LADY VOLS THURSDAY PRACTICE REPORT

The Lady Vols returned to the practice court Thursday evening following three days off after winning the SEC Tournament title. <p> The team spent more than two hours working both on fundamentals and refining the offenses and defenses. The players and coaches were happy to hit the court again after the mini-break. <p>

"We need to get better by the end of practice today and be dead serious," assistant coach Dean Lockwood said before practice. "It's one day at a time right now."

"Not bad. Not great. But not awful," coach Pat Summitt said after practice. "Started out really good, fizzled a little bit at the end, but all in all pretty good."

By Summitt's standards, that's nearly a ringing endorsement. The team will return to the practice court today and Saturday and then gather at Summitt's house Sunday when the NCAA brackets are announced at 5 p.m.

"Until Sunday comes around we won't have any idea about an upcoming opponent so we've got three solid days that we're going to be going, and we need to be getting better on each of those days," Lockwood said. "We're going to go back to a lot of basic stuff, fundamentally refresh, renew, catch up and tweak a couple of areas. We need to get back into the playing mode a little bit and get our kids up and down. We just need to get ourselves in a mindset to be ready to play and also get sharp again. Once we know our opponent we can start zeroing in on game plan."

Freshman center Sybil Dosty missed practice because of illness – her roommate, redshirt freshman Candace Parker, also is ill – but otherwise the team was healthy. The eight scholarship players and two walk-ons had a spirited practice that included half-court and full-court work.

Tennessee took its first SEC tourney title since 2000 when it beat LSU 67-65 Sunday before 6,317 fans at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C.

With 1:09 left in the game Tennessee was behind by four, 65-61, when Shanna Zolman hit a three from the top of the key. On the next play, Tye'sha Fluker deflected the ball to Loree Moore, who hit Shyra Ely on a fast break layup.

"It seems like a big blur right now," Zolman said. "I remember we were down by four. It was me going off a screen on the block. I didn't have anything so Tye and I basically had a two-man game at the very top of the floor. I saw my man go underneath the screen so I pulled up, stepped behind the arc and it felt good. I knew it was going in.

"Those type of situations, that's the time I love. I love to be in pressure situations whether we're down, whether we're tied, a close game. I want to be the one to have my number called to either have the game winner or lose it for us. I just love that position. I love being there. That shot got us to within one, and then Tye had a deflection on the other end, had a great defensive stand. Loree got the ball.

"I was joking around with Shyra about this earlier. I was running wide, and I was looking ahead to Loree to see if she was going to kick it out for me for a jump shot. Then all of a sudden I see Shyra just sprint right ahead of me like she had a sixth gear. She just took off. Then she had a wide-open right-handed layup.

"That was the most excited I think I've ever been. Coming to Tennessee it's all about winning things. We've won regular season titles, we've gone to the Final Four, but we haven't necessarily won anything. That was the first taste of winning some type of tournament. It was unreal. I still haven't come off the cloud yet."

Zolman said the team must now channel that focus into preparation for the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee will open play March 20 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"The possibilities are endless for this team," Zolman said. "I'm so anxious to get back going; I'm so anxious to get back practicing to help get ourselves prepared for the tournament – maintaining what we've been doing and just continually improving – fine tune the fine points in our offenses, fine tune the fine points in our defenses. Just be striving for perfection.

"This is a prime time to start peaking, and I think we're doing what we need to be doing. We're peaking at the right time. Going in we have six games left hopefully and just take one game at a time. Survive and advance. We've got to fight and claw every single day in practice to prepare ourselves."

The one-game-at-a-time mantra takes on new meaning, because this team also has the chance to make basketball history. Summitt now has 878 career wins. Her next victory will tie the legendary Dean Smith's mark of 879. The second one will leave her alone at the summit of NCAA basketball coaches.

Summitt already has a answer to a question that is getting asked with more and more frequency as the milestones approach – the credit belongs to the university, her staff and the players over the past 31 years. She doesn't want the record to be a distraction or to take the focus off of her team.

The players and coaches have adopted the right attitude – play in the moment and reflect on the record – whenever it comes – later.

"Up until two or three days ago I couldn't have told you the number," Lockwood said. "Our staff is so immersed in the game planning, preparation, watching tapes, working with players. I think now that it gets closer you're aware of that. Even right now the focal point is our team and players and getting better. Knowing myself, when this season is all over and then even down the line from here I'll look back on this and say, ‘How incredible was that to be alongside Pat and staff and be a part of this.' "

Zolman said being a part of a record-breaking team will be special to the players when it comes, but they can't think about it just yet.

"It is, but yet we realize that's not our main focus right now," Zolman said. "Obviously that's a huge accomplishment being able to be in the likes of Dean Smith, John Wooden, Adolph Rupp or to be ahead of everybody. That's what's unbelievable to me.

"I know I probably won't appreciate near as much being part of this team until I'm out for a few years, and I look back, and ‘Wow, I was actually a part of that team that she broke that record.' It's not going to be a record that can be broken in a couple of years; if it ever is broken, it's going to be probably not in my lifetime. It's just really neat not only for ourselves as a team but more importantly for Pat and how much she has done, not only for this team and this program but for all of women's basketball."

Freshman Alexis Hornbuckle also has put the matter in perspective.

"We do want those two wins for coach, but in all actuality we want six," Hornbuckle said, referring to the number of games it takes to win an NCAA title. "We want it all."


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