Lady Vols: Better ‘D’ needed after ‘wake-up call’
KNOXVILLE, TENN. (AP) - Tennessee’s second-round win over Marquette was a little too close for comfort, so the Lady Vols had a team meeting this week to discuss what needs to change to make a Final Four run.
“We just basically made a pact,” senior guard Angie Bjorklund said. “I think the Marquette game was a wake-up call … Bottom line, it comes down to heart and effort and pride. You’ve got to take pride in your defense.”
Those are just the words Pat Summitt likes to hear. The coach says she’ll only rely on the players who will defend and rebound when No. 1-seeded Tennessee faces fourth-seeded Ohio State in Saturday’s regional semifinals in Dayton, Ohio.
“They took it upon themselves to get their focus where it needs to be. We have enough players where we don’t have to rely on everybody. Those that go in and are not ready to play _ they are not going to play,” Summitt said.
This year’s Lady Vols have put together one of the most efficient offenses the program has seen. They’ve averaged 47 percent shooting and 79.7 points for the entire season and 53.3 percent shooting and 88.4 points in five postseason games.
Summitt won’t complain about good offense, but she’s not particularly thrilled when it leads to a lesser effort on defense or in rebounding. Those are the two things that lead to championships, says the coach who’s won eight NCAA titles, and will help a team survive a bad shooting night.
Tennessee (33-2) got a bit of a reminder of that in the first half of its 79-70 win against Marquette. The Golden Eagles were down by only four points at halftime and had shot 42.4 percent, hit five 3s and slipped by the taller, longer Lady Vols for some easy layups.
“We were just not getting after it,” Summitt said. “We talked about that at our halftime with our defense and board play. There is no guarantee the ball is going to fall where you want it to.”
Ohio State (24-9) hasn’t had much trouble getting the ball to fall lately. The Buckeyes have shot 53 percent and averaged 74.8 points in five postseason games.
At the heart of their offense is 6-foot-4 center Jantel Lavender, the most imposing post player the Lady Vols will have faced in months. Lavender is averaging 22.9 points this season and is Ohio State’s career leading scorer and the No. 2 active scorer in the nation behind Connecticut’s Maya Moore.
Lady Vols junior forward Glory Johnson thinks she and her fellow post players can handle Lavender. Tennessee runs six deep, with Johnson, Kelley Cain, Alyssia Brewer, Vicki Baugh, Alicia Manning and Shekinna Stricklen all able to defend the paint.
“They’ll have a hard time with our rotation,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to get in their faces and just be as aggressive as we can.”
Summitt thinks the Lady Vols lost the aggressive edge against Marquette partly because of anxiety. Even though Tennessee was playing against the Golden Eagles on their home court, the crowd was louder than usual and the stakes higher than ever.
Tennessee is aiming for a trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis. The Lady Vols suffered their first and only NCAA first-round loss in 2009 to Ball State and lost last season in the round of 16 to Baylor as a No. 1 seed.
“You could say that we were just a little bit anxious,” Johnson said. “We talked to each other about it, and it was really just making dumb mistakes and the little things that hurt us the most in the Marquette game, like not picking up the ball and not sprinting back and not knowing who your man is when you’re matching up in transition.”