Lady Vols prepare for WVU

The Lady Vols got the championship banner in place, got the win and got back to practice to get ready for West Virginia, the lone opponent this holiday week. The team will hold another session Tuesday afternoon before leaving for Charleston to take on the Mountaineers.

The theme for Sunday was to get better after Thursday's 70-67 squeaker win over Oklahoma in Tampa, Fla., as part of the ESPNU Invitational. With that accomplished with the 92-67 win over Texas, the team turned its attention Monday to the next opponent.

Tennessee, 3-0, beat two Big 12 teams last week. It takes on its first Big East foe of the season on Wednesday in West Virginia on the day before Thanksgiving.

"I think we were not satisfied at all with how we played on Thursday," senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle said.

Coach Pat Summitt gave the team the day off the practice court Friday so that the players could rest their legs after the late game in Florida – it was the wee hours before they landed in Knoxville – and used the day to watch film and meet with the freshmen.

"When you have a team that's able to come into the gym and be accountable for their actions and wants to get better – not saying you don't need practice; obviously you do – but sometimes that rest is good," Hornbuckle said.

"We're refocusing not only physically but mentally and just came in here against Texas knowing that what better day for them to try to beat us than when we raised our banner. We had a little bit more pride when we stepped on the court and realized we can't take possessions off. That was our problem in the Oklahoma game."

The 2007 national title banner was raised to the roof before Sunday's tipoff. The players participated in the short ceremony and then turned their attention to Texas, as Summitt expected them to do.

"Sometimes that can throw your focus off, be a little overanxious or whatever it might be, but we handled it OK," Hornbuckle said. "This is what we did. This is last year. So let's do whatever we need to do to try to raise this banner next year."

The championship rings are not in yet, but the players expect to slip them on their fingers by midseason.

"I think they said January. These rings had better be amazing," Hornbuckle said with a huge laugh. "We saw drawings, but it's always different when you see the finished product."

Hornbuckle had to sit out the latter half of the more than two-hour practice session Monday because of creaky knees.

"You get older your (body) acts a little bit different," Hornbuckle said. "It's nothing that holds me back in a game so I'm not too worried about it."

Hornbuckle has had periodic knee issues throughout her Tennessee career – she has dealt with tendonitis since she arrived – and has missed portions of practice. Summitt defers to Jenny Moshak, the team's head of sports medicine, to determine when Hornbuckle should rest. Both of them also trust Hornbuckle to speak up when she is in pain.

"Just work with Jenny," Summitt said of her management plan. "She's the one, along with obviously Alexis, that has to gauge the swelling and how stiff she is and what she needs. She's fighting that, but she plays so hard that that can happen. It's happened to her throughout her career. She's diving on the floor for loose balls and obviously one of the best rebounding guards in the whole country.

"I've been talking to Jenny about it, and she understands that Lex has to communicate with her. I think Lex understands that she has to communicate with Jenny. And if there're days that she doesn't feel like going then we rest her. It's not like I'm going to teach her a whole lot of things (at this point). I'd rather keep her legs fresh than tax her to the point that she's not full speed just because of the style of play."

Summitt watched the Texas game film Sunday evening and noted a need to get on the defensive boards. Tennessee answered her call to secure offensive rebounds – 16 of the 34 boards came off the offensive glass.

"The more athletic you are sometimes the more likely you are to just turn and go pursue the ball," Summitt said. "I think we have to be more committed to being a physical team in terms of our box-outs and not just turn and let people get inside of us. That happened some in that Texas game."

Monday's practice session included defensive box-out drills against the male practice players. It also featured full-court pressure and half-court execution. Summitt used the practice time to correct the deficiencies she recorded after watching film of the Texas game.

"I thought overall our defensive intensity was really strong," Summitt said. "A couple of people probably didn't bring as much energy in the second half as the first. I think we have to be mindful if we do get a lead like that, that we want to be a disciplined team and play the way we want to play, so 40 minutes of hard-nosed basketball is not only a priority but it's a habit."

Hard-nosed would be an apt description of Alex Fuller's play in Sunday's game. The junior forward scored 18 points and had four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 22 minutes. She took three charges in the game, two of which nearly flattened her to the floor but which are now teaching tools.

"Two beautiful charges," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "They were textbook. I've got them clipped. Textbook charges. This is how you time it. This is where you take it, how you take it."

Fuller could be a starter for the other teams in the SEC, but the Lady Vols bring her off the bench to provide stability – Summitt lauds her efficiency – and to ensure a veteran is the first substitute in a game.

"We look at her as a sixth starter," Lockwood said. "We don't look at her as a substitute or a non-starter. We look at her as she's our sixth starter. She might as well be considered a starter because in our mind she is.

"We're looking for her to give us stability. She won't always give us seven for eight (shooting), but we hope she gives us stability. The way she shot the ball (in Sunday's game), was great but also she played great defense, she played very good post defense, she took charges. So we count on Alex to play like a starter."

Summitt paid her the ultimate compliment by calling her trustworthy. When Fuller enters the game there is no drop-off.

"She's just been solid for us off the bench," Summitt said.

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