Alyssia Brewer cleared to travel with team

Alyssia Brewer at practice this week

The monster truck show was setting up Friday in the arena. The monster noise was likely to emanate next door from Pratt Pavilion after a lackluster SEC game, but Pat Summitt and her staff – after a rather pointed film session – took the court, went to work and let the players do the talking, too. Next up is Auburn on the road and Tennessee will have Alyssia Brewer on board for this trip.

The Lady Vols will depart Saturday for Auburn, Ala., with Alyssia Brewer on the team plane. The junior forward, who had Achilles tendon surgery last September, has met all of her conditioning targets after using the past three weeks to accelerate her return to the court by undergoing extra cardio workouts.

"I told her she was good to go," Coach Pat Summitt said. "She's really been much more invested (on and off the court), and I think she understands she has to earn it. She wanted to play (this season).

"She has maintained every thing that we asked her to do, and I'm good for her to go. She met the targets that we gave her – it was either this or none – and she has stepped up and done what she had to do.

"I think she can make us better. She is not in great shape (yet), but she is getting there. She has been the one to get out there and do the work and so far I am very pleased."

Tennessee, which is 6-0 in league play, and Auburn, which is 5-1, square off Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern (TV:CSS) at the new Auburn Arena.

The presence of the 6'3 Brewer means an immediate boost to post depth, although she will need an adjustment period to get up to game speed. Brewer last played Jan. 2 against LSU and has appeared in just four games this season for a total of 19 minutes.

Brewer sliced her Achilles tendon last August in an accident when a large glass candle base shattered in her apartment. She was off the court for nearly four months but has persistently committed to extra workouts and participated in nearly every practice for the past month to reestablish herself midseason.

"It adds to our depth up front," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "That frontline position, the precarious nature of our front-liners as far as health, we've got that going on, so I think what Lyssi does she gives us more depth and another body in there that we can throw at people.

"The thing about Lyssi Brewer is she has shown that she has a scoring aptitude so that's one of the things that I really like. She presents a low post threat."

The game against South Carolina was a physical one in the paint, and Kelley Cain, who had 11 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks – a stat that seemed to short her a few swats – in 27 minutes of play needed a recovery day Friday and was held out of practice.

The team started Friday's session upstairs in the film room at Pratt. The subsequent practice was relatively low key in terms of high volume from the coaches – "a little bit more so up there," Lockwood said with a smile about film study.

"Pretty much everything that we didn't like," Summitt said of the film session that preceded Friday's practice after the 71-56 win over South Carolina. "It was a little lengthy, but films don't lie. When you go in and you watch film and they probably are thinking, ‘Well, we were pretty good,' they probably came out thinking, ‘Well, we weren't that good.'

"That's why we do it. We don't want to get them down about anything. We want to get them to see and then be able to do something about it and know how they can correct the mistakes that we made."

Alicia Manning smiled when asked what went wrong to start the South Carolina game in which the Lady Vols wilted under the Gamecocks' pressure and the ball squirted free from nearly every spot on the court.

"Alien Round Two," Manning said, jokingly agreeing with a posed theory about foreign invaders inhabiting the orange uniforms.

"I think we just move on. We're going to watch film and look at more detail of what went wrong. Coach always stresses that defense is our ticket and there were a lot of times (Thursday) night where we were just not buckling down and playing defense, and we were missing really easy shots. When that happens you've got to rely on something and our defense wasn't there."

Lockwood said the staff opted to use the film session to present the mistakes and then put the game on the shelf.

"There are two ways you can go with it," Lockwood said. "You can sit there and dwell on all the things you did poorly or didn't do well or you can look at those with a spirit of learning and improvement and say, ‘These are exactly the things that we have to get better on. This is what we want to hold ourselves accountable to, to raise our standard on.'

"Thinking long term we want to be a team that gets to a Final Four. Well, if we're going to be that there are a couple of glaring areas that got shown (Thursday) night that we had to address. That's what we did. We said, ‘Guys, goals haven't changed, right? So if that's the case let's look at what we've got to do to get there.' "

Defense was an emphasis at Friday's practice – both one-on-one and team concepts – along with ball security. Communication is key for Tennessee's defensive schemes to be effective, and the coaches went silent at times so that they could hear the players talk. Failure of individuals to talk meant a team trip to the baseline for a series of sprints.

"I think today was a good example of how we have to practice every day," Summitt said, referring to the entire session. "We're holding court (here), not them. We're then on the court (in a game), they're in charge. I think they still have a little bit of growth out there for them and the maturity level across the board is not where it needs to be.

"But overall we shouldn't be complaining because we've got the talent. This coaching staff has got to get it done, and this team has got to get it done."

When the ball tips, the control moves to the players, and Summitt said senior Angie Bjorklund and junior Shekinna Stricklen, who has started for three years, have to take over.

"Angie and Strick have got to be a lot more vocal and assertive when things are not going well because there are times that the coaches are removed from the court so obviously they have to take that ownership," Summitt said. "And it's not just those two that we've challenged. It's across the board."

Stricklen recovered from a rough start and finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds. Her favorite former Lady Vol, Chamique Holdsclaw, was courtside for the game.

"I didn't know she was coming," Stricklen said. "I saw her when we were getting off the bus walking into the arena. I saw her standing in the hallway. She's my role model, and it's great when she is able to come watch us play. I was happy to see her."

That was also the first time Summitt saw the arena on Thursday. She missed the shoot-around because of illness.

"I had a viral infection, and it was awful," Summitt said. "The only time that I got out of bed was to get in the shower and get dressed (for the game)."

The start of the game didn't make her feel any better.

"I just think we've got to be a whole lot better," Summitt said. "Our lack of commitment to defense was a little bit disheartening. We've got great room for improvement, but we managed to get a victory and on the road is always big.

"Today was a good example of us getting back and getting focused and really understanding how hard you have to play and how much communication has to be there. Overall, I'd give us probably a C, C minus."

Summitt had to pull freshman guard Meighan Simmons in the first half after she got well out of sync. South Carolina's guards targeted the first-year player for pressure.

"Meighan is kind of a marked freshman," Summitt said. "What she has to understand is it's going to be hard for her to do the things she did in high school. She's going to have to give the ball up to get it back and not play by herself. I think she is starting to understand that.

"Player movement and ball movement is great action for any team but especially for this team where the ball gets stuck in a lot of players' hands."

The intensity of the pressure – although Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss warned it was coming in her scouting report – seemed to stagger the Lady Vols.

"They came out with a lot of energy, and we didn't match that," Stricklen said. "We let their defense really affect us."

"As a team we came out really flat," Manning said. "We really stressed coming out in the first four minutes proving our dominance and really getting after them, and I think they were the ones being the aggressors (Thursday) night and that can't really happen. We have targets on our backs so that can't happen anymore."

The game was similar to the loss against Georgetown last November in the Virgin Islands, but this time Tennessee recovered and took the lead by halftime.

"It did because it felt like nothing was going our way," Manning said. "Finally, we started to kick it in gear, and we did our best to cut away at the lead."

"I think we really learned from the Georgetown game," Stricklen said. "We changed things in the second half, and I think our rebounding really helped. Play hard every game. Bring the effort. Just rebound the ball."

Tennessee dominated the boards, 51-31, and got 24 second-chance points. The importance of defense and board play has been drilled into the players, and Thursday was a game in which they got tangible evidence of how rebounding can change the outcome.

"That's the only way we're going to win and I think this team knows that, all together as a team," Stricklen said. "Everyone is committed to playing defense, and everyone is committed to rebounding."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Meighan Simmons talks before Friday's practice

Clips from Friday's practice

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