Pat Summitt conducts 'gut check' practice

The Lady Vols had no reminders of past glory when they took to the practice court Wednesday. Perhaps that was best for a session that Coach Pat Summitt called a "gut check." As soon as practice ended a work crew began rolling out the baskets and dismantling "The Summitt" floor. The banners in the rafters had already been removed as Thompson-Boling Arena is readied for a major renovation.

"I wanted this to be a little bit of a gut check, because we are getting ready now for the Big Dance," Coach Pat Summitt said Wednesday after practice. "We watched tape on Sunday so it's not a complete day off but then we had Monday, Tuesday off. They'll have tomorrow (Thursday) off because three of the coaches are going recruiting, and I happen to be one of them so we won't practice. But when we come back (Friday) we'll go at least three or four straight days before we take a day off."

Wednesday's session lasted three hours and included a lot of full-court work and game tempo speed in the half-court sets. They worked on both sides of the ball – defensive pressure and offensive execution – and got in some shooting and rebounding drills and free throw repetitions. The team also worked in multiple sets of sprints for extra conditioning. Following practice the players headed to the weight room.

Without an opponent – the women's NCAA brackets won't be announced until Monday at 8 p.m. on ESPN – the focus is on Tennessee and getting better.

"We've been in this situation a lot," Summitt said of the gap between the two postseason tournaments. "I feel like you give them rest time, then you really challenge them and then obviously once you get your bracket now you have an opponent. I think that's the hard part is not knowing who you're going to play. We obviously won't know that until Monday night when the selection show airs.

"After that then we will focus more on the opponent that we will play and how we want to attack and defend. But right now it's more about us than who we're going to play because we don't know."

As Summitt spoke to the media, arena workers were prying apart the court with her name on it and wheeling the main and auxiliary baskets off to storage. The arena will host a non-sports event this weekend and then close for seven months for the renovation, which includes replacing the orange seats with black ones, building luxury suites and installing a new scoreboard that will require reinforcing the arena's roof.

The banners denoting the six national championships and the men's and women's postseason and SEC accomplishments had already been removed.

"I didn't even notice it," Summitt said as she looked up. "Now I do."

The team will relocate to Stokely Athletics Center – since the arena will become a construction site they must also vacate their locker room – for the rest of the season, starting with Friday afternoon's practice. If the Lady Vols are to hang a seventh national title banner when the arena reopens next fall, they've got some work to do. Wednesday was the start of that process.

"We can't let our defense falter when we're not playing well offensively because that's where we've been able to stay in games and win games even when we weren't shooting the basketball very well," Summitt said. "I think our defense, that's been a key for us all season long. It's been obviously a key for this program for many years so that has to be a constant commitment on the part of our team, defense and board play.

"Offensively, we're just not a good screening team. We get really lax in our screening action. If you're not a great screening team then you're going to have a difficult time getting quality shots. I think if we can just become a better offensive team as far as setting, using, reading screens and taking advantage of what we get then we'll be a better offensive team when we open up our NCAA play."

Tennessee lost to the Lady Tigers, 63-54, in the semifinal of the SEC tourney. LSU lost to Vanderbilt in the championship game last Sunday. (On Wednesday, LSU Coach Pokey Chatman announced her resignation from the team, effective April 30, to pursue other opportunities. LSU went to the Final Four last season, and the resignation was a shock to the program and fan base.)

Tennessee, 28-3, had won the regular season this year but couldn't get the double-double and take the tourney title as well. The last time the Lady Vols won both was in 2000. Other schools met the same fate. Duke won the ACC regular season but fell in its conference tourney, as did UConn in the Big East.

"I've always felt like it was very difficult to do both unless you had the superior team, distinctly you separate yourself out night in and night out, and you're going to do it in the tournament because you're just the best team," Summitt said. "There're a lot of teams in our league, you look at the ACC and what happened there, you look at the Big East and you look at what happened in our situation and you say we didn't have as much motivation for whatever reason.

"Our teams are so competitive in this league. You take a Vanderbilt, who we beat here and played one of our best games, and then they turn around and they were the hot team in the tournament in the end."

Tennessee should have locked up a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament before it even left for Duluth, but Summitt said she wouldn't count on anything until she sees the brackets pop up on her television screen. One thing she's certain of: She doesn't know what the committee will do.

"There's no doubt in my mind (that the committee could lower Tennessee's seed), but my mind's not the one that's going to make the decision," Summitt said. "It's up to the committee. You've got to look at our schedule, the RPI and look at our record and think, ‘That's not too bad.' "

As far as SEC teams in the Big Show, Summitt speculated that "no more than seven" would get in.

"That's going to be close," she said. "I think you have to look across the board. I think with the toughness of the teams in our league I think seven is a distinct possibility, at least six."

Those six would seem to be Tennessee, LSU, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Kentucky, Auburn and South Carolina were making their cases to be included in Duluth.

Summitt is not concerned that any teams found a formula to beat Tennessee, because other teams can't match the inside force of Sylvia Fowles, who is 6'6 and had 19 points and 20 rebounds against the Lady Vols.

"There's only one Fowles so they may figure it out, but I don't know how they're going to do exactly what LSU did because Fowles was the matchup problem for us, especially without Candace (Parker) playing well inside," Summitt said. "But we just didn't play well from a lot of different positions. They had a lot to do with it. They brought their A game. You could tell they were spent against Vanderbilt, because they flat out played against us."

Summitt watched the LSU game film with her team on Sunday and then pronounced it to be over but with lessons that can carry over.

"It's in the past," she said. "There are things you can learn from it. Obviously we couldn't match LSU's intensity and how inspired they were. It clearly was not a priority across the board. We had some players play well, and we had some not show up, and you can't beat a team like LSU unless the whole team is really inspired.

"I think it's a great lesson for us. I think I had to put it in perspective and our coaching staff. I've been there through a lot of years when we've won the SEC league and then obviously didn't play well in the tournament for whatever reason."

Summitt didn't seem inclined to fixate on those reasons at this point. She was ready to get her players ready for the NCAA Tournament.

"I actually missed them," Summitt said. "I'm not sure they missed me, but I actually missed seeing them."


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