"I was pleased," Summitt said Thursday about the two days of practice after the team returned from a four-day break for Christmas. "We started a little slow in last night's practice but picked it up today. We worked on game situations so that typically will get their attention."
The two freshmen were again not on campus for practice. Point guard Cait McMahan, who lives in nearby Maryville, was at home recovering from stomach flu, and forward Nicci Moats was en route to Knoxville from Virginia with her family.
Summitt said McMahan was better and would see the team physician, Dr. Rebecca Morgan, on Friday. Summitt already has told Jenny Moshak, the team's head of sports medicine, that she wants to let McMahan fully recover before putting her back in practice.
"She's been able to keep down some liquids," Summitt said. "She's just got to get some fluids in her body. She's coming in tomorrow to see Dr. Morgan. I told Jenny I don't want to push it. Her mom called me (Wednesday) and told me that Cait wasn't feeling well and hadn't been able to really keep anything on her stomach."
Moats didn't return to the team from the break after telling Summitt that she had some personal matters to sort out.
"They're coming in town today (Thursday)," Summitt said of Moats and her family. "I'm going to visit with them. She's dealing with some personal issues. She's coming in today and hopes to get back with us real soon."
As far as when Moats would be back, Summitt said there was no timetable, and "I'm going to wait to sit down and talk to them."
The nine players available Thursday had another upbeat practice with a slightly less patient Summitt – back-to-back turnovers in any drills mean a trip for the team to the baseline for sprints – who wants her players sharper as the season swings closer to the second half.
The turnovers, especially unforced ones from poor passing decisions, have been creeping upwards in recent games, and it's a trend Summitt wants reversed.
"That's why in practice back-to-back turnovers we're going to run, because they're going to cost us in games. After awhile I'd seen enough," Summitt said.
So what has caused the spike?
"I do think we've got to get more consistent because I think we play in spurts," she said. "And the other thing is our bench has not kept us at the level they need to keep us at. They've been the ones a lot of times come in there, and we'll have turnovers."
That disrupts the team's rhythm, and it becomes more work to shift momentum.
"It is," Summitt said. "That's why I've been a lot more selective in the substitution."
Summitt anticipates "most likely" staying with her starters Saturday.
She chalked up the sporadic play of the usually steady Nicky Anosike at Old Dominion to a player ready to return home for Christmas.
"It was good," Anosike said of seeing her family, who now live in New Jersey. "I have a humongous family. I have seven brothers and sisters so it was good to see them and just be in the same house with them for the first time since the summer. It was good to spend Christmas with them."
Anosike, a junior, had three points and zero rebounds against ODU last Friday. She did have three blocks. Summitt declared the game to be an aberration from a usually fierce competitor.
"Nicky Anosike did not play well in that game," Summitt said. "I didn't think she played with the same fire and desire that she typically plays with, and we rely on her for rebounding. We rely on her to make her layups and be one of our best defenders and for whatever reason she had a bad game. But that's what we're going to chalk it up with is she had a bad game. …
"She's been so good and so consistent and played so hard from her freshman year on, and she's got a very bright mind, good basketball IQ. She was going home for Christmas the last thing she wanted was coach in her ear."
Anosike, who always ponders her replies to questions before offering a thoughtful response, said her funk went a little deeper than that, and she compounded it by contemplating her predicament.
"I just felt like I didn't really warm up to the game. I made one mistake, and I was out and I just was cold the rest of the game," Anosike said matter of factly. "I need to warm up to the game. I need to make that one mistake so I'm not nervous anymore. If I make a mistake, and then I get taken out then I'm just cold for the rest of the game because I think too much. I've just got to try and stay involved in the game as much as I can even though that's hard to do from the bench."
Anosike agreed the game was very atypical for her, and she has returned to form in practice. She went strong to the basket, played aggressive full and half-court defense and made the majority of her chip shots and short jumpers. For the second day in a row she and Candace Parker paced the team in sprints.
"I guess the minutes we play it's hard not to be in shape," Anosike said. "If you bust it here then you'll be in better shape for the game and then if you bust it in the game you'll be in better shape for here. Working hard all around will keep you in good shape."
Anosike welcomed the return to the floor – despite the additional conditioning sprints – and said the team's objective was clear.
"Just to get back into things," Anosike said. "Obviously having four days off you're not going to be in as good shape so she's trying to get us running a whole lot more and just get us back into the swing of things, get us back into practice mode because we were in chill mode for a few days."
It was a mode the team needed but the willing shift to work mode did please the coach.
"We're going to see more zone than we've probably seen all year," Summitt said of the next three opponents in Notre Dame, Alabama and UConn. "I feel like we did a lot of good things today to be ready for that, worked on our presses. For the most part I thought they were really sharp."