The Lady Vols returned to the practice court Monday and turned their focus to the start of the regular season - a Friday evening tip against UT-Chattanooga. <p> UT-C is ranked 31st in the country and will be a formidable opponent, especially for a season opener. <p> Assistant coach Dean Lockwood said the sense of excitement was palpable at Monday's practice.

"You can feel it," Lockwood said. "You can absolutely feel it. They are a very good team. What an unbelievable first test for our team. It's not like we're playing ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Guilt.' We're in there, and we're playing a team that has a great chance to win their league, be back in the NCAA Tournament and could play deep into the tournament. The sense of urgency is huge."

After two exhibition game wins, Lockwood said two specific issues need to be addressed: the post players must become more physical, and the free-throw shooting must improve.

The team percentage over two games from the charity stripe is 52.9 percent. But there are bright spots. Shanna Zolman is hitting 100 percent; Shyra Ely, 77.8 percent; and Brittany Jackson; 75 percent.

The preferred percentage for post players is 75 percent and above, and at least 80 percent (and preferably higher) for guards, according to Lockwood. The three centers fall short of that. Sybil Dosty was 0-1 (and didn't play Sunday because of a concussion); Tye'sha Fluker is at 55.6 percent, and Nicky Anosike at 25 percent. Guard Loree Moore hit 2 of 4 for 50 percent, and guard Alexis Hornbuckle shot an inexplicable 3-8 for 37.5 percent. Two players, Sidney Spencer and Dominique Redding, didn't make it to the line in the games.

"She's so much better than that," Lockwood said of Hornbuckle. "And I think fatigue may have been a little bit of a factor. Go up there, relax, trust your system. Sometimes a player is racing. You come down in transition, and you made a drive, you're tired. All of a sudden you're huffing and puffing, and you're thinking about the next play and what are we doing. There's a sub. Now who do I guard? When you're at the line, you've got to block that out.

"Free-throw shooting is the combination of proper technique and mechanics, and once that's in place so much of free-throw shooting is what goes on between a player's ears. And I think that's the biggest part we want to really work on is that they block out everything else, whether it's a good play or the next play or we've changed defenses. They go to that line, clear their slate figuratively speaking and trust their system."

There are plans to incorporate more free-throw shooting into practice. Right now the Lady Vols break between drills throughout the practice session to shoot from the line.

"We need to go and get them extra shots," Lockwood said. "Through the course of practice we stop, and we break for free-throws two or three times. But even with that, you're shooting 20, 25 times. We're going to need to find some time and shoot 50, 75 more extra so we can get close to 100 a day on most days."

The key to successful free-throw shooting is changing the player's mindset once she steps to the line, Lockwood said. It's one of the few times during a game when everything freezes for a moment.

"I heard a coach say this one time, and I really like this: Basketball is a game where you constantly go from broad to pinpoint concentration," he said. "I'm bringing the ball up the floor I need broad. I need peripheral vision to see all my players and the defenders to see what they're doing. When I'm feeding the post I need to see broad to see what's going on, what the defender's doing. Shooting is a pinpoint skill. I think that's one of the things right now that our young players have not fully come to grasp yet. When you're at the free-throw line everything else gets blocked out."

The second area of focus for Lockwood is the physical-ness of the post players. He said after the Carson-Newman game that the post players needed more "physicality." His words sounded similar after the West Coast All-Stars game.

"I said this the last time, and I'll say this again. I still don't think our posts are as physical as we need to be yet," Lockwood said. "I think we've improved. But I don't think we are as physical as we need to be as a group yet."

He cited Tye'sha Fluker as coming the closest to what he wants on the floor. Anosike was restricted by foul trouble, and Dosty was held out.

Lockwood watched game tape with Fluker before practice Monday.

"I think Tye Fluker, of all of our kids in this last game, got more consistent to that," he said. "I think she is nearing what we're looking for."

Anosike's film session with Lockwood is set for Tuesday. Anosike has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff for her physical play, especially for a freshman, but "it was a little hard for her to get in the flow of this one because she picked up some fouls," Lockwood said.

"I've got about eight minutes of clips cut out, and a number of those involve fouls," he said. "She's physical, and that's a great part of her game. For me personally I would take 100 times out of 100 somebody that you have to crank back versus crank up. Nicky's physical, and now what we have to teach her to do is to choose your spots. One foul she was probably a good 24, 25 feet out on the floor. She doesn't need that foul. Now the one foul she got where she just mowed somebody over going for an offensive board, I can see one of those a game, fine. We have to teach her to distinguish."

Anosike's dribble drive the length of the floor Sunday on a fast break was impressive, Lockwood said, except for the finish. She went in too fast, and the ball caromed hard off the backboard. But he saw a silver lining there, too.

"She's letting us know that she understands the concept of dribble bust-out," Lockwood said. "So that's good. She understands."

The other aspect of the post game that Lockwood will emphasize this week in practice is sealing off a defender in the paint. Lockwood has drilled the centers throughout the preseason on getting into proper position to receive an entry pass.

"As a group we need to be more physical right away in transition," Lockwood said. "When we come down we need an immediate post presence. I think we're not doing that as well as we need to yet. I also think when we do seal we need to hold our seals a bit longer. I don't think we're holding them as long as we need to yet in order to really present the best target."

Free throws, seals and physical play. It's something to watch for Friday when Tennessee opens the season in Chattanooga.

REHAB ROW PART I: Soloist Margaret Cox, who has sung the national anthem at Lady Vols game for 24 years, is out for the season and will need surgery on her left vocal cord to remove polyps.

"Margaret is a part of the Lady Vol Basketball tradition," coach Pat Summitt said Monday. "Our fans and players have enjoyed her fantastic voice for over two decades. Right now, she must concentrate on her health, and her Lady Vol family wishes her the very best as she prepares for her treatment ahead."

Cox will have surgery at the Vanderbilt Voice Center, which is world-renowned for treatment of voice problems. A surgery date hasn't been set yet, and the recovery time is about three months. Tennessee said Cox would take a "redshirt" year and return next season, which will be her Silver Anniversary with the Lady Vols.

REHAB ROW PART II: One member of "Rehab Row" is closer to returning to the court but isn't quite back yet because her balance is still off. Freshman Sybil Dosty, who took an errant elbow to the head in practice last Thursday and suffered a concussion, was held out of practice Monday.

"She is much improved," Jenny Moshak, assistant athletic director of sports medicine, said Monday. "Her cognitive skills are excellent. However, she lacks balance ability. The game plan is this: Once she gets her balance, and she passes all of the cognitive and all of the other questions that I ask her then I'll check her out on a (stationary) bike for 10, 20 minutes. If no symptoms are reproduced then I will let her back into practice. But since she failed her balance today, she could not practice. No weights, no practice.

"Tomorrow (Tuesday) we have off so that's a big plus. So we'll recheck on Wednesday. She is still day-to-day."

Freshmen Alex Fuller (reconstructed ACL, left knee, will redshirt), Candace Parker (left knee, cartilage surgery in September) and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood (injured left patella) remain sidelined. Despite the knee injuries all three – plus Dosty – wore high heels to the game Sunday. Fuller's and Dosty's were stiletto heels. Parker and Wiley-Gatewood wore slightly more sensible heels.

"Alex, Candace, they're killing me," Moshak said. "And our orthopedic surgeon just shakes his head."

"I look down and see those shoes and go, ‘What are you doing?' " Summitt said she asked Parker. "Fashion or basketball. When they can't have basketball it looks like fashion."

TENDER SIDE OF SUMMITT: Wiley-Gatewood was granted permission to miss practice Monday because her family from Pomona, Calif., was still in town after the exhibition game Sunday. Her father, Jerry Gatewood, coaches the West Coast All-Stars. Injured players are usually at practice, where they observe and undergo rehab exercises on the sideline.

"Her mom and dad are in town," Summitt said. "And she asked me if she could spend time with them. I said, ‘Yeah, as long as you get your rehab done.' "

Wiley-Gatewood was waylaid soon after practice began in mid-October when a severe case of patellar tendonitis took her off the court. She will rehab until mid-December in hopes that rest and rehab will heal some small tears in the patellar tendon in her left knee. If not, Wiley-Gatewood and her father said surgery would have to be considered, and she would take a redshirt year. The freshman guard's spirits were considerably boosted this weekend when her family arrived in Knoxville.

CAREER FIRST: Sophomore Dominique Redding, who spent the summer working on her conditioning, won her first post-practice sprint drill Monday. Her dedication over the summer has paid off in practice performance and in minutes played in the two exhibition games. On Monday, it paid off again. Redding crossed the finish line ahead of her teammates, and both she and Summitt threw up their arms as if to signal a touchdown.

"We are very proud of Dom," Lockwood said. "Hopefully that's a breakthrough moment, and there are many more to come."

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