Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Lady Vols try not to lose their way

Tennessee is 6-0 and ranked No. 1 nationally among women's basketball teams.

Despite a familiar profile, the Lady Vols coaching staff has sensed an identity crisis brewing and reacted accordingly before facing Old Dominion at 7 tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Assistant coach Nikki Caldwell described the overarching theme of the past two days as "The Tennessee way."

No way is that getting outrebounded 57-39 or being on the south side of a 60-32 disparity in points in the foul lane, which occurred Sunday night versus North Carolina.

"We hit it; we hammered it," assistant coach Dean Lockwood said.

In delivering their message, the coaches remained mindful that the players took care of the only statistic that really mattered Sunday, winning 83-79.

"We didn't want to come in and make it a negative hammer," Lockwood said, "make them feel like they were being attacked."

Lockwood paraphrased head coach Pat Summitt's message to the players as: "We really believe you want to win a championship. In light of that, we want to help."

Summitt convened a meeting before Tuesday's practice. Her concern is that this team is heading in the same direction as last season's squad, which didn't embrace the team's time-honored principles of rebounding and, to a lesser extent, defense until their postseason drive to the program's seventh national championship.

By her thinking, repeating the feat in the same fashion will be awfully difficult. She's well-informed about the rebounding prowess of such other highly ranked teams as Connecticut (plus-14.5), Maryland (plus-11.1) and North Carolina (14.0).

The plus-3.6 of No. 24 Old Dominion (6-2) isn't as imposing as those differentials. No matter, Summitt said, "Obviously, they're going to be all over the glass. Anyone who's watched us play of late ..."

After Sunday night, the Lady Vols' rebounding had plunged below the break-even point to a minus-one (41.5-42.5).

Lockwood noted how UT's last two opponents - Louisiana Tech and North Carolina - had gathered 53 offensive rebounds.

He referred specifically to Carolina's haul and said, "We're living on the edge when we give up 28 offensive rebounds."

During Tuesday's team meeting, statistics from UT's seven national championship victories were highlighted and handed out to the players. The Lady Vols were outrebounded in just one of those games (1997) and on that occasion they shot 59.2 percent from the floor against Old Dominion, resulting in just seven offensive rebounds.

Given UT's rebounding struggles, 6-foot-4 freshman forward Vicki Baugh likely will be seeing more playing time than her four minutes against North Carolina.

"Getting her some early minutes," Caldwell said. "I think we can utilize that."

Baugh's size and energy would be helpful on defense as well.

In developing some defensive talking points, Lockwood reviewed Carolina's foul-lane scoring, coming up with 58 points rather than 60. He also charted how those points were scored.

Offensive rebounds led to 16 points. Transition drives accounted for 20 more. The final 22 came in a half-court setting. Of that total, 10 came off post-up moves, the usual method for inside scoring. The rest were on dribble drives.

From those numbers, he concluded that the Lady Vols need to be more physical in boxing out, pick up the ball earlier in transition and rotate defenders better in half-court defense.

In other words, Tennessee needs to be more like Tennessee.

"We're going make sure we know what our identity is," Caldwell said, "and what we stand for."

Anosike, Lofton Finalists: Lady Vol Nicky Anosike and Vol Chris Lofton were selected as finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award which honors players who excel on court as well as in the classroom and community.

Tennessee is one of four schools to have multiple finalists. The others are Texas A&M, the U.S. Military Academy and Ball State. The winners will be named at the Final Fours.

Notebook: Freshman center Kelley Cain's knee surgery wasn't Tuesday. Instead it's scheduled for Dec. 11. ... Summitt reacted to North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell saying the foul line was the difference in Sunday's game by saying, "It is disappointing that the last two times that we've played North Carolina and won that the officiating was what was talked about, not giving us credit for closing out in both games."

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