No. 4 Tennessee focusing on defense, rebounding
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
Sure, Tennessee had its best shooting performance of the season in its Southeastern Conference tournament championship win over Kentucky. That doesn't mean coach Pat Summitt is completely happy with how her team played.
The fourth-ranked Lady Volunteers returned to practice this week with an extra focus on defense and rebounding, the things Summitt says can get them to an NCAA championship.
''That was a pretty outstanding display of offense,'' Summitt said. ''You're always trying to find something to get their attention. When I watched the film I didn't have any problems finding out that we were not very good with our defense and we didn't rebound the ball.
''We let our offense get the best of us.''
Tennessee (31-2) shot a season-best 56.4 percent from the floor and hit an SEC tournament and school record 16 3-pointers in a 90-65 win against No. 16 Kentucky in the title game on Sunday.
The victory all but guaranteed the Lady Vols will receive their 21st No. 1 seed when the NCAA bracket is announced on Monday. But as they learned last season after losing in the reginonal semifinals to Baylor, a top seed doesn't guarantee a trip to the Final Four.
The chance to play for a national championship will only come from stingy defense and a tough rebounding effort, the kind that can mask any offensive struggles Tennessee might have.
Despite having a size advantage against Kentucky, the Lady Vols were outrebounded by the Wildcats 46-41 - only the second time they'd been outrebounded all season. Tennessee did manage to limit Kentucky to 27.3 percent shooting, but the Wildcats slipped by the Lady Vols a few times for some easy layups.
''We want to make sure that they understand that on a given night when you don't shoot well, you have to be very focused while playing great defense,'' Summitt said. ''With that said, we'll go in and start and look at our lack of commitment on the defense end. We'll start with the bad and get with the good. We did a lot of good things in the tournament.''
Among the good things Tennessee did was shoot 53.1 percent and beat its three opponents by an average 22 points per game. The Lady Vols limited their opponents to an average 34.8 percent shooting, but Florida hit 44 percent of its shots, the best any team has done against Tennessee all season except for Virginia.
Couple that with 18 turnovers against the Gators and 22 against Kentucky and a plus-1.7 rebounding margin - a poor showing by a team that usually outrebounds its opponents by double digits - and the Lady Vols know they've got some work to do before they host their first-round game on March 19 in Knoxville.
Starting forward Glory Johnson is the lone post player who has been playing well. The junior averaged 15.3 points and a team-leading 9.7 rebounds during the tournament.
Fellow starting forward Alyssia Brewer averaged just 5.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 13.7 minutes per game while center Kelley Cain had three points and 2.7 rebounds in 13 minutes per game. Forward Vicki Baugh played limited minutes during the tournament while resting her surgically reconstructed knee.
''We have to make sure that we are doing a better job overall playing defense,'' Summitt said. ''If Kelley Cain is healthy, and that's been a big if for us, that gives us a lot of size in the post game. We cannot depend on Glory Johnson all the time, and if we have Vicki Baugh and Lyssi and Kelley, I think we have the biggest post game in the country.''