Coaches ratchet up intensity in practice

Pat Summitt couldn't make it through the game film Thursday so she cut off the tape and turned in for the night. It wasn't intended to be a horror flick; it was the first half of the 85-62 win over George Washington. But the coach was horrified, and the next day at practice she put the fear of well, Summitt, into her players with an assist from an impassioned Nikki Caldwell.

"That's just the beginning," Pat Summitt said Friday at the conclusion of a two-hour up-and-down practice that felt like a postseason one in intensity and speed and exhortations from the coaching staff.

"We've got to demand more, and they've got to demand more from themselves. Last night I couldn't even watch past the first half I was so mad when I went home. I didn't even watch the second half. I can't remember when in my career I have shut the film off because I was so disgusted that we were not all on the same page with the same intensity and same commitment."

That intensity and commitment are instilled at practice. So far this team has had decent to excellent practice habits, but there have been too many breakdowns in games, and the game film hides nothing.

"We just take too many possessions off," Summitt said. "We've got to get five people on the floor at all times committed to doing what we want to do. We take too many shortcuts, too many possessions off."

So Summitt ratcheted up the intensity and the expectations Friday at the student recreation center on an end court in a noisy but beautiful facility. Did she get the response she wanted?

"Yes," she said with a look of satisfaction for at least a fleeting moment.

The team can expect more full-court practices at a blistering pace and a demand for game speed and flawless execution when it comes to concepts on offense and defense, which entail being in the right place and recognizing what the opponent is doing.

At one point during the session, the voice of assistant coach Nikki Caldwell boomed across the floor. Caldwell is preternaturally calm, but she reminded the women of what school they play for – Caldwell played for Summitt and won a national title – and why they came here. Despite the noisy surroundings Caldwell's speech – emphatic and emotional – riveted the players on the court and those along the sidelines. She explained what it meant to play at Tennessee and what was expected. Summitt thought it was something the team needed to hear.

"Absolutely," Summitt said. "I think it's good that they hear a new voice or a different voice from time to time."

The buzzword for the month is discipline. In this light the North Carolina loss could turn out to be a bizarre blessing of sorts for Tennessee. The Tar Heels were able to expose some weaknesses in the Lady Vols that might have been overlooked or perhaps minimized if Tennessee had pulled out a victory. A good shooting night by Sidney Spencer would have likely led to a win in Chapel Hill, but it's harder to get and hold a team's attention about its deficiencies when it's undefeated.

Summitt came away from the first half of the George Washington win with a film clip file full of examples.

"Just watching the possessions that we would have three people or four people just busting it and one or two not real inspired," Summitt said with a pained expression. "We want to press and we're not sprinting to our spots and sprinting out of traps. To me it's a discipline thing, and we have to be more disciplined in all of our action."

Seconds before the second half started – when the team got back on track and left Summitt relatively pleased after the game about half of it at least – she gathered the team on the court and gave a speech that looked to be a continuation of what was said in the locker room.

"There's an expectation here," Summitt said. "It should be on the part of the team, the staff, the fans. I didn't enjoy watching it at times. I'm sure our fans didn't."

As far as that second half Summitt intends to watch it Friday night.

"Probably on the plane ride today," Summitt said. "I'm going recruiting."

Regardless of what she sees the players will be off Saturday and Sunday to concentrate on studying for final exams. They will reconvene as a team late Monday afternoon for practice. The next game is Dec. 17 at No. 22 Texas in Austin.

Tennessee was missing one player at practice Friday. Freshman post Nicci Moats was ill and unable to participate. Moats is one of only 10 scholarship players on this team, and Summitt is seeking help from her bench, which also includes Dominique Redding, Alberta Auguste, Alex Fuller and Cait McMahan.

It was the bench play – with the exception of Fuller – that most upset Summitt about the first half Thursday because of the lead it surrendered and the errors in execution. As far as substitutions, Summitt indicated that she might need to be more judicious.

"Based on what they did last night absolutely," Summitt said. "I took us out of the rhythm. Is it my fault or the bench's fault? I'm depending on the bench so if they can't bring it, and we can't trust them to bring it then it means we shorten our bench. I could send them in for two minutes and then get our starters back in. Do I want to do that? No, because I think depth could be to our advantage with a number of teams that we play this year."

PLANES AND PREGNANCY: Summitt is making an out-and-back trip Friday to recruit – she can't give details by NCAA rules except to acknowledge that she and some of her assistants are out recruiting – with a very pregnant dog back home expecting a large litter of golden Lab puppies.

The thought of planes and pregnancy naturally invokes the memories of Summitt recruiting Michelle Marciniak in Macungie, Pennsylvania, when Summitt when into labor with Tyler – now 16 – had to cut short the visit and barely made in back to Knoxville to have the baby. She writes in one of her books of the pilot wanting to land in Virginia because of Summitt's medical status, and she made it clear that her child would be born in Tennessee.

Summitt is hoping Sally Sue Summitt, a 5-year-old Lab who is due Sunday, will hold off on labor and delivery until she returns. Sally Sue has a dog sitter in case something does happen.

"Let's hope not," Summitt said. "I'd hate to have to turn around and come back."

MARTIN MEMORIES: Summitt had two special guests at the Tennessee-Martin game in Bettye Giles and Nadine Gearin. Now both retired, they were instrumental in helping Summitt get the head coaching job at Tennessee.

Gearin was the head basketball coach at Martin when Summitt was a player from 1970 to 1974, and Giles was the women's athletic director and built the department. Summitt, who is in her 33rd season as head coach, invited them into the Lady Vols locker room after the win over the Skyhawks.

"They came in after the game," Summitt said. "To have Nadine and Bettye come here I thought it was neat to introduce them to the team because they were probably the two most influential people outside of the University of Tennessee, (which) offered me the job, but I think they probably had a lot to do with convincing them I could do it without any experience."

Summitt got career wins No. 920 and 921 this week.


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