Sticking with the plan: Lady Vols staying with seniors as starters

The question was routine and the answers evolved into one.

Tennessee assistant coach Dean Lockwood smiled at the thought of being asked, "Who's starting?" He and UT's other women's basketball coaches assembled several options throughout the season.

Not sure.

We're going to talk about it.

Haven't decided yet.

Lockwood recalled a real favorite: "Game-day decision."

While the give-and-take didn't approach Abbott-and-Costello hilarity, there was some amusement in its regularity. The number of answers almost matched the eight different combinations utilized this season. And that constituted progress, considering UT deployed 11 different starting lineups last season.

The coaches weren't being evasive. They didn't know — until now.

The Lady Vols, No. 2 seeds in the Des Moines Regional, will start the NCAA tournament against No. 15 UT Martin at Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 4:10 p.m.) with the same five senior starters — Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen, Vicki Baugh, Alicia Manning and Briana Bass — that they've utilized the past four games.

The Lady Vols (24-8) and Skyhawks (23-8) will play for a spot in the second round on Monday against the DePaul-BYU winner.

Lockwood conceded that a starting lineup created for Senior Day might not have been ideal in November.

But after an inconsistent regular season, it's not so farfetched to put the responsibility for a postseason game's start squarely on the shoulders of Tennessee's most experienced players. At least that's what three solid

victories at the SEC tournament seemed to suggest

"It's our fault if we don't start out strong," Johnson said. "I love it."

Johnson was speaking for herself. Judging by teammate Stricklen's scoring struggles in the first half at the SEC tournament (two points in three games) the affection varies from senior to senior. That's where Tennessee reserves come into play.

"There's an expectation," sophomore guard Meighan Simmons said, "that we have to go out there and do just as good (as the seniors)."

Sorting through the substitutes has been as challenging as deciding on starters. To begin with, the coaches had to adapt this process to their expanded roles under head coach Pat Summitt, who was diagnosed in August with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.

"I think that's one area where we've ironed it out a little bit better," Lockwood said. "Put it this way: as the season has gone on, I think our communication has improved in that area."

Lockwood said that while associate head coach Holly Warlick and Summitt are manning the team huddles, he and fellow assistant Mickie DeMoss confer about substitutions. They then run their thoughts by Summitt.

"It's still a whole staff thing," Lockwood said.

The coaches second-guessed themselves for not playing Baugh in the second half of a 72-71 overtime loss to Arkansas on Feb. 23. But a week later, their SEC tournament decisions were largely above reproach, based on the results.

"It's probably one of the hardest things for coaches to communicate and for players to hear and embrace," Lockwood said. "We need everyone to be ready but at the same time we're going to make game decisions. When we see how the flow of the game is going and we see who's being productive (then) that player or those groups of players are probably going to get more minutes."

In other words, it's a game-day decision.

Dan Fleser covers Lady Vols basketball. Follow him on Twitter: @fleserKNS

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Comments » 14

kazoo writes:

It's unfortunate that coaches have been so very undecided about the rotation all year. Chemistry is a big thing in basketball, and while the team played well in the SEC tourney, it's not exactly a Vol strength.

BigRMan writes:

Yes Chemistry is huge in basketball, especially if you're playing high school or college because if you don't pass Chemistry, chances are you won't be able to play on the team. (LOL)

jt45 writes:

Would rather see Ariel getting the start at point guard, she is gonna need some clutch minutes if they get very deep in the tournament.

voloffaith writes:

in response to BigRMan:

Yes Chemistry is huge in basketball, especially if you're playing high school or college because if you don't pass Chemistry, chances are you won't be able to play on the team. (LOL)

So woodworking 101 is not as strategic then?

On topic, Seniors have no next season...this IS IT! Six games ladies and you can be happy at the big dance with shot to take it all....hard road,but then nothing good usually come easy...

bizzell14 writes:

I think that it should be placed on the seniors to start the game and to lead this team in the NCAA Tournament. This senior bunch knows that they have fallen short of expectations of being a Lady Vol Team. How bad do they want it and do they really want to be that class that never makes it to a final 4... I believe that when this team is playing well and clicking on all cylinders, they are that Team to beat. They will need leadership, focus and heart to make it through to the Final 4 but I believe that this team can do it. Good Luck Lady Vols and go get #9!

jt45 writes:

in response to PeytonManning:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Opinions are free and I like Bass ok in fact her defense might just be better but quite frankly she isn't nearly as good at driving the ball in the lane as Ariel is. Ariel is better at creating offense off the dribble and as far as passing the ball I think her assist this year show her to be quite capable of doing a good job.
Im not her biggest fan by any means, but I would take her play any day over Bass although at times it's good to have Bass on the floor for her energy level.

RLL59 writes:

in response to PeytonManning:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Briana will play 18 minutes or less (averaged 14 over 4 games), like she has since the all senior lineup was installed. The decision to not start the best players because the Lady Vols have not lost with the all senior lineup is somewhat like wearing a 'lucky shirt'. It's a good possibility that the cause and effect relationship is missing...even if a pattern exists. That said, the real issue was stated by another poster, who correctly blames the coaching staff for not having developed a logical, consistent lineup after more than 30 games. With that being the case, any sort of stability is better than none at all.

r2d2 writes:

in response to RLL59:

Briana will play 18 minutes or less (averaged 14 over 4 games), like she has since the all senior lineup was installed. The decision to not start the best players because the Lady Vols have not lost with the all senior lineup is somewhat like wearing a 'lucky shirt'. It's a good possibility that the cause and effect relationship is missing...even if a pattern exists. That said, the real issue was stated by another poster, who correctly blames the coaching staff for not having developed a logical, consistent lineup after more than 30 games. With that being the case, any sort of stability is better than none at all.

Very intelligent post. A good coach should know by now which player lineup give the best chance of winning a game. as you said, starting the 5 seniors is like depending on a "lucky shirt" to win a game. The only positive thing about starting the 5 seniors; it give the LVs some starting lineup consistency.

SummittsCourt writes:

It worked in 2008 (?), but then Candace Parker was on that team.

Senior leadership is only good when the seniors are willing to lead, which hasn't been this classes strong point this year.

RLL59 writes:

in response to PeytonManning:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yeah, the coaching staff just happened to recruit the only All Americans in the country that didn't have the heart and will to win...and every one they recruited had the same problem...and it happened for the last 4 years in a row!! Perhaps you meant to condemn only the class of 2008, but since recruits from the next 3 classes don't seem to be faring any better nor showing more 'heart', I assume you're including them as well.

If your reason for a problem is the one you want it to be, but is statistically impossible, logic says you look for a different cause. If you persist in your original conclusion, you best be prepared for having the same problem year after year. And the Lady Vols have, and there's no indication that next year will be any different. After all, the majority of the team 'without heart' will be back...hopefully, they do return.

RLL59 writes:

in response to PeytonManning:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Appears that in that half hour between your last 2 posts, you figured out what I was trying to get across. At least we're on the same side as far as hoping for Lady Vol victories. Thanks for setting me straight. Always nice to have a civil discourse.

johnlg00 writes:

I have no problem with giving the seniors a chance to display some accountability and determination in going farther than they have so far in the NCAAs. The team is going to look completely different next year anyway. I think the freshmen should play as much as they can if they are contributing, as well as the others such as Spani, Simmons, and Williams. But the seniors should bear the main load; let's just see if they have become strong enough to bear it.

Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious writes:

in response to PeytonManning:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Well, everyone may have an opinion, but to suggest Bass is a better overall player than Massengale is silly.. Bass may start, but it'll be a matter of minutes before they bring in Massengale off the bench. But I agree with the previous poster, Massengale has much better upside being in the game than Bass.

rickangstadt#239402 writes:

All this talk means nothing and it will change nothing. How about some positives for all the players. A boost in confidence from the fans would have a much better effect.

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