Former Lady Vol Michelle Marciniak, who won a national title at Tennessee in 1996 and was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, was in town for the Stanford game and to visit with Pat Summitt.
Marciniak, a former assistant coach at South Carolina and now a successful businesswoman and owner of Sheex, also spoke to the team at Monday's session and had a chat with freshman sensation Meighan Simmons, a player Marciniak saluted for her willingness to have the ball in crunch time.
Video interview: Michelle Marciniak.
Simmons drained the three-point shot that tied Sunday's game 70-70 in regulation and also connected on a baseline jumper and hit both of her free throw attempts in the 82-72 win over the Cardinal in overtime.
The Lady Vols host East Tennessee State on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Eastern (SportSouth) and then will have four days off for the Christmas holidays. Assistant Dean Lockwood refers to this time period as "hearing Jingle Bells," because players' minds are drifting to thoughts of home and away from basketball.
"We usually don't have any problems," Summitt said. "You can always put them on the line and trust me, they would rather work on their skills than do sprinting. I think we can hold their attention."
That was the case Monday as the players completed a two-hour practice, which was followed by weight training, in high spirits. The upbeat attitude likely is enhanced by anticipation of some time with family but also because of the way they bounced back from the Baylor loss last week to down Stanford before a raucous crowd of 14,197 in Thompson-Boling Arena.
"When I came out (Stanford's) Tara (VanDerveer) said to me, nowhere else would there be the amount of fans in support and I thought it was a nice gesture on her part and she said that it was amazing," Summitt said in her morning teleconference.
"After the Baylor loss that was about as hard as I've been on the team in a long time," Summitt noted after Monday's practice at Pratt Pavilion. "I gave them a piece of my mind. I gave them several."
Summitt ended the "roll call" week by telling the players that she was proud of the way they competed, especially after losing the lead late in the second half against Stanford.
"It was a battle from the beginning to the end, and I thought we had a lot of people step up," Summitt said. "Kelley Cain was huge. That was big for us."
Summitt also noted in her teleconference, "It was great to see Kelley gut it out. She hadn't always been able to push through, but her toughness and focus in that game was terrific. Just really, really proud of what Kelley did.
"Glory hasn't been able to knock down shots for us and it has hurt our offense, but I told her you just focus on your defense. I thought her defense down the stretch once she went in made a huge difference."
It was Glory Johnson's defense on Jeanette Pohlen after Tennessee had lost the lead that shifted the momentum back to the Lady Vols. Pohlen hit six three-pointers with five coming in the second half but none while Johnson locked her down. Johnson slipped into the paint at the end of regulation to swipe two entry passes and force the overtime.
Johnson was back on the court Monday, but Cain was sidelined in her sweats as she needed a break from court work after logging 25 minutes – and starting the overtime period – and instead did some rehab with Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine.
Summitt expressed admiration for Cain's resolve to deal with the pain of her sore hip and lower back – two years ago Cain played with two screws migrating out of a lower leg bone – and take the court.
"Her mentality was really strong," Summitt said. "I think the team has a lot respect for her. There is no doubt."
Summitt also wants to see the ball get inside more to Cain when she is on the floor. Although Summitt likes the confidence of Simmons, she still has to remind her about decision-making – a not uncommon situation for a freshman and especially one on a team without a designated go-to player. On more than one occasion, shots were going up on the perimeter without Cain once touching the ball. Another time, the pass came to Cain before she could even get set and was fired near the knees of the 6'6 center.
"She is starting to understand," Summitt said. "There were several times I was like, ‘Five passes, get the ball moving,' instead of coming down and jacking it up. I pulled her over there and I said, ‘I don't want to see another shot anytime soon. Get the ball inside.' "
Summitt acknowledged she is also walking a fine line because she doesn't want to dampen the swagger of Simmons, who was selected Monday as the SEC Freshman of the Week for the second time this season. Some players will shy away from the ball in big moments while Simmons went to it and she is not afraid to attempt the shot. A freshman with that mindset is a rare commodity. Simmons didn't hesitate with the long three – Cain got her wide open with a block-out-the-sun screen – and the shot drew nothing but net.
"Sure," Summitt said, acknowledging the balancing act. "But it's all about circumstances in the game. And (at other times) when you've got Kelley Cain down there … That's why my throat is sore."
Summitt had a quiet session after practice with Kamiko Williams, a sophomore combo guard with an all-star skill set but not the mindset yet to match it.
"She's really got to invest," Summitt said. "She's really got to make sure she knows all of our sets because sometimes she kind of checks out on us."
Williams is limited right now at the guard spots, because the offense will sometimes bog down when she has to ask for assistance from teammates on set plays. With a 30-second shot clock, time is of the essence, and the frustration with the situation emerged on the sideline during a timeout in the Baylor loss.
Summitt characterized Monday's meeting as positive and said she told Williams that "you and Meighan have got to be the two best guards."
As far as the point guard position it will still be one played by committee, and Summitt hasn't yet decided who would start Wednesday's game at that spot. She also doesn't know from game to game how long the starter would stay at the slot.
"It's a wait and see," Summitt said. "You don't go and predetermine, we'll do this, this and this. We'll have a game plan of who's going to start but then it's all about managing throughout the game, that's the key."
Junior forward Shekinna Stricklen, who has the most experience at point guard but moved off the ball after the loss to Georgetown – much to her relief – played the position for some reps in both halves against Stanford.
"She's got the versatility to do that," Summitt said. "Do I want her there all the time? Absolutely not."
Senior shooting guard Angie Bjorklund also got the team in its offenses on a couple of occasions in the second half but Summitt wants her sharpshooter off the ball and not at point, except for some tidy-up moments as she did Sunday.
"I think that would freeze her game," Summitt said. "She needs to be on the wing."
Bjorklund leads the team in assists with 34 followed by Simmons with 28 and Stricklen with 25.
"She's very unselfish, and that's good, but then when we need shots I am going to tell her, ‘You've got to hunt shots,' " Summitt said.
Bjorklund did so against Stanford and diversified her game by lofting just two treys and using an assortment of shot fakes and an up-and-under move to get midrange shots.
"I told her, ‘We've got to get to the paint. Don't live and die by the three. Get to the paint,' " Summitt said.
As far as Wednesday's game Summitt hopes that she doesn't have to lean on her starters and Cain as much as she did Sunday.
"Hopefully we can play a lot of people and we can rest the people that need to rest," Summitt said.
Lauren Avant, a freshman point guard, is getting up to speed at practice, and Alyssia Brewer, a junior post just back from Achilles tendon surgery, won't log many minutes until she can get back in basketball shape after three months off to heal.
"She's got to get back in great condition," Summitt said.
The team will be back at practice Tuesday afternoon to prepare for East Tennessee State and then the players will be turned loose Thursday for a few days. Summitt also took the time Monday to salute the 88-game win streak of Connecticut, which matched John Wooden and UCLA's record run in the early 1970s. The Huskies can claim the all-time streak with a win Tuesday against Florida State.
"Amazing," Summitt said. "You're talking about history. That's just unbelievable what they've done and there are going to be a lot more wins that will follow. I think Geno (Auriemma) and his coaching staff, you have to look at it and say this is something that is unique and very, very impressive
"Well-oiled machine – that's who they are, that's who they've been and that's who they'll keep being."
VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips of Monday's practice. Former Vol Bobby Maze came to the session to play on the scout squad, and former Lady Vol Michelle Marciniak got warmed up later but practice ended before she could take the court.