Lady Vols prepare for season opener

Dean Lockwood

The Lady Vols returned to practice Friday after an off day with a noticeable shift in approach – it's time to prepare for a specific opponent with the regular season officially starting Sunday afternoon.

Tennessee opens the 2011-12 season against Pepperdine (4 p.m. Eastern, SportSouth, espn.go.com) at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday with just one day between games as Miami arrives for a 6 p.m. tipoff (ESPN2) on Tuesday in the State Farm Tipoff.

Practice started Oct. 5 and the coaches and players developed a rhythm of conditioning, basketball drills and days off during that month. November offered an exhibition game and a week later another one. Now, the sense of urgency takes a steep upward turn, as Tennessee gets it first test.

"No question," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "I think this whole stretch will be."

The coaches won't discuss No. 7-ranked Miami, the team favored to win the ACC, with the team until Monday. Pepperdine has their focus now, but there is some overlap that is always present. The Lady Vols want to execute their offensive and defensive concepts regardless of opponent.

"Today we did a lot of conceptual stuff," Lockwood said after Friday's session.

Friday was the opportunity to get up and down the court in full court drills, because coaches won't push the tempo the day before a game so as to make sure players have their legs.

Saturday will be used to put in the game plan for Pepperdine with Monday fulfilling the same purpose for Miami.

The coaches want the team ready for Pepperdine, because the season opener will set the tone for the next day of practice.

"I can't say this strongly enough. We can't think about Miami at all right now," Lockwood said. "We've got to do a job on Pepperdine. Players, a first game showing and you don't play well, fills them with some doubt and fills us with some anger. It sours the mood. It sours the thought process.

"We've got to attack Pepperdine with the full force of what we have in our bag and then we can focus on Miami. So this is a test as much as it is physical playing the 13th and the 15th, it is also a mental test to say one opponent at a time.

"It's like a regional and we're going to play a team that we feel is a good matchup and then we've got a heavyweight. We can't slip up."

Tennessee has five seniors on the roster so getting a veteran team to focus on the task at hand should not be difficult. But the Lady Vols also have a freshman point guard in Ariel Massengale and rely on the two other newcomers for contributions. Every experience is new for them.

"I am very, very anxious and curious and excited to see what happens the 13th, 14th and 15th," Lockwood said.

The coaches want to use defense to set the tone, a mantra of preseason.

"We have no idea how our shots are going to fall, but what we can control – especially playing here; we'll have a home crowd – our effort level needs to be superior," Lockwood said.

"Our effort level needs to be absolutely exemplary for us on the defensive end of the floor. That is going to tell us a lot. How we come out and attack them."

The Lady Vols will hold another practice session Saturday.

"Pepperdine, specifically defending some actions and sets and going over personnel," Lockwood said of the practice plan. "And cleaning up a little bit of our stuff, what we want to run and how we want to execute against them."

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Friday practice clips

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