Lady Vols elixir

Pat Summitt wanted to get a jump on looking at Georgia film so she skipped her usual practice of always watching her team's game film and instead opted to view the Lady Bulldogs' win over LSU. On Friday, Summitt and her staff got to work on the practice court to get the team ready for Monday's showdown with the border state rival.

"I haven't done that three times (in my career)," Pat Summitt said of turning in for the night without watching her own team's film hours after the game is over. But she wanted to get up early to watch tape of LSU and Georgia – the Lady Bulldogs prevailed in Athens on a last tenths of a second shot to win 53-51 – prior to having to tape her television show and then meet with her assistant coaches.

"Because I knew today I'd get up and do my TV show and then I wanted to be prepared for practice," Summitt said Friday after practice.

Friday's session was used for a variety of purposes – specific preparation for Georgia, defensive drills, offensive wrinkles and a chance to get in work full-court before beginning the tapering down process and making sure her starters and short bench are rested.

Summitt decided to give her players off Saturday. She will watch Thursday's game tape of the 72-36 win over South Carolina then.

"I like when I can to give them a weekend day off," Summitt said. "They don't have to get up and go to school and they can be lazy all day. Our team needs their legs because look how hard we play on the defensive end and our transition attack and obviously we're not playing as deep as I wish we were playing. We know Georgia. They can watch tape on them as well."

The team will practice Sunday afternoon to run through specific scouting for Georgia in a short session. Former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning leads the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl that evening against the Chicago Bears, and Summitt said she "absolutely" would be headed home after practice to cheer for the Colts.

The Georgia game tips off Monday in Knoxville at 7 p.m. (ESPN2, Lady Vol Radio Network) as part of "Rivalry Week." Tennessee won the first game, 52-41, on Jan. 14 in Athens.

Summitt has said since the season began that with a small team – she started the season with 10 basketball scholarship players and is now down to nine with freshman Nicci Moats taking medical and personal leave – she would have to balance the demanding game and practice schedule with days off, and she has done so.

This team's overall maturation has made it easier for her to do so.

"I think they're focused and for the most part I've been pleased," Summitt said.

Summitt hadn't yet watched the game tape of Tennessee-South Carolina so she didn't have a post post-game analysis, but the turnovers – four in the first half; 14 in the second half – were possibly problematic. Alberta Auguste had five; Alex Fuller, Alexis Hornbuckle and Candace Parker had two each; Shannon Bobbitt had three; Sidney Spencer, Nicky Anosike and Dominique Redding had one each; and the team was assessed one for a total of 18.

"We got careless," Summitt said. "I'm not going to let last night's game when we got out to such a big lead … we've obviously got to understand the value of taking care of the ball. I thought Lex was a little more careless. Bird was more careless. I'm not concerned about that right now."

Tennessee (20-2, 7-0) jumped out to a 16-0 lead and allowed South Carolina (13-10, 3-5) to score only 11 first-half points, a record low for an SEC opponent. The pace of the game was plodding at times – South Carolina had 34 turnovers and Tennessee went to the line 29 times – which meant the clock stopped a lot. The players sensed low energy – the crowd was rather complacent, too – so Parker and Hornbuckle schemed to ratchet up the intensity.

The result was a team in full celebration on the bench and on the floor. Everyone on the roster played and scored.

"We were just trying to generate our own energy," Hornbuckle said Friday inside a rather frigid arena before practice. "It seemed a little dead in here so we were trying to generate our own energy and have fun with it. It's so hard to come in here every day, every game and be energized about it and be enthusiastic about it.

"I think it starts with us. The fans feed off us as well as we feed off them. So if they see us getting in to it they're going to have fun and they're going to get in to it also, and our teammates feed off that. We were having fun with it.

"The game was so much stop and go, stop and go. It's easy to get unfocused like that. Next possession there's bound to be a foul, or there's bound to be a walk or a turnover or something. If you buy into that you're going to start playing lazy. I've seen it happen with us. Candace looked at me and she said, ‘Come on Lex, let's get some energy going.' So we started acting crazy. All you've got to do is ask me, I'm ready."

The atmosphere should be much different Monday when SEC rival Georgia comes to town.

"The Georgia-Tennessee rivalry it's been the constant over the years," Summitt said. "It doesn't matter what we're ranked, what they're ranked, what the SEC seedings are. It's just all about Tennessee and Georgia. We had that with Auburn for years, but it seems like it's always been there with Georgia. It's never gone away."

The Lady Bulldogs, ranked No. 14, will be riding the momentum of a win over No. 7 LSU.

Before the LSU game, Georgia's junior forward Tasha Humphrey said, "This game could be a huge momentum shifter for us and give us the confidence and passion we need heading into postseason and finishing out the SEC. A lot of people look at us as a basketball team and say, ‘They're good, but not as good as LSU and Tennessee.' We want to be one of the teams they mention first."

Combine that with the fact Tennessee is the only team undefeated in conference play so far – LSU, Georgia and Ole Miss all have two losses – and Georgia has plenty of motivation for Monday's game.

Of course, so do the Lady Vols. Tennessee hasn't won a regular season title in two years so nobody on this team except Spencer and Redding have experienced that, and that was when they were freshmen. Tennessee also surrendered its SEC home winning streak to LSU last season and then Florida. Not losing a conference game at home this season is important to the players.

"It's big," Hornbuckle said. "LSU came in here and upset our SEC win streak last year and then Florida. I think it's very important. Obviously they want us because we beat them at Georgia. Now they want us because we beat them at Georgia, and we're still undefeated. We've got to come here on top of our game. We can't feel that we beat them once, and we deserve to win this game. We have to earn it.

"It doesn't change our approach. Actually it makes up work harder. Because now you know people are coming that much harder for you to gain a loss and maybe them get a chance of moving up in the SEC. It definitely doesn't change up our approach. We're just got to go in and fight the same as we would if we were second or third in the SEC. It's one step closer to our goal."

Summitt said the team's intentions were clear.

"Your goal should be to run the table,' Summitt said. "Win every game. You take it one at a time, but you put yourself in a great position. Obviously we've got some tough games left. It's all about how they handle it. This group has been pretty focused, pretty motivated. We're a different team from a year ago in a lot of ways. The chemistry of this team is better."

Chemistry is an elusive elixir for any team to obtain and it can't be manufactured at will. It seems to just form on its own. Summitt and the players have pointed to the fact the team fell short of its goals – the Final Four and a national title – as a reason for the team's cohesiveness. Spencer and Redding started a "team night" last summer to build bonds off the court. Some players have pointed to how competitive individuals are on the team, and Summitt has mentioned the simple fact that key players are a year older.

When it was suggested that perhaps the mid-season transfer of Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood was upsetting to the team last year, Summitt said it wasn't a factor in chemistry.

"Trust me, players move on," Summitt said. "When people leave they move on. Coaches will sit around and chew on it and talk about it. Even when we lost (Sybil) Dosty and (Lindsey) Moss (at season's end), they just let that go. That's how kids are.

Hornbuckle, who was Wiley-Gatewood's roommate at Tennessee, still talks to her friend, who transferred to Maryland and is playing now.

"I still talk to Gate, of course," Hornbuckle said.

Is that awkward?

"Not for me," said Hornbuckle, who has several friends in the junior class at other schools, including Humphrey. "Sometimes you've got to do what's best for you. People might not agree with it. I was friends before she got here. So might as well stay friends when she left. That's just the type of person I am."

But, as Summitt noted, the team has clearly moved on. Hornbuckle's leadership has been a big part of why. Hornbuckle immediately took Bobbitt and Auguste under her wing this past summer to acclimate them to their new team, and Auguste is now her roommate.

"I just think it's (chemistry) better for a number of reasons," Summitt said. "I think Shannon, her presence has been really positive for this team, because she's such a positive, upbeat kind of player. Her enthusiasm. She's always taking responsibility for what went wrong. She can be sitting at the end of the bench with Jenny (Moshak) and say, ‘My bad.' She's just that kind of player, and that keeps a lot of people up."

Summitt has a good relationship with her guards and has spent considerable time with them in one-on-one and position group meetings and film sessions. Bobbitt is ever eager to learn, and Hornbuckle has earned her coach's respect with her all-out play.

They also have a player-coach relationship that leads to quotes like this, for example, when discussing Summitt's appearance on a Wheaties box. The box was unveiled at halftime Thursday and is being sold regionally in grocery and retail stores.

"That's great," Hornbuckle said. "That's a great accomplishment. I'm going to have to go buy a few of those. I'm going to eat one and put one on top of the freezer. Nobody better touch it."

"Throw darts at it," Summitt said.

Perhaps it's answers such as these that better explain their rapport.

What should the month of February be used for, one month before postseason starts?

"Perfection," Hornbuckle said. "Nobody's perfect so if you work towards perfection you'll get close."


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