a game while allowing 56.1.

The Lady Vols are shooting 46.5 percent overall, 37.8 percent behind the arc and 67.0 percent from the free throw line. The Lady Bears are shooting 46.2 percent overall, 28.0 percent from long range and 72.1 percent from the line. Tennessee makes an average of 5.4 three-pointers a game while allowing 5.6. Baylor makes 2.4 threes a game while allowing 5.6.

Tennessee averages 43.4 rebounds a game for a +9.7 margin. Baylor averages 43.1 boards with a +8.3 margin.

The Lady Vols average 15.8 assists and 14.7 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 15.9 times a game. The Lady Bears average 14.8 assists and 16.9 turnovers with foes losing the ball 15.7 times a game. Tennessee averages 6.9 steals and 6.6 blocks a game. Baylor averages 7.0 steals and 7.4 blocks.

"HOME" COURT: The court at the FedEx Forum is a neutral one - it's the ubiquitous black baselines with blue lettering for the city with the large blue NCAA logo at center court - but Tennessee hopes it's an orange one on Saturday.

The team is staying at The Peabody in downtown Memphis and the lobby was awash in orange Friday when Pat Summitt served as honorary Duckmaster and helped to escort the hotel's famous ducks from the lobby fountain to their rooftop condo, where they rest for the evening before returning to the fountain in the morning.

Summitt sang "Rocky Top" to the crowd, signed autographs, posed for photos and received an official Duckmaster proclamation and cane.

Several of the players watched the duck procession with amusement and then left to eat dinner. They also hope for a crowd of orange.

"It's all a part of coming to Tennessee," Kelley Cain said. "We have the greatest fans out there. I think there will be a lot of orange."

It's not a short trek for fans from the Knoxville area in East Tennessee. The distance to Memphis on the far western end of the state is about 390 miles, roughly the same distance as San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Shekinna Stricklen and Taber Spani are inclined to interact with the fans during stoppages in play. Against Dayton in Knoxville they both implored a cheering crowd to make even more noise, and the fans naturally complied.

"Our fans are absolutely the best in the country, and it almost gives you chills running out and the fans going nuts, and you see the support," Spani said. "No matter where we go, there is always great support and hopefully in Memphis they'll travel. We would just love that. It means a lot. I just try to get the fans involved, because they do so much for us that if you can get them pumped up, I think it helps everything."

Cain noted the distance the fans are willing to travel.

"Most games that we play kind of feel like home games because we do have such great fans and they travel just about anywhere, to California, to New York, they'll travel to about anywhere to see us play," Cain said.

"That's another motivation factor with us. Since we have all those great fans, why not give them something to cheer for when they're out here."

FAMILY SUPPORT: In addition to the fans, the Lady Vol players will have a lot of family members in town.

Alyssia Brewer said some members of her family can make it, but her mother, grandmother and little brother won't be able to attend this postseason unless the team gets to San Antonio, which is closer to her hometown in Oklahoma.

"If we make it to San Antonio they will come so that's some more motivation to make it so I won't have to wait until summer to see my little brother," said Brewer, who is extremely close to 4-year-old Devin.

The player with the most family and friends in Memphis is Shekinna Stricklen, who is from Morrilton, Arkansas, and has a personal cheering section of 45 people.

"I have 20 on my list," Stricklen said. "My teammates helped me out (with securing tickets). Twenty-five people bought their own. There are a lot of people coming from my hometown."

When Stricklen was asked if a large contingent of family helps her to play better, Angie Bjorklund nodded.

"It's good to look and see my mom cheering and smiling and my dad," Stricklen said. "I haven't seen my nieces in forever and when I can just look over there and see them it makes everything a lot better."

SHOT KARMA: Alyssia Brewer felt cursed by the rim in Tennessee's first round game against Austin Peay as she watched shots rattle around and off the cylinder.

It was better in the Dayton game when she started 2-6 in the first half but went 5-7 in the second half and finished 7-13 with 14 points. She hopes she has made peace with the shooting gods of basketball.

"I think they're just playing with me," Brewer said. "I think that I am definitely back in my groove now. I kind of had this happen in the middle of the season, but I got right back to shooting well."

LEAN ON ME: Alicia Manning said the inspiration for her improvised lyrics to "Lean on Me" came at shoot-around before a game this season when the players were reliving in their minds the agony of their off-season workouts with Heather Mason.

The loss to Ball State doesn't seem to resonate so much in their memories as the aftermath with Mason, who put the players through brutal drills, including leg and lung-sapping sprints up Gate 10 at Neyland Stadium.

"We were thinking about Gate 10 and how far we had come," Manning said. "That song popped in my head and I did a little remix of it. It was something about having to run Gate 10 and having to lean on my teammates."

Alyssia Brewer renamed the drills and wryly noted to Mason during one session that she didn't know a basketball scholarship to Tennessee could double as military training since Mason turned Fridays into what she called boot camp.

"I said, ‘Heather, I didn't know when I came here that I was going to join the Navy Seals,' " Brewer said.

Brewer laughed at the recollection Friday. The team's saga has been a topic of conversation in Memphis as reporters have asked what caused the change over one year. They wanted to know if the loss was the motivation.

"We don't really talk about it that much," Bjorklund said.

"We don't think about it," Kelley Cain said.

"We know that it's in the past," Bjorklund said. "We worked so hard this summer. I think if we think about anything it's the amount of work that we did in the summer. We're saying, ‘If we put in that much energy and effort and time in postseason, then we'll be just fine.' "

The coaches also point to the off-season commitment of the team.

"There is no question we are very proud of our team, very proud of their improvement, very, very proud and pleased at the way they embraced their off-season responsibilities," Lockwood said. "One of the things about players if you're going to play this game seriously, you're going to commit to being a player in the off-season, because that's where you improve. "

You can certainly improve during the course of the year, but the off-season is where you are really going to take your game and elevate it. We're very proud of them."

Summitt reiterated that the immediate return to the court and conditioning workouts initially confused the team.

"We went back to work," Summitt said. "You could tell they did not quite understand why we were doing what we were doing. I said, ‘This is not punishment. This is an opportunity to get better. Because what happened in that first round that's unacceptable in this program. It's never happened before and it had better never happen again.'

"I think they got the message. They really invested. It was amazing how hard they worked."

Summitt drew laughter when she said she almost felt sympathy for her players after watching the workouts.

"We were running Gate 10. I had a hard time walking up it, much less running it," said Summitt, who would show up to watch the sessions. "I almost felt sorry for them, but I didn't.

"What a difference it has made just because of their investment. The coaches are always going to be invested, but when the team takes that ownership then that's where you have something very, very special and that's what happened to our team."

Gate 10 has become a part of Lady Vol lore, but it's destined for demolition because of the stadium renovations. Manning joked that she thought about hastening the process.

"I actually was thinking about putting dynamite underneath it last year," Manning said. "I used to walk under it to go to class and I would think, ‘Gosh, I'm going to be running this today. I just wish I could blow it up.'

"It was really hard, but it made us grow so much, and it really did give us that Iron Will."

ON POINT: Sophomore point guard Briana Bass has gotten considerable help of late from one Lady Vol who can't play right now and another who used to play.

Bass has been working on her mental approach to the game and increasing her confidence level. The early results have been positive - she is hitting shots in practice and being more vocal - and she pointed to Vicki Baugh when asked why.

"Give me my credit," Baugh deadpanned.

"I am," Bass said.

Baugh was pretending to eavesdrop and waiting on her praise, but she does deserve an assist.

"I am good," Baugh said with a delightful laugh. "I plan to coach, but I do like psychology. I think I just helped her to understand how important having confidence on the floor is. I don't take all the credit. Her teammates were involved, and also she talked to Shannon. Confidence is a big part of your play, and she had to understand that."

Bass talked to former Lady Vol point guard Shannon Bobbitt via Skype long distance over the Internet because Bobbitt is overseas right now. The last conversation was in March right after the SEC tourney.

"I wish I could do it more," Bass said. "When I did talk to her I felt so uplifted to hear her giving me advice because she has been where I am trying to go. She is just telling me to be confident in everything that I do, take that open shot if it's there, make the right pass, uplifting stuff, and it really helps me out."

Both players are 5'2 and trying to survive in a game designed for taller people. Bobbitt's tipping point was her swagger.

"I think I still have to work on that on being more aggressive and being more vocal," Bass said. "I've got a ways to go but I think that I can definitely get to that."

Mental training has been a focus of postseason for the entire team.

"The team bond has really grown over these past two weeks between SEC and to now," Bass said. "I think that has really helped us grow. I feel confident. I talk to myself. Positive talk. And we have Carolyn (Savoy), and she helps us stay positive. It's helping me a lot."

STAYING LOOSE: The locker rooms in the FedEx Forum have large whiteboards in them, and the Lady Vols were holding a loud and high-spirited game of "Pictionary" when the media was allowed access.

Apparently, it's a popular pastime now.

San Diego State Coach Beth Burns was asked how her team was handling the pressure of the Sweet 16 and being the region crasher among three teams accustomed to the spotlight.

"I think our team is in the locker room playing Pictionary as we speak, so I don't think the moment is all that much," Burns said during her pre-game press conference. " … I am not a good listener, and everybody is telling us we shouldn't be here and we are still here. We play 40 minutes, and we don't have to play anybody 10 times, just once.

"We are confident and respectful of the talent in this region because it is remarkable. That is what we are working toward."

Burns has her team believing in her system and what she tells the players, as she apparently can rattle off inspirational commands with every breath.

"One of them that she uses is hard work beats talent when talent won't work hard," said senior guard Jene Morris. "That has been the mentality since we got here. This team works so hard. Now that we are getting better (as a team), we can combine hard work and talent and have a pretty good team.

"Another one is hope is not a strategy. That just goes back to working hard. You have to prepare for the situation that you are about to encounter. You can't hope you are going to win. You have to prepare and be ready. There are so many. I call her the human quote book because she has so many."

PLANTING SEEDS: No. 2 seed Duke is the heavy favorite over No. 11 seed San Diego State, which upset No. 6 Texas on its home floor and then No. 3 seed West Virginia, but Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie isn't focused on the digits before the team's name.

"It comes from my philosophy in 18 years of coaching," McCallie said. "I'm a mid-major coach. I've been at Maine, where we had success there playing very good teams. I've never believed in seeds or any of that type of thing. I think it's nice, and obviously if you've had a good year, you want your body of work rewarded, but what it really comes down to is what you do today that matters.

" … So, there's a role for seeds. Obviously, they need it to set up the tournament. But sometimes it's just very geographic or just has to fit the tournament structure, and so they're not relevant. I just think that, as competitors, we just have to be ready to go. … "It's just my philosophy of coaching and thinking and cutting loose in March."

CUTTING WAY LOOSE: Tennessee's assistant coaches will often put together some skit or routine to loosen up the players, and Dean Lockwood has already smashed the Ball State game film to smithereens in sub-regional play.

Is anything else in the works?

"They're hiding it pretty well, if they are," Vicki Baugh said.

"They've got stuff up their sleeves for sure," Taber Spani said.

The performances - Lockwood said that description would be charitable - are a hit with the players.

"They act just like us, and they're goofy, too," Baugh said. "It lets us know that they are coaches but also they just like to have fun. It just keeps our spirits up, and it's just funny. It brings energy to the whole team, and it's fun to see the coaches have fun and smile and act like that."

Briana Bass added, "It relaxes us. It lets us know that they're there for us, and we're there for them. It's a team-bonding type thing. It shows that they have a cheerful, fun side to them."

"It does kind of show their humorous side," Glory Johnson said. "At the same time they do have their strict side and know that when it's game time, it's time to focus."

Johnson and Bass were incredulous to learn that one of the former performances involved Lockwood in fatigues doing a Soulja Boy routine with Holly Warlick and then assistant coach, Nikki Caldwell.

Baugh, Angie Bjorklund, Kelley Cain and Sydney Smallbone were on that 2008 team that witnessed rapping and dancing coaches.

"It's very pale in comparison," Lockwood said of this season's as-yet-undisclosed plans. "No Soulja Boy. There will probably be something occurring. I don't know if we would put it in the performance category."

Baugh was puzzled by Lockwood's previous dance performance.

"Dean cannot dance," Baugh said. "He's a great post coach, great footwork but he can't dance and I don't understand it, either. He moves so well on the court, but I guess when he gets a beat, he can't catch it."

"There is a difference between pivoting and Soulja Boy," Lockwood said. "I found that out. If she really studies the tape, she will see that I was just behind. It was like one of those old martial arts movies (where the subtitles on the screen aren't in sync with the lips of the actors).

"That's how I was. I was there. I was just behind."


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