"Started out great," Summitt said after practice. "I thought that based on their intensity when they went to their shooting drills, they had already checked out. So I checked them out early."
Senior guard Brittany Jackson said the early exit doesn't negate the team's good week of practice, but the coach's irritation was understandable.
"Some people came in today not focused," Jackson said. "She's not going to put up with that. She was frustrated, and I understand."
Guard Alexis Hornbuckle got checked out a little sooner. During the scouting report session of practice, Summitt had seen enough of her precocious freshman. Or in this case not enough.
"Lack of defensive intensity, uninspired, very casual," Summitt said.
Hornbuckle retreated to the locker room but later joined the team for a post-practice weight-lifting session. Tasha Butts, a graduate assistant and last year's team leader, went to the locker room to talk with Hornbuckle.
"I don't really know what happened," Hornbuckle said. "Tasha came back and talked to me. She said my defensive intensity wasn't where Pat wanted it. She said I needed to make better eye contact. I'm going to go talk to Pat and see what happened and apologize."
After Summitt dismissed them, several Lady Vols grabbed balls from the racks and tried to lead the team through the shooting drills sans coaches. But Summitt sent the players on their way anyway.
The early end to practice might not have been a bad thing. The players talked about it among themselves once they got the weight room. And even Summitt didn't sound too steamed a few minutes after practice ended.
"They hadn't had a day off since they came back from Christmas," Summitt said. "They just checked out early today."
The team gathered Dec. 26 in New Jersey to get ready for the Rutgers game Dec. 29. They also played Old Dominion on Jan. 2. Between games and practices, they haven't spent a day off the court and have logged a lot of travel miles. In one case, they went from the plane to the court at Thompson-Boling Arena to practice.
Two assistants – Holly Warlick and Nikki Caldwell – played for Summitt so although the end of the practice session was frustrating for them as coaches, as former players they understood.
This week has been particularly grueling. They practiced for more than four hours Monday – after watching film – and then lifted weights before heading back to the film room. They had two sessions – morning and afternoon – on Tuesday. Wednesday marked the 11th consecutive day of action.
"We've had tough practices, long practices," Warlick said. We started out very well. I was pleased with how they practiced today. They're ready. They're prepared to play. That's what you do over Christmas break. You work on your weaknesses, and that's what we've done. I'm sure they'll welcome a day off."
"You come in strong and so you've got 30 minutes more of practice left, and you push through that. Those are the things that help you when you have to go into an overtime game or you're playing back-to-back-to-back games at the SEC Tournament," Caldwell said. "Those are things we try to instill in them, making them mentally tougher. Again, they've had a tremendous stretch of practices.
"They went into hostile environments – Old Dominion, Rutgers, very athletic talented basketball teams who we may see later in the tournament – and they've been able to handle themselves. You know there's going to be some drop-off. You want them to be running like a well-oiled machine, you want them to push through fatigue. But you've also got to realize what they've done up until this point. They've had some exceptional practices over a period of time. I think they've done a very good job of being resilient and fighting that fatigue for the most part."
The players echo that.
"I think it went well," Hornbuckle said. "I think everybody's kind of getting their mind right. I think everybody has a little nerves flowing, a little anxiousness."
"I feel really good," Jackson said. "We've worked really, really hard. We know what to do. We're well prepared. We have to pull together. If we play together, we'll come out with a win."
VETERAN LINEUP: Tennessee will start three seniors Saturday: Loree Moore at the point, Brittany Jackson on the wing, and Shyra Ely at small forward. Junior Tye'sha Fluker will start at center, and freshman Nicky Anosike will open in the high post. That is the same lineup that started against Old Dominion.
No. 10 Tennessee, 9-3, is looking for experience to take to a hostile environment in Hartford, and also needs strong defense in the paint, where No. 15 UConn, 8-3, has hurt UT in recent match-ups.
Moore will be playing for the first time since the Dec. 2 game against Duke. She had her tonsils removed Dec. 10 and has said she feels better than ever before and can finally breathe easier.
"As a point guard Loree has been the one player that has consistently tried to be a leader more than anyone else on our basketball team," Summitt said. "Shyra is working hard to become a better leader for our team. I have asked our three seniors to really pick it up and make it more of a priority. In the Old Dominion game Shyra and Brittany demonstrated quality leadership, particularly in the second half down the stretch. You could see that they made it a priority and did the best job of the year."
Ely said she went to Summitt before the ODU game and asked for leadership advice. Summitt gave her some reading materials and talked with her. Ely also chatted with Summitt during game-day preparations about the topic.
"I think it helped me out a lot," Ely said. "Make sure everyone's on the same page and make sure everyone is up and confident and not thinking about the last mistake that they made but the new possession at hand."
COURTSIDE VISITORS: High school junior Jayne Appel of Carondelet High School was courtside during practice Wednesday with her father, Joe Appel. The 6'4 center from Concord, Calif., is one of the top recruits in the nation. She was at Tennessee on an unofficial visit to gather information about the basketball program and UT academics. Appel is also being recruited by Stanford, UConn, Duke and Notre Dame.
INJURY UPDATE: Tye'sha Fluker returned to practice Wednesday after getting poked in the eye Monday and missing two days with a scratched cornea. She showed no ill effects. Candace Parker was held out a second straight day by Jenny Moshak, associate athletic director for sports medicine, because of swelling in her knee.
"Jenny wouldn't let her go today because she still had a little bit of swelling," said Summitt, who added it was "very doubtful" that Parker would play Saturday. "It looks like most of it is gone. We want to be careful not to push anything. I just think we're sticking to our plan. Practice her if she doesn't swell. Practice her, if she does, hold her out. That's what Dr. (Bill) Youmans and Jenny agreed upon, and we just want to monitor day-to-day and make a decision based on the swelling."
"The swelling was still there so she couldn't go," Moshak said. "She wasn't happy about it, but those are the rules. You never want to see that swelling."
Freshman center Sybil Dosty has been battling a sore foot, but was able to practice this week and is "hanging tough," Moshak said.
"It's just sore, the bone of my foot, there's a problem with it," Dosty said. " It's supposed to heal on its own. I get a lot of treatment. It's not something that can hold me out; if I sat out for a few weeks it would probably heal. But I want to keep playing. It's not going to get any worse; it's just going to be a little painful."
FLASHCARDS: Assistant coach Nikki Caldwell has had laminated sheets made up that the coaches can show the players in case they can't hear them from the sidelines against Connecticut. The 8-by-11 flashcards consist of one word apiece and indicate a specific defensive set or offensive play.
"It's just a backup plan," Caldwell said. "It can get noisy down there especially when you're on one end of the floor, and they're on the opposite end. It will be a quick way for our post play to see what we're in. Normally our guards will see it early, because they're coming right by our bench. We can easily show it to our post play, and the wing players that are already down there.
"A lot of times what we do is we ‘echo' it. We have the point guard relay it and if the trail post is the first person down, they relay it to the guards. We just think we can give them a little visual. We may use it, and we may not. We have really good communication with our point, and a lot of times the kids are looking over there to see what we're in, and we're screaming whatever the play is. Just showing it real quick, they can see it in case they can't hear us."
Ten of the 15 players on Tennessee's roster will be traveling to UConn for the first time in their career – the six scholarship freshmen, the two walk-ons and the two sophomores. The veterans have been trying to tell them what to expect.
"It's hard to explain," senior Brittany Jackson said. "They don't understand. You won't be able to hear yourself talk. I went up there (for the first time) and was in shock."
"They were talking about you can combine the Texas crowd with the Rutgers crowd. That's about the intensity and crowd volume," freshman Alexis Hornbuckle said. "You won't be able to hear anything. I'm just kind of waiting for it. You want to come to Tennessee to play games like this."