"The biggest thing is doing all that offensive work early," assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. "We're so not stopping practice now and teaching. We're reviewing and we're going over things, and we're putting in a wrinkle here and there. But last year at this time we were teaching so much slower offensively. We've been able to do a lot more defensive teaching. That's what really nice about this year. I like the fact we're in a flow offensively. The rhythm of practices is just better."
Sybil Dosty, a 6'3 post player from Tucson, Ariz., had missed several preseason sessions and Friday's and Saturday's practices as she rehabbed from a strained left quadriceps muscle. Her return Sunday added depth at the center position and got Dosty back on track.
"She needs the work, she needs the reps," Lockwood said. "She gives us something, the depth and that body of hers. She gives us some extra punch in there. It's very good to see her out playing."
After just three days of practice the benefits of the early sessions are obvious to practice observers.
"Good overall," Lockwood said Sunday. "I thought Friday's practice we had a very good start. We came out of the gate, our first hour and 20 minutes was very good and then we kind of faded a little bit. I think the anxiety – the setting, a lot of folks there; I think our kids were so hyped – you've got so much energy and there's a little bit of stress. It can kind of zap you. I thought yesterday's practice was very good. I thought it was significantly better start to finish. I thought we were much more consistent, and today I thought we did a good job overall."
A fourth factor also can be cited for the improved play so early in the season. The returning players spent most of their summer in Knoxville – Moss attended both summer sessions – playing pickup games and working out.
"Those kids have worked hard in the off-season," Lockwood said. "Those players have brought that to the table now, and we're talking what they've done in the off-season – which is such a valuable time to a player – and we're trying to plug that into the team concept. I like our group."
If asked to describe how the team looks at this infant stage of the new season, it would be sharp.
"We were definitely sharper in day three than we were in day two and day one with our offensive stuff," Lockwood said. "We got a little helter skelter when we went against each other the first couple of days, and today was a little bit better. We were fairly physical on our interior, which I really like. I like the physical play that our posts are giving us right now."
The team will practice Monday at 1 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena. Since fall break is over, the male practice players will be available for the first time this week.
The first one came off a scramble for a loose ball on the wing near the baseline. Wiley-Gatewood secured the ball with her right hand and bounced it behind her back in one eye-blink moment to a post player in the lane. The second one came as Wiley-Gatewood ran the point from the top of the key. She was looking to her left but saw a cutting Parker along the right baseline. Parker caught the pass outside the paint, drove hard to the basket and slammed the ball with one hand with such force that the backboard shook.
"She makes scoring easier for people by virtue of how she gets them the ball and where she gets them the ball," Lockwood said. "She's got two skills that you love as a point guard. She's got very, very good passing skills – she's very adept at seeing the floor and passing – and also she's very unselfish."
Even better news to Lady Vol fans was that Wiley-Gatewood, who must nurse a sore knee because of patellar tendonitis, participated in the entire practice session.
"She gets part of her charge as a player in taking special joy at making teammates look good and flourish," Lockwood said. "We're excited about her. She brings a true dimension of what a point guard is."