Pat Summitt asked the players about their time at home and what they got for Christmas and then spent the next nearly three hours running them up and down the court and refreshing their memories on offensive sets and defensive principles.
"I think when they come back from the Christmas break they need a little bit of extra motivation," Summitt said. "It's a little bit more of a challenge because they have had some down time, which they deserve and they needed.
"But then to get back after not really being active I think it's a time that coaches sometimes have to try and inspire the players to try to get them going. We had a pretty decent practice tonight. It wasn't great – we didn't have our practice guys here – but we managed to get through it. I think it's just a matter of every day we're going to have to condition and just have a lot of repetitions so that we can get back in the swing of things."
With Tennessee on break between semesters, the regular male practice players are rarely available so the team had to make do without them and that meant a lot of repetitions and doubling up on drills with very few moments of rest. Summitt also was without her two freshmen – Cait McMahan was sick and Nicci Moats had some personal matters to take care of and wasn't yet in Knoxville.
"Nicci is coming back to campus tomorrow (Thursday)," Summitt said. "When she went home (to Daleville, Virginia, after the Old Dominion game) she said she just needs a few days. She's had a lot of things going on personally, and she wanted some time to be able to get everything in order and hopefully join us real soon. Cait's been real sick, and I don't know that Cait will be back tomorrow (Thursday) either but should be back very soon."
When Summitt was asked if she expected Moats back, she said, "Oh, I do. I do."
The Lady Vols return to practice Thursday morning. Notre Dame will be in town Saturday followed by Alabama – the SEC opener – next Wednesday. The annual UT-UConn matchup is Jan. 6. With those three upcoming opponents in mind Wednesday's practice was also used to get the team ready to play against zone defenses, which Summitt expects to see more of now.
"I think a lot of teams have had a good look at us," she said. "Some teams do it by design to probably look to slow us down.
"The other thing is some teams are playing more zone. Notre Dame is playing more zone. I expect Alabama not to play as much zone, but then we play our third game against Connecticut, and they're playing more zone than I've seen them play in years. So two out of the three next opponents will give us a different look and a different challenge in the half-court game so we just want our players to be sharp and ready."
Summitt spent the holiday in her birthplace of Henrietta, Tennessee, with her family – she packed up mama dog Sally Sue Summitt and her seven puppies – and went to her mother's house for Christmas. The lab puppies, whose eyes are now open, are a little more than two weeks old. Summitt noted during her teleconference Wednesday morning with the media that her mother, Hazel Head, had never had more than one dog in her house at a time.
"The house will never be the same," Summitt said of the puppy takeover.
After the holidays Summitt watched a lot of film of her team and of the upcoming opponent in Notre Dame to get her ready for this week of practice.
"We're trying to prepare for Notre Dame and to talk about and work on some things that we need to get better at," Summitt said. "Looking at tape we need to be more consistent (with) our rebounding at both ends. I think our presses are good; we could tighten our traps. Offensively, I like what we're doing, particularly with ball movement. In the half-court game we could be more patient. Our transition offense has been improving. Our ability to get people to turn it over has generated points for us. As we get into conference play, we won't be able to force so many scoring opportunities.
"I think we'll have to grind some of the games out in the half court."
Wednesday's practice allowed a lot of time to work in half-court and full-court sets. Teams sometimes have a drop-off in conditioning after a break but with Tennessee's short roster – 10 scholarship players plus walk-on Elizabeth Curry – the lack of depth means more minutes for the bulk of the rotation during the season.
Thus, after a short stint to catch their breath at the beginning of drills Wednesday, the Lady Vols showed no really noticeable signs of fatigue and were quickly back into the flow of practice.
"I think it's good," Summitt said of the level of conditioning. "A lot of players are playing a lot of minutes, and therefore you don't have to do as much conditioning but with the days off I just felt like we needed to get some reps in."