After a desultory defensive performance in Monday's 73-59 loss to Notre Dame in the regional final in Dayton, Pat Summitt picked three new captains – rising seniors Glory Johnson and Alicia Manning and rising junior Taber Spani.
All 11 returning players reported Wednesday for the team meeting/film session and Summitt make it clear that lack of effort going forward, especially on the defensive side of the ball, would mean more time spent watching games instead of playing in them.
A stiff defense has been a tenet of Tennessee basketball, and the team has strayed from that recently and especially this season when the Lady Vols were too often content to outscore teams and not stop them. That came to a screeching halt in Dayton when Notre Dame got to the paint at will and connected from outside, and Tennessee's shots were not falling.
The Lady Vols got burnt in transition defense, which had been drilled for two weeks leading into the tourney. Summitt said the scouting report, which emphasized not doubling in the post so as to not give up the weak-side basket, should have just been tossed in the trash because Notre Dame got wrongly doubled all game and got layups out of it.
It's a disconnect between the coaches' game plan and the players' execution that is troubling for the staff, especially in a regional final with a Final Four slot on the line.
"It is staggering and it is so disappointing," Summitt said. "I just can't tell you how hurt our coaching staff is for this program, for our fans. We've got the greatest fans in the women's game. …
"They've been this way since they came in here. A good day they're going to be focused and then they'll come in sometimes from class and just go through the motions."
The intent Wednesday had been to watch game tape and then practice but that was shelved after two hours spent in the film room at Pratt Pavilion. Tennessee will later take advantage of NCAA rules that allow practice time after elimination in postseason.
"We're still going to do some practices," Summitt said. "We wanted to today and obviously the film took quite awhile because we had quite a bit of mess to look at and try to figure out.
"Initially, they talked. You want them to talk. You want to know what they were seeing and what they were feeling. But I don't think that they had a whole lot of answers, and it's hard to call yourself out unless you're really secure, so in the end it was probably more Dean (Lockwood) and myself."
Summitt's captains include two players who are already defensive-minded in Manning and Johnson, and an offensive-minded one in Spani, who will live in a gym in the off-season. All three have the personality to let their voices be heard and perhaps with Summitt's anointment they will now be more likely to do so with teammates.
What has been missing is an on-court vocal presence in the sometimes-abrasive mold of Candace Parker, Nicky Anosike and Alexis Hornbuckle. Those three tried to take care of issues before they even reached Summitt, and Anosike never hesitated to call out a player for any perceived lack of effort, even the superstar Parker.
"I told them, ‘There is no Parker on this team so I don't know why you are looking around for a Parker or an Anosike or a Hornbuckle.' Somebody has got to pull themselves up out of the chair and say, ‘You know what, Coach, I've got it. I've got your back. Here I am.'
"This is the most casual, laidback team that I can remember."
Outgoing senior Angie Bjorklund was quiet by nature and a leader by example. She was thrust into the role of senior leader when she was just a sophomore on a freshman-laden team. Bjorklund needed a complementary sidekick to help with the vocal leadership, but such a player didn't emerge in her final season, and it finished with a loss that left her in tears Monday and struggling to accept the ending.
The returning players were on the court in Pratt Pavilion without the coaches, but Summitt wasn't ready yet to see them in a gym. It's too little, too late at this point for the 2010-11 season.
"They're out there doing their own thing, and I am not impressed," Summitt said. "I don't even want to go watch because I am sure I'll get mad watching some of the stuff they do."