Puppies and practice for Pat

At 2:30 a.m. Monday morning, Pat Summitt was watching puppies being born. Fourteen hours later she was overseeing her human charges as the team started a week of practice before taking on Texas next Sunday.

Sally Sue Summitt, a 5-year-old Labrador retriever, had seven puppies early Monday morning at the Summitt house.

"We had four yellow females," Pat Summitt said. "Of course Sally is a yellow female. And we had three black males (like the breeding male)."

All the puppies have been spoken for already – "there's a long waiting list," Summitt said – but they will stay with mama Sally at the Summitt household until old enough to be placed in new homes. Summitt grew up on a farm in Middle Tennessee so animal birth wasn't new to her. Still, when the mama is the beloved family dog, it's a special event.

"I'd seen little calves born, but I had never seen puppies," Summitt said. "They're all healthy. It's amazing how they take over once they're born. They know what to do."

Their arrival in the world was "real late for me," said Summitt, who turns in early, but she remained up to be with Sally. Her 16-year-old son wanted to stay up but got sent to bed.

"Tyler had a chemistry test today and he wanted to stay up and I go, ‘Uh-uh,' " Summitt said Monday before practice.

No surprise that the emphasis on academics is the same at home as it is for her players. The team returned Monday from two days off so that the weekend could be used for studying. The practices this week are in the evening to accommodate exams and tutoring sessions and still get as many players to practice at one time as possible. Exams end later this week.

"The late practices came about because of their exam schedules," said Summitt, who excused freshman Nicci Moats from practice early for an academic commitment. Freshman Cait McMahan also missed practice for academic needs.

With no games scheduled until Sunday (at Texas), Dec. 20 (West Virginia at home) and Dec. 22 (at Old Dominion), Summitt said the objective this week is simple.

"To get better as a basketball team and to get a lot better with our rebounding, our transition defense, get a lot sharper in our half-court execution offensively," she said. "We have a long way to go. We're a good team, but we could be a great team. We feel like we have to demand more, and they have to give more. And this is a good time to kind of dial it up."

Summitt and her assistants have definitely dialed up the intensity in practice. She gathered the team in a circle at times, spoke softly to them, raised her voice when needed and basically challenged them to perform and get through practices intended to be tougher than games.

The loss to North Carolina – and an upcoming schedule that includes top 25 programs and powerhouses such as Connecticut and Duke along with the SEC teams – gives the staff plenty of things to emphasize.

"I think our scheduling has an awful lot to do with the opportunity to learn more about yourselves and that's one thing we're doing – learn more about the opponents out there, kind of know where the measuring stick is for your own team as well as the competition that you're playing that's some of the very best in the women's game," Summitt said.

"Hopefully that means when you come to post-season there're no surprises – that we understand we know what we have to bring if we play a North Carolina or we play a Duke or we play a Stanford or Texas. We pretty much know who we are by then."

This week affords a rare break in the schedule to spend several days not preparing for a specific opponent but instead focusing on Tennessee.

"What do you do at this time of the year?" Summitt asked. "I think you do a combination – at least that's what we're doing – breaking down our defense and our offense and then putting it together and working on team concepts. A good combination of both. I think it's a time where you have an opportunity to devote attention to fundamental play but also to the team play as well."

Summitt worked on those concepts for about 2.5 hours Monday and then dismissed the players so that they could study for the rest of the evening. During exam week the players also do not conduct media interviews. The team will return to practice early Tuesday evening at Thompson-Boling Arena.

NAISMITH WATCH: Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle were named as preseason candidates for the Naismith Trophy, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Monday.

Parker, a 6-foot-5 sophomore leads the team in scoring (19.6 ppg), rebounding (8.3 rpg) and blocked shots (2.5 bpg). The Naperville, Ill., native was a pre- and mid-season Naismith candidate during her rookie campaign.

Hornbuckle, a 5'11 junior from Duncan, West Virginia, leads the Lady Vols in steals (3.5 spg) and also averages 9.6 points, 3.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.

Parker and Hornbuckle were both named preseason candidates for the Wooden Award, as well.

Seven SEC schools placed a total of nine athletes on the list; the ACC has 10 players from three schools earning recognition. The Lady Vols face 20 of the individuals on the list this season from six SEC schools as well as Duke, North Carolina, Stanford, Connecticut, Texas, Arizona State, Middle Tennessee and UCLA.

The list of 50 pre-season candidates was compiled by the Atlanta Tipoff Club's Board of Selectors, comprising basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country. The board based its preseason criteria on player performances from last season and expectations for the 2006-07 season.

"The women's preseason candidates represent the very best in college basketball," said Gary Stokan, Atlanta Sports Council president. "It will be a privilege to add any of these players to the list of distinguished Naismith Trophy winners."

In January, the Board of Selectors will narrow its list to the Top 30 players in the nation. Those players, and others who distinguish themselves throughout the season, will be eligible for the final ballot in March.

Cingular Wireless will allow fans to participate in determining this year's winner. Through text messaging, fan voting will account for an unprecedented 25% of the final results, which is more than any other national award.

"The talent in women's basketball is as deep as it's ever been this season," said Marc Lefar, chief marketing officer of Cingular Wireless, which presents the Naismith Trophy.

The other preseason candidates for the Naismith Trophy are: Matee Ajavon, guard, Rutgers; Jolene Anderson, guard Wisconsin; Morenike Atunrase, guard/forward, Texas A&M; Alison Bales, center, Duke; DeWanna Bonner, forward, Auburn; Sha Brooks, guard, Florida; Essence Carson, forward, Rutgers; Cori Chambers, guard, Georgia; Angela Clark, forward, St. John's; Marissa Coleman, forward, Maryland; Jazz Covington, forward, Louisville; Jessica Davenport, center, Ohio State; Dee Davis, guard, Vanderbilt; Jessica Dickson, guard, South Florida; Shay Doron, guard, Maryland; Sylvia Fowles, center, LSU; Katie Gearlds, guard, Purdue; Chrissy Givens, Middle Tennessee; Devanai Hampton, center, Cal; Lindsey Harding, guard, Duke; Kiera Hardy, guard, Nebraska; Laura Harper, forward, Maryland; Cameo Hicks, guard, Washington; Charde Houston, forward, UConn; Tasha Humphrey, forward, Georgia; Tiffany Jackson, forward, Texas; Tye Jackson, forward, Houston; Crystal Kelly, forward, Western Kentucky; Crystal Langhorne, forward, Maryland; Erlana Larkins, forward, UNC; Ivory Latta, guard, UNC; Camille Little, forward, UNC; Victoria Lucas-Perry, guard, Michigan State; Dionne Marsh, forward, New Mexico; Lindsey Medders, guard, Iowa State; Renee Montgomery, guard, UConn; Shay Murphy, guard, USC; Courtney Paris, center, Oklahoma; Armintie Price, guard, Ole Miss; Allie Quigley, guard DePaul; Noelle Quinn, forward, UCLA; Jillian Robbins, forward, Tulsa; Megan Skouby, center, Iowa; Brooke Smith, forward/center, Stanford; Kristi Toliver, guard, Maryland; Mercedes Walker, center, Pittsburgh; Emily Westerberg, forward, Arizona State; Candice Wiggins, guard, Stanford.

Last year's Naismith Trophy recipient was repeat winner Seimone Augustus from LSU. Other notable winners include Diana Taurasi, Cheryl Miller, Chamique Holdsclaw and Sheryl Swoopes.

For more information, go to www.naismithawards.com

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