Lady Vols Not Resting On Their Laurels

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- In case anyone thought the Tennessee women's basketball progam would rest on its laurels after going 31-4 last season, winning its seventh-straight Southeastern Conference title and reaching its 15th NCAA Final Four in 30 years, consider these items:

(1) Coach Pat Summitt, already the winningest women's coach ever with 852 wins, went out and recruited seven top freshmen, including three National Players of the Year.

(2) Summitt challenged 6-foot-2 lefty All-America forward Shyra Ely to work on her right hand; urged guard Loree Moore to improve her outside shot; encouraged guard Shanna Zolman to get quicker with her first step; implored 6-5 center Tye'sha Fluker to get tougher mentally; and advised 6-3 forward Sidney Spencer to get stronger physically.

(3) In a recent loose-ball drill, Fluker and 6-3 freshman Sybil Dosty started a tug-of-war at the free throw line and had to be stopped when they reached the concrete on the other end of the floor, with Dosty limping.

"Trainers hate that drill," Summitt said Wednesday at SEC Media Days. "But coaches love it."

Though three of her prized freshmen are already hurt, Summitt loves the competitiveness they've brought.

"Ely is a lot faster since (6-4 freshman center) Nikki Anosike arrived," Summitt said, grinning. "So is Fluker."

Though the Lady Vols have reached four Final Fours in the last five years, they haven't won a national title since their 39-0 team of 1998 -- partly because they haven't been challenged enough within their own team.

"In 1999 we had everybody back, got bored and watched the Final Four on TV," Summitt recalled. "It's always better to have a new infusion of energy."

The disappointing part for Summitt is that 6-3 freshman Alex Fuller is out for the season with a knee injury; 6-3 freshman phenom Candace Parker is out indefinitely with a knee cartilage injury; and 5-9 freshman guard Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood had a setback after coming back too quickly from patella tendinitis.

"Parker came back from the Junior National Team on Sept. 9 with some swelling," Summitt said. "We don't know when she can come back. There's no drop-dead date (for a redshirt season); it needs to be open-ended for her."

Meanwhile, the UT veterans are leading the way in tough 5:45 a.m. practices.

"There's a lot of hitting in the SEC," Summitt reminded. "Today, about three of the players might as well have kept their pajamas on."

Alexis Hornbuckle, a 5-ll freshman guard from Charleston, W.Va., has showed great promise, but Summitt cautioned, "She has her lapses."

Tennessee has been paired at the top with LSU, both in the SEC and nationally, now that Diana Taurasi has finished at (UT nemesis) Connecticut.

"Taurasi was such a big-play maker," Summitt said. "Every time we played Connecticut, she had a career night. But I still think they should be in the top four in the country. They know how to win."

So does Summitt, who took a month off after last season to relax at her Panama Beach, Fla., residence because she felt the Lady Vols had mostly maximized their potential.

Well, she relaxed in the sense that she read motivational books on the beach.

"Now we're back at it, one practice at a time," Summitt said. "Our goal every year is to win the national championship."

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