Pat Summitt sends message

The lackadaisical second half of the Louisiana Tech game carried over into practice Wednesday and resulted in an abrupt end to the session on the court. Coach Pat Summitt sent a message to her relatively veteran team about intensity, inspired play and focus.

Tennessee, 6-0, defeated Louisiana Tech, 2-4, in Ruston after obliterating the Lady Techsters in the first 20 minutes and leading at halftime, 42-15. But the Lady Vols were outscored in the second half, 35-29, and the final was 71-50.

"Last night after the Louisiana Tech game the thing that stood out in my mind, we were very undisciplined, and we had individuals just take possessions off," Pat Summitt said after practice Wednesday. "We just really lost our intensity in the second half.

"Obviously instead of playing to get better and work on your execution we were just playing to get through the game. It wasn't real pretty. I watched it on the way home (on the plane) last night. It was just disappointing because we do have a lot of veterans on this team. And with that said I expect more from them. I expect them to have the self-discipline and the drive to hold each other accountable and to want to get better, not just get through a game."

They still hadn't shaken that mindset Wednesday – and classes are ending next week with final exams looming so that could be a partial explanation – and Summitt spent most of practice seeking better execution and communication. The abrupt end to practice less than two hours into the mid-week session was her way of saying that approach is unacceptable at Tennessee.

"Absolutely," Summitt said. "I had seen all I wanted to see. I was frustrated from the beginning. They weren't talking. The coaches were the ones talking and if a team wants to be a great team they had better take ownership of their team, and I think this team has to understand that. They've got to be unhappy when they're not executing. They need to be upset. If it's always the coaches upset because we're not performing at a certain level then, guess what, the level won't change. They have to change it."

They seemed ready to change it right then. The players called a huddle to carry on practice themselves, but Summitt told them to head to the weight room since practice – for safety reasons in case someone got hurt – shouldn't be held without the staff present. Heather Mason, the strength and conditioning coach, oversees the weight sessions.

Summitt acknowledged that the players will see what went right – a road win – and the staff will see what went wrong.

"Typically you come off a game like that, you got a big win, they feel good about themselves, Summitt said. "Coaches, you see all the flaws so you're trying to work through some things and also get ourselves ready for the type of pressure we're going to face, and they're not into it across the board. Last night we had that. We might have three people really playing great defense or we might have three people really moving and working hard on offense and then we break down. It's a five on five game."

That pressure Summitt is referring to will come Sunday from No. 2 North Carolina in a nationally televised matchup in Chapel Hill, N.C. The Tar Heels ended Tennessee's season last March in an NCAA regional final, and this game will be an early season test for both squads to gauge how good they might be.

With that in mind Summitt's message Wednesday might be one of the most effective she has delivered this season. She will give the team a day off Thursday and then they will return to the practice floor Friday afternoon. How they will respond won't be known for sure until they reassemble on the court.

"I've been in coaching long enough it's not like I'm sitting around thinking well are they going to do this, this or that," Summitt said. "We'll learn a lot about them. Anytime that you face a little adversity, let's see how they respond from it."

There was a key piece of the team missing Tuesday. Junior point guard Shannon Bobbitt stayed behind because of a heavy academic load – and she was excused from practice Wednesday to attend to class needs – and the team missed her presence. However, freshman guard Cait McMahan did a "nice job," Summitt said, and had seven points, four rebounds, one steal and zero turnovers.

"We missed Shannon … She does impact the intensity and tempo of our team," Summitt said. "(But) there are enough veterans on that team to make certain that we kept our focus and that we continued to play at a certain level."

Bobbitt will be back for Friday's practice and is likely to start against the Tar Heels, Summitt said, because "I don't want to penalize her."

"She'll finish up pretty much the bulk of her work Thursday," Summitt said. "We can't let her get behind or overwhelmed. She had a lot things, a paper and a test and then another paper and another test."

There were several bright spots in Ruston, not the least of which was the steals total by Alexis Hornbuckle (six) and Alberta Auguste (eight), who combined for 14 of Tennessee's 22 takeaways.

Hornbuckle was all over the floor, in one case literally when she slid onto the far end of the court to save a loose ball, kept the dribble alive while she was sliding and on the floor, bounced the ball under her knee and then passed – while she was still sitting down – to Dominique Redding, who had hustled down court to help.

Hornbuckle only had six points on 3-7 shooting, but she had eight rebounds to share the team-high with Candace Parker.

"The thing about that, here she is now, she's a junior. Sometimes in past situations she's let her offense affect her defense," Summitt said. "Not the case this year."

Hornbuckle had considerable help from Auguste, who can smother the ball while Hornbuckle lurks in the area looking for a pick opportunity in much the same fashion as a free safety in football.

"She really anticipates well defensively," Summitt said.

Besides her steals, Auguste had 11 points and three boards. Her family had traveled from their home in New Orleans to see Auguste play in the state of Louisiana.

"She had her whole family there," Summitt said. "They were right behind our bench. I spoke to them at halftime."

Tennessee left Ruston with a win and a perfect record in November, and Summitt got a lot of teaching film, especially about ball movement and spacing.

"In some situations we lacked quick ball movement," she said. "We had people the ball got stuck in their hands some, and we didn't space as well. The spacing part would not be related to (the absence of) Shannon, it would just be related to the players on the floor. The tempo up and down, it wasn't at the pace we had been playing at consistently. In our offense we were a little bit slower getting there and then playing out of it."

Tennessee also will need to address its board play. The Lady Techsters won on the glass, 46-37. Summitt cited long rebounds in a few cases but overall she wasn't pleased at all.

"This team right now is not as committed to rebounding as they're going to have to be if they want to be a Final Four team or win an SEC championship," she said. "We typically rebound with two people, three people at the most."

Summitt said seniors Sidney Spencer and Redding must rebound consistently.

"To her defense when she's taken the number of threes that she's taking, she's not going to be rebounding those," Summitt said of Spencer, who has stroked 14-21 from long range (66.7 percent). "But she has to learn to sprint to the boards when we take it inside or when other people are taking shots."

Friday's practice will likely pick up where Wednesday's left off – getting ready for the up-tempo attack of the Tar Heels.

"Trying to prepare ourselves for the style of play," Summitt said. "If you look at everyone we've played this team is going to be more athletic. They're a veteran team. We're playing them on their home floor. They really do a good job of taking you out of what you want to run offensively. (We wanted) a short preparation day today so we didn't have to cram everything in on Friday and Saturday."

As Summitt spoke in her office the rhythmic thumping sound of the steel supports going into the ground at the nearby practice facility could be heard echoing in the background. The facility is expected to be finished in a year.

"It's amazing. They've worked at a pretty good clip," Summitt said, although the construction noise doesn't register with her even when it's loud enough to be heard inside during practice since the facility is being built just outside the doors of the arena. "I can tune anything out. Been coaching this long? You tune it out."

Except for a substandard performance by her players, whether in a game or at practice. Those she can't tune out. Now it's the team's job to tune in.

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