Tennessee Lady Vols return to practice court

The Lady Vols basketball team returned to the court Tuesday evening with an opponent in front of them and the No. 2 seed behind them. Tennessee held a two-hour practice session, and Pat Summitt took a brief break to go live for ESPN and its national audience. After practice she made it clear her focus was on the floor.

"I've been watching Army and George Washington and trying to figure out Old Dominion at Old Dominion," coach Pat Summitt said.

Tennessee, 28-4, opens play Sunday in Norfolk at noon (ESPN2) against Army, 20-10, the No. 15 seed and winner of the Patriot League Championship. The winner will play the winner of George Washington-Old Dominion on Tuesday night for the right to advance to the Cleveland Region.

The Black Knights of Army are making their first-ever NCAA tourney appearance.

"We played Tennessee at a tournament in Puerto Rico my freshman year," senior co-captain Megan Vrabel said. "It will be nice to get another shot at them. We're really excited. I'm excited about playing in Norfolk, because that is where my folks live. The whole team is just ecstatic."

Tennessee won that game on Nov. 30, 2002, by a score of 96-44. Summitt said she seems similarities in the two Army squads.

"They play well together," she said. "They're a disciplined team. They've got a lot of energy."

She enjoyed watched the reaction of Army's players both when they won their tournament and on the Selection Show on Monday night.

"It kind of reminds me of Colgate, their level of excitement after the game," Summitt said of Tennessee's first-round opponent two years ago.

Army coach Maggie Dixon, who is in her first year at Army after spending five years at DePaul as an assistant under Doug Bruno, and Summitt are already familiar with each other.

"Pat Summitt has done an amazing job, and she is a role model for any young coach in the business," Dixon said. "We played them every year I was at DePaul, and it always prepared us well for the rest of the season."

"I thought she did a great job, and Doug was very high on her, very complimentary of her," Summitt said.

By Tuesday Summitt had let go of much of her wrath at being placed as the second seed in the overall No. 1 seed North Carolina's bracket. The players also showed no signs of being upset and simply went to work in practice.

"I think we have enough veteran players," Summitt said. "They understand what they have to do. It is what it is. My biggest concern is for the future of women's basketball that the brackets be balanced and be fair."

Tennessee's bracket presents three teams that are strong at the guard position in North Carolina, Rutgers and Old Dominion, which, much like Georgia, lost its post game to injury and had to revamp with a smaller but more athletic lineup. If Tennessee gets past Army, it will play a team it has already beaten once this year. But ODU and George Washington are vastly improved from earlier this season, Summitt said, and Tennessee also is putting a different team on the floor.

Summitt has switched to a big lineup with only one true guard on the floor in Shanna Zolman after point guard Alexis Hornbuckle went down a month ago with a broken wrist. Hornbuckle, however, could still play in the tournament. She will have a bone scan Wednesday morning to determine if the bone has healed, and she has practiced with the team for the past two weeks in what started out as limited drills but has made its way to nearly full-scale sessions despite the fact she must still wear a cast.

Hornbuckle would be welcomed back – she matches up well with other quick guards – but Summitt said, regardless, she feels a lot better about how her team stacks up in the bracket because of how it closed out the season.

"It would be a big concern had we not faced Georgia, Florida, LSU," Summitt said. "I think we're just much more comfortable and aware of what we have to do against quick teams."

Assistant coach Dean Lockwood said the lack of respect shown to Tennessee by the selection committee would be remembered, but it also can't consume the team or distort its focus.

"You don't have red blood in your veins if you don't," Lockwood said of reacting with anger and using the seed as motivation. But "we've got to be careful because you can't go off like raving lunatics. We need to be very calculated but strike hard when the time to strike is there."

POSTSEASON HONORS: Freshman Candace Parker has been named a finalist for the Kodak/WBCA All-America Basketball Team. The 48 finalists, who are voted upon by WBCA-member coaches in eight geographical regions, are eligible for selection to the 10-member team.

Tennessee has produced 18 All-Americans. Tamika Catchings (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001) and Chamique Holdsclaw (1996, 1997, 1998, 1999) are the only Lady Vols to earn All-America recognition during all four years of college.

Also on Tuesday, Shanna Zolman and Parker picked up AP All-SEC Second Team honors. Both were first-team selections by the league coaches. Parker earned top-rookie honors in both the coaches and media polls.

Mickie DeMoss, a former Tennessee associate head coach, earned Coach of the Year honors from the media. DeMoss, who has Kentucky in its first NCAA Tournament since 1999, was honored earlier by the league coaches with the same award.

The AP All-SEC First Team members were: Seimone Augustus, LSU; Sylvia Fowles, LSU; Tasha Humphrey, Georgia; Sherill Baker, Georgia; and Armintie Price, Mississippi.

The WBCA also announced Tuesday that Pat Summitt has been named the RUSSELL ATHLETIC/WBCA Region 3 Coach of the Year.

Coaches were selected in eight regions. The other winners were: C. Vivian Stringer, Rutgers; Sylvia Hatchell, North Carolina; Curt Miller, Bowling Green; Sherri Coale, Oklahoma; Jim Wiedie, Indiana State; Don Flanagan, New Mexico; and Charli Thorne, Arizona State.

Three of the region winners are in the Cleveland bracket of the NCAA Tournament in Summitt, Stringer and Hatchell.

The winners of the eight regions advance as finalists to the national level.

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