It was loud Monday at the Lady Vols basketball practice. And it wasn't the voice of coach Pat Summitt. It was her players. <p> Shouts of encouragement. Entreaties to play defense. Kudos for good shots. All in all, a lot of communication on the court.

"They realize they need each other," assistant coach Holly Warlick said after practice. "I think talking makes them stay in the moment. They're not thinking about what they may have done or what's getting ready to happen. We're just trying to get them to play in the moment."

"I think the seniors have really turned the volume up on their communication," Summitt said. "Considering we're in exams, and this is our third straight day I thought they were really very focused, a lot of energy."

It's exam week at Tennessee – one player left practice early to take one; another missed practice to take one – but some of the sternest tests have come on the court. With a break in action between last Thursday's Duke game and this Sunday's contest against DePaul, Summitt has put her players through some intense workouts.

Tennessee, now ranked No. 9 after starting the season No. 1, is 4-2 with losses to No.3-ranked Duke and No. 4-ranked Texas. Unranked Temple nearly beat the Lady Vols in Knoxville, a feat never accomplished by an unranked women's team at Thompson-Boling Arena since it opened for the 1987-88 season.

Summitt is aware that some teams could see her team as vulnerable, but she's not concerned about them right now.

"I'm sure people think they have a shot at us, because obviously you watch our game against North Carolina State, that was not a great performance. That was not high energy, shot the ball poorly. You watch our game against Texas they were by far the better up-and-down team and the better half-court team. Then you watch our play against Duke," Summitt said. "Having seen those three games there's reason for people to have high expectations against us. We just have to focus on us.

"We've had a target on our back for years. That's who we are. Some of these players, particularly our young players, I don't think they quite understand it. But the juniors and seniors clearly understand it. Even Sid and Dom have sort of a feel."

Sophomores Dominique Redding and Sidney Spencer, junior Shanna Zolman and senior Brittany Jackson shot particularly well Monday.

A lot of hand wringing this season has focused on the offensive shortcomings, but when viewing the game film the coaches realize the players were getting good shots.

"At this point I'm not overly concerned," Summitt said. "I'm more concerned about our transition defense and our rebounding. My concern is our toughness and our competitiveness in the full court and on the boards. You address it in practice. Just put them in game situations in practice. …

"What we have to eliminate is having people on the floor that are a liability. Players have to be mindful that they can't be a liability and see quality playing time or really contribute to what we want to do defensively."

Redding, who has a sweet jump shot, landed in Summitt's doghouse last week after a sloppy practice.

"If she'll play some defense she'll be out of it," Summitt said. "It's a mindset."

Jackson was pulled from the Duke game after a series of defensive lapses but drew praise from Summitt on Monday for her practice habits and overall play.

"With the exception of the Duke game, she's been very consistent," Summitt said.

Both Warlick and Summitt expressed the belief that the Lady Vols' overall offensive game would reap dividends after some extended practice time.

"I think it's just getting used to each other," Warlick said. "The more we can simulate game situations in practice the better."

"Eventually they're going to knock down shots," Summitt said. I think sometimes you just need practice and repetition for them to get their rhythm back. … We're running a lot of different things. Forward and guard action, that's new for us but actually we're starting to really get good ball movement, player movement, good post-ups out of it."

Summitt also is asking for some patience from the orange faithful, because the team is green in the post.

"Don't forget we have two freshmen posts, and (junior Tye'sha) Fluker has never played the role we're asking her to play," Summitt said. "She hasn't been ready to play the way she needs to play. She finally decided she's going to compete."

In what is an encouraging sign for future leadership, one of the most-vocal players Monday was freshman guard Alexis Hornbuckle, who along, with senior Loree Moore, took turns running the offense.

(Moore wore an arm and shoulder brace in practice Monday because of soreness in the tendon in her upper left bicep muscle. Jenny Moshak, assistant athletic director for sports medicine, said Moore sprained the tendon in a fall against Temple. The brace provides warmth and compression. The sprain can cause discomfort but doesn't prevent Moore from playing, Moshak said.)

"She's had two outstanding days," Summitt said of Hornbuckle. "I've been very pleased with her practices."

As far as leadership Summitt said, "I do think that she can be. I think Candace Parker can be. I think Gatewood can be."

Parker and fellow freshman Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood have been out this season with injuries.

Wiley-Gatewood returned to limited action over the weekend and will have her first full practice Friday.

She attempted to start practice in October after missing a lot of preseason workouts because of severe patellar tendonitis, but had to be shut down again because of pain and swelling.

"I think for awhile I just thought there was no way because of how she responded the last time we rested her," Summitt said. "I visited with her today, and she said, ‘Coach I feel great.' … She's got a great feel for the game. She's a natural point guard."

Moshak is cautiously optimistic because so far Wiley-Gatewood has not experienced any swelling or tenderness in the left knee.

"We'll see how she does after a full practice," Moshak said.

Parker, who had surgery to repair cartilage in her left knee in September, is reminiscent of a puppy breaking free from the pack and wanting to run with abandon away from the watchful eye of, in this case, Moshak. Parker slips onto the court whenever possible to shoot and pass to her teammates. She also wears ice packs as an accessory.

"Dr. (Bill) Youmans has told her she has to get rid of the swelling so now she believes in ice," Summitt said. "As frequently as she's putting ice on there you know she's going, ‘I got you. I understand what you mean Dr. Youmans.' She says she feels great, the best it's felt. From that standpoint she feels ‘I'm ready to go.' That just entices her to want to be on the floor constantly. So you just have to say no.

"I think we'll go back in another two to three weeks and talk to him. She's making a lot of progress. I would not expect her to be on the floor (in) December. I don't have a fixed date in my mind (to redshirt). Obviously I've got to see her back on the floor, just like I've got to see Sa'de on the floor. I've got to see Candace, see how she moves, see how the leg responds. And you can't do that for three or four days and stick her in a game. We've got to have time. They've got a lot to learn."

Regardless of who Summitt has available this season, she is confident her team will work out the offensive kinks and display the kind of defense she demands.

"This team is going to be all right," she said.

UP NEXT: No. 15-ranked DePaul comes to Knoxville for a 3 p.m. game Sunday. Prior to the Duke game, Summitt had considered a lineup of seniors Loree Moore, Shyra Ely and Brittany Jackson, junior Shanna Zolman and sophomore Sidney Spencer. It was too small for the frontline of Duke but was attractive because of the potential offensive firepower.

Summitt said Monday, "I haven't thought about it (a lineup), haven't seen tape on them. I was going to watch last night, and I just decided to focus on us."

As far as DePaul, she said, "They always put up points. Doug (Bruno) does a great job pushing tempo. He has post play; he has three-point shooters. I remember our game against them last year. We went to overtime. We were fortunate to win."

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