Tennessee counters scoring woes with defense
Taber Spani would love to see herself and her Tennessee teammates scoring a few more points.
Of course, it's defense and rebounding that wins games as coach Pat Summitt likes to remind the fifth-ranked Lady Volunteers.
``We have enough talent on this team that we can definitely get back into that 70-80 (points) range where we've been most of the season, but our defense has been clutch, so if that's got to be our security blanket, then that's what it's going to be,'' said Spani, a freshman guard.
Thank the physical nature of the Southeastern Conference for that, Summitt said.
Teams have been targeting Tennessee's shooters, and it's shown. The Lady Vols (17-2, 5-1) have averaged 75 points per game this season but have only scored an average 64.8 points per game in SEC play.
But they're making it up on the defensive end. The Lady Vols lead the conference in defense, limiting opponents to 54.5 points in league play, and have been making stops down the stretch to pull out last-minute wins.
``This is the SEC this year, get ready,'' Summitt said. ``It's going to be a war every night. It can go down to the wire, and you've got to be ready to close out the game.''
Tennessee did just that in a 55-43 win over LSU on Sunday, holding LSU to season lows in points and shooting (26.4 percent).
Sophomore forward Alyssia Brewer credits the work the team did in the offseason in hopes of preventing another disastrous season like it had last year, finishing 22-11, losing five regular-season SEC games and losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time.
The work the Lady Vols did in their conditioning routines and shooting in the gym helped them win tight games against Vanderbilt and Florida this season, Brewer said.
Last season ``we wouldn't have been able to mentally tough it out and pull out a win like we did,'' she said. ``There's a lot of mentality of what we did in the offseason, we got mentally broken and brought right back up. That has come into play a lot of times this year.''
The Lady Vols have also been consistent rebounding, pulling in an average 43.1 compared to opponents' 33.9.
Summitt said she'll have to keep switching up her man-to-man and zone defenses to keep opponents guessing.
``We're all so familiar in the conference with everybody,'' Summitt said. ``They know all of our warts, and we know theirs. I think what we have to do is just be very committed as a coaching staff to talk on the bench and know when we think a change is good.''
A little more offense couldn't hurt, either.
Summitt was so frustrated with top scorer Angie Bjorklund's poor shooting in recent games that she refused to let her most experienced player start against LSU. Bjorklund scored 10 off the bench in the 55-43 win, hitting both of her 3-point attempts, and will start again when the Lady Vols host Auburn on Thursday.
Tennessee could stir up some extra offense by cutting back on turnovers. In the three of the past four games the Lady Vols have had at least 23 giveaways.
``I think we just focused on our defense so much that sometimes we forgot about our offense. It got to the point where we started to force things,'' sophomore forward Alyssia Brewer said. ``We need to cut down on our turnovers. Once we do that it will make a significant difference.''