Lady Vols to renew SEC play

Sidney Spencer left Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday night looking for some food and some time to herself. She wanted to immediately re-watch the 74-70 loss to Duke and determine what she could have done differently in that game.

"Last night when I left the gym I went and grabbed something to eat and then I went home and shut my door and kicked the dogs out and I watched the game basically to see what I could have done, because I was really stagnant on both ends of the floor, and I wanted to see," senior forward Sidney Spencer said Tuesday.

Spencer lives off campus with senior forward Dominique Redding and her two dogs, Sapphire and Tank, and she enjoys their company. But after a loss Spencer really needs to be left alone for a little while.

"Sometimes in the game things don't look open that are open and so I wanted to re-watch that game and look for opportunities that I missed, that I could have done more for the team," Spencer said.

One day after the loss to Duke the Lady Vols returned to practice to get ready for an SEC road game. A year ago a defeat by the Blue Devils was followed by a loss at Kentucky. This year's team truly wants to rewrite that script.

"We saw the consequences of getting beat like that and letting that carry over into the SEC," Spencer said. "Playing these tough non-conference games in the middle of SEC play is just for us to learn about ourselves and to get better. We're going to see what kind of character we have Thursday. We'll see if we've rebounded back from it, and I think this team is capable of doing that. As a senior and the experience of what happened last year, I'm going to do everything in my power not to let that happen again this year."

Coach Pat Summitt also went home to watch the game film – she has said she can never go to sleep until she watches the tape, win or lose – and saw basically the same thing that she saw a few hours earlier: a terrible start, defensive miscues and missed opportunities.

"You cannot forget about the poor start, because we dug ourselves the deepest hole that we've ever put ourselves in in the opening minutes of a game," she said. "I really felt like we let our defense affect our offense. I thought we had a great week of preparation. Maybe we were too up for this one. It's hard to tell, but at any rate Duke was very efficient in all their action and played a super game in my opinion, and we did not adhere to our defensive assignments and principles and that just really broke our backs."

Summitt gathered her team late Tuesday afternoon in the campus recreation center – the arena was in use for other events and will be all week – in a setting that underscored the need for a practice facility for the basketball teams. She had to take the players outside to a hallway to speak before practice because the noise from adjoining courts echoed throughout the building and even Summitt couldn't be heard over the din.

"Considering the setting I thought they listened and I thought they talked, and got through a number of the sets we wanted to defend," Summitt said. "We just didn't want to have to do all of it game day."

Perhaps the setting has its own benefits with the loudness and various distractions as students ran on a track above the courts and peeked around the dividing curtain to get a closer look at the coaches and players. Games at Vanderbilt are usually a raucous environment in what is a fierce in-state rivalry between two fan bases that truly dislike each other.

The team will travel to Nashville on Wednesday and get some court time in at Memorial Gymnasium later that day and again Thursday on game day. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Eastern (Fox Sports Net, Lady Vols Radio Network).

Spencer and Summitt essentially saw the same things during their separate film sessions: a team that played poorly to start, squandered some chances and never gave up.

"There are a lot of good things," Summitt said. "This team didn't quit. They had an awful lot of grit about them in the end. They made obviously a tremendous run. I thought we had our chances."

Spencer saw some reasons to be encouraged after watching the game tape.

"Overall we missed putbacks and layups and some easy shots that should have gone down for us that would have helped us in the first half, especially just to cut that lead," Spencer said. "But in the end just making free throws, and I thought our team showed a lot of character and a lot of heart. Those easy opportunities … you could pick any certain area and say if we could have gotten one break here it could have been the difference in the game."

Tuesday is often an off day for the team during the SEC season but since the Duke game was played on Monday, instead of the usual Thursday-Sunday game format, Tuesday had to become a practice day. Several players had afternoon classes, but they made it in time for the 4 p.m. start of practice. One of those players was junior point guard Shannon Bobbitt, who plopped down on the floor to put on her ankles braces and shoes and quickly answered a few questions from the media before dashing onto the court to warm up.

"Just play hard, learn from your mistakes, watch film, get better," Bobbitt said, the words coming in staccato bursts as she laced her shoes and tightened the Velcro straps across the top of them.

"I think we're a good team," Bobbitt said. "I think we're going to get better and we're going to be better. We came from a 20-point difference so that shows us a lot. Just stay focused. Know what's important. Know that was a game of experience for bragging rights, and we learn from it and move on."

Spencer reiterated that and said the team doesn't want to make the same mistake twice of getting down after a tough loss and not being ready for the next opponent.

"You can always learn from mistakes, but I think that was something our team made that mistake of last year," she said. "I'm going to do everything I can in my power to not let that happen again, to make sure the team understands that that loss to Kentucky hurt us in postseason, and we can't allow that to happen again. We discussed that Vanderbilt is an extremely hard, tough place to play. Every time we play there it seems like we're down 10 or 15 points in the first half. I just want to be able to go there and play and not have to be down by so many points."

If that happens at least the Lady Vols know they can recover from a deep deficit.

"It wasn't the result we were looking for, but in some form or fashion in my mind it was a little reassuring to know that if we are placed in a situation that we can dig our way back, we can claw our way back," junior guard Alexis Hornbuckle said. "We fought. We couldn't knock down easy shots. Free throws were a factor. But those are things you still have time to work on. That's the good thing about being in January and not March."

Hornbuckle was held out of practice for precautionary reasons Tuesday because she hyperextended her right knee late in the game against Duke. Jenny Moshak, the team's head of sports medicine, could have gotten Hornbuckle on the court, but Summitt opted to let her rest.

"She's just sore today so I told Jenny, ‘Rest her.' I want her ready," Summitt said Tuesday after practice. "Jenny was confident. She was going to see if I wanted her today. And I said no, I just want her watching."

So Hornbuckle sat on a folding table and got treatment, did some rehab and watched practice. She played 38 minutes Monday. Parker went the full 40, and Spencer went for 33 minutes.

Spencer wasn't concerned about the short turn-around between games.

"Our team is in great condition," she said. "Like Alexis was saying last night you don't really think about how long, you don't think about that … you're just on adrenaline. And then today you go get treatment or cold whirlpool or ice or whatever, and that's just part of playing a tough schedule. You just have to meet those demands of being sore, the bumps and the bruises. I think our team is strong enough and tough enough mentally to be fine and not let that affect us."

This might be a case where the tough out of conference schedule could wear on the players, but Spencer said they still preferred that over an opponent that wouldn't offer a challenge.

"I do like having good games," she said. "You can never get comfortable in this program, because you always have a tough game. We've got Duke, big game. And then there's Vandy. There's never any break, and that's going to prepare us in the long run."

Summitt believes her team will be mentally and physically ready come Thursday.

"I think they know that this game in Nashville is going to be a big test for us," Summitt said.

Although Tennessee lost to Duke, Hornbuckle can find some form of redemption in her play after a miserable game last year in Durham, N.C. She had 19 points, nine rebounds, three steals and an assist Monday.

"I won't call it redemption, but I think I established the type of player that I want to be seen as," Hornbuckle said. "I never quit. The first two minutes I was just overanxious, not my normal self. And then after coach sat me down I just realized, I was taking everything in that she had to say, but at the same time I was saying, ‘Lex, this is going to be the same outcome if you don't just play your game. Do what you're used to doing to help Tennessee.' "

Spencer was impressed enough with Hornbuckle's play to make it a point to say something.

"She basically carried the team in the first half last night," Spencer said Tuesday. "I love that, and I complimented her on that. I think if she keeps going with that confidence it will be great."

On Tuesday the players were saying the same thing they said last week. No matter what happened in the Duke game, what matters is what happens the rest of this week and beyond.

"The SEC is more important to us," Hornbuckle said. "Regular season, ACC, it's a true test, it would have helped to win, but at the same time that loss did not affect our SEC standings. That's a plus in that. Because our goal is to, one, win the regular season SEC right out, then focus on the tournament and then the NCAA. So we're still taking the right steps. We're still on track even though that loss occurred."

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