Vicki Baugh steps up for Lady Vols

Vicki Baugh

As Vicki Baugh headed out of bounds, Doug Bruno instinctively moved to give her more room to maneuver. He may have been on the opponent's bench, but the DePaul head coach has nothing but respect for the Tennessee forward. Go inside to read why.

No. 2 seed Tennessee (26-8) takes on No. 11 seed Kansas (21-12) on Saturday with tipoff set for 12:04 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPN) at Wells Fargo Arena in the Des Moines Regional.

The Lady Vols practiced Thursday in Knoxville and then flew to Iowa as they will meet with the media and then practice at the downtown arena on Friday.

Vicki Baugh will be making her first trip to the Hawkeye State.

"I have never been there," Baugh said. "I don't know what to expect. I have a friend that went to school there and that is about the only thing I can associate with Iowa."

Baugh can expect spring-like weather, the same as in Chicago last weekend. Trees are blooming around the arena, and temperatures are in the 70s during the day. That is welcome news for the fifth-year senior, whose surgically repaired knee feels better in warm climates.

The tipoff is 11:04 a.m. local time, so the Lady Vols will be up early for this game, as opposed to waiting all day in Chicago for Monday's game against DePaul that started at 9:40 p.m. Eastern time.

"We have played at all times so we know how to prepare regardless of if it's early or late," Baugh said. "As long as the weather is good I think we will be fine."

DePaul Coach Doug Bruno is very aware of Baugh's surgical history.

He was the head coach for the 2006 USA U18 FIBA Americas and the 2007 FIBA U19 World Championship Team, both of which won gold medals — the 2006 squad went 4-0 in Colorado; the 2007 USA team went 9-0 in Slovakia. Baugh, who was still in high school, played on those teams and left a lasting impression on Bruno.

"She broke the rim dunking after practice one day," Bruno said.

Baugh also became one of Bruno's favorite players. He was effusive in his praise of the Sacramento, Calif., native and said she would have been an All-American in college had it not been for the two ACL surgeries on her left knee.

When she played USA ball in 2006, Baugh was one of three high school players - the other two were Maya Moore and Kayla Pedersen - on a team of college players.

Bruno said some of the experienced players were not as easy to reach — he indicated they acted as if they had the answers already — and it was "very impressive to see Maya, Vicki and Kayla stand up and say, ‘This is how we do things,' " Bruno said.

"The maturity of these players, especially Vicki … . When you're the youngest, it's easy to get swept along."

Pedersen went on to star at Stanford, while Moore did the same at UConn. Baugh, because of her redshirt season to recover from her second knee surgery — and a third one to repair meniscus - is a fifth-year player in college.

"I remember we were willing to work, specifically those three players," Baugh said of the high school trio. "We just wanted to learn. We knew it was a new experience because it was for us, and I remember being very open to everything he had to say and wanting to learn.

"There were older cats there – that is who he is talking about — and they had experience already. I think we ended up starting over them and it was kind of weird because nobody expected it."

Baugh's career at Tennessee has been truncated by injuries, but some of her best moments have come in postseason, starting in Tampa in 2008 when her drive to the basket — the one that tore the ACL in her left knee for the first time - gave the Lady Vols a double-digit lead in the national title game.

As Baugh was being helped from the court, she had tears streaming down her face and she yelled at the Tennessee bench, "Let's go, y'all!" It was a moment that galvanized the team, which maintained the lead and trimmed the nets for the program's eighth national title.

Baugh's words entered Lady Vol lore, and a lasting image of Nicky Anosike was seeing her wipe tears from her eyes when she re-took the court in Tampa. Anosike, who now plays in the WNBA, switched her jersey in the pros to No. 21 in a salute to Baugh.

"She has got a great heart and a great heart for people," said Dean Lockwood, who was one of those who helped to get Baugh off the court four years ago. "She is very quiet by nature and for a lot of people it probably takes time to get a feel or a sense of who Vicki is as a person, to get the essence of her.

"She is very, very caring. She has got a depth to her and a quality to her that is very, very special."

Baugh was effective in the sub-regional in Chicago in the wins over Tennessee-Martin and DePaul. In the game that got the Lady Vols to Des Moines — a 63-48 win over DePaul — Glory Johnson was all over the glass with 21 rebounds but was having trouble scoring.

"If you are not having the best offensive game, you've got to pick it up in another category whether it's defense or rebounding," Johnson said. "I try to help my team anyway I can. Just be competitive on the floor."

Baugh filled the offensive void and went 8-11 for 16 points and also had nine rebounds.

"I am playing and I am not thinking too much and that is the good thing about it," Baugh said. "I thought I had missed a bunch that game. I didn't realize I was 8-11.

"I told myself that I am going to keep shooting and every shot I take are shots that I think I can make."

Lockwood smiled after that game when asked if it was a good time to be the post coach between Baugh's work on the scoreboard and Johnson's performance on the glass. He also hopes that Baugh's offense made the trip to Iowa.

"That's huge," Lockwood said. "Vicki defensively is certainly a game changer for us. But when Vicki's offense is going – and that is one of the things we challenged her with at halftime – when she is converting like she did in the second half our team goes up a full notch.

"She is athletic and she has got the skill set to score. When she brings that, it is like adding another ship in your fleet. That is how we feel. We've got one more ship in the fleet."

Iowa is a landlocked state, but the Raccoon River does flow past the Wells Fargo Arena, so the USS Baugh is free to float, as it were, in Des Moines.

It was her USA play that introduced Baugh to Bruno, and the respect was mutual.

"It was fun," Baugh said. "USA was very tough and I remember a few of the girls even breaking down because he is very strict and stern, and it is business on the court.

"I even remember we had to rehearse — and it was kind of like a military thing — and he called them ‘We Wills,' that were basically 10 commitments that we will do before every game and every practice.

"I remember having three a days. It was just a really tough process, and you had to be mentally strong. I think some of us who were stronger it surprised him because we were able to handle it."

There was a moment in the DePaul game when Baugh's momentum was carrying her out of bounds towards the Blue Demons bench. She got her balance and needed to turn down court, and Bruno stepped forward onto the court to give her additional room.

Baugh darted behind Bruno and headed to the other end.

"I did notice he stepped up to make sure (there was no contact)," Baugh said. "He is just a very caring person. I know he did that to make sure that I was OK. I even saw their bench step back.

"I tripped over someone (on the court), and I was falling out of bounds, stumbling and trying to recover. He is a very caring guy and he is like that for anyone. I loved him as a coach and I just wish him the best.

"He still checks on me to this day. It was great playing for him. I appreciate everything."

CITY TOUR: Inside Tennessee was in Des Moines Thursday and shot photos that can be viewed HERE on Facebook.

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Mickie DeMoss

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