The freshmen, coming off one of the best games of the young season, might have expected something else, based on the looks on their faces on occasion. But Pat Summitt watched the game film and saw players not sprinting back on defense every time.
So she turned on the scoreboard, put the game clock at four minutes and used the nearly two-hour session to sprint the floor under game conditions. The only break came when the players shot free throws – naturally tired to simulate a game.
"I was really disappointed in how many possessions that we take off as far as sprinting hard," Summitt said. "We just don't collectively sprint hard all the time, and there's too much talent on this team. We've got the speed and the talent. We have to have accountability in that area."
Summitt realizes that with a roster of just nine, she has players, especially the starters, logging a lot of minutes.
"They get tired, and they pace themselves," Summitt said. "I told them, ‘Pull yourself.' If you need a two-minute rest we'll give you a two-minute rest and we'll get you back in the game. A lot of time it is our starters that are looking for opportunities to rest, which is not uncommon, but the way we want to play it's not acceptable."
One player really seemed to rise to the challenge in Shannon Bobbitt. She had no trouble with the pace of practice and was a vocal presence on the sidelines when she wasn't sprinting the court.
Bobbitt is coming off two games in which she faltered at times in terms of getting the team into its offenses. Summitt was going to talk to her and then spoke with one of her assistants instead.
"We were talking about her and I told Nikki (Caldwell) I needed to sit down with her. I was concerned about her play," Summitt said. "She said, ‘Just let it go. It's exams.' She's just been concerned about her exams and preparing for them."
Bobbitt, an honor roll student, is taking all upper level courses for her psychology major, as she has since she arrived at Tennessee from junior college, where she knocked out all of her electives.
"She has to work really hard academically," Summitt said. "Everything right now is elevated."
Classes ended this week, and exams began Thursday. The start must have triggered the release valve for Bobbitt, because she was back to her old form in practice – standing with Summitt when she was off the court, talking on the floor and encouraging her teammates at all times.
The emphasis in Wednesday's 83-51 win over Old Dominion was rebounding, and that theme continued at practice. Freshman Vicki Baugh fouled out in nine minutes of play in the game, but she also pulled down six boards in such limited minutes.
"There's no doubt in my mind that she can be a great rebounder," Summitt said. "But she's got to stop fouling. That comes with maturity."
Candace Parker didn't have one of her better games Wednesday – she had 14 points in 23 minutes and was 3-7 from the field.
"She got frustrated, but you're going to have those games," Summitt said. "Even in the Final Four she didn't shoot the ball that well, but she just kept grinding it out."
Tennessee opened up the game by trying to force the ball inside to Parker. That led, in part, to 15 first-half turnovers.
"I think we were forcing the high-low," Summitt said. "I asked Dean (Lockwood) today how much we had worked on it, and he said quite a bit. But sometimes we get overanxious."
The Lady Vols shifted the point of attack from the middle of the floor and started reversing the ball more to get better looks. That opened up the perimeter, where Angie Bjorklund was 3-4 from behind the arc.
"If you're looking for high-low you like to have the ball in the middle of the floor so that you can take away the help defense," Summitt said. "Even then they (ODU) were helping on Candace, and it was lack of recognition there (on Tennessee's part)."
Bjorklund scored a career-high 19 points and also added eight rebounds, four steals, three assists and a block. But Summitt saw room for improvement on film.
"Angie didn't sprint hard in the game all the time," Summitt said. "She's got to dial it up a little bit."
That reaction means Summitt, although pleased with her team's 7-0 start and No. 1 ranking, is ready to get to another level. The Lady Vols have two more home games this month – Dec. 13 vs. Middle Tennessee and Dec. 16 vs. Gonzaga – and then four consecutive contests on the road at UCLA (Dec. 19), Stanford (Dec. 22), DePaul (Jan. 2) and Notre Dame (Jan. 5).
Despite the tough foes to start the season, the Lady Vols are getting double-figure scoring from four starters: Parker (21.3 points per game); Alexis Hornbuckle (10.9 ppg); Bobbitt (10.6 ppg); and Bjorklund (10.1 ppg).
"I do think we have been willing to share the ball and other people getting involved," Summitt said. "Lex obviously has contributed for us. Going into the season that was a real point of emphasis for her. She has to be more of an offensive threat. I think that has really helped us."
Hornbuckle was effective on offense in practice Thursday. She swished jumpers and drove to the basket. And despite her sometimes creaky knees, she got up and down the floor.
The freshmen survived the practice intact but did seem a little surprised by the intensity after what was a solid performance Wednesday.
"You never arrive in this program," Summitt said afterwards. "We'll do it tomorrow, too. Up and down. We just have to understand the game is played in four-minute segments and for four minutes they need to understand it's a sprinting game. Not jogging. Not picking and choosing when you're going to take possessions off."
The up-tempo session was aided by the presence of six male players, who made it to practice despite the end of classes and the start of exams. The Lady Vols have a pool of practice players that includes Clay Head, who is named after Summitt's grandfather, James Clay Head, and is the son of Summitt's first cousin.
Summitt, who has a legendary ability to narrow her focus, didn't notice Head when he first showed up last October. A student manager, Houston Kress, pointed him out to the coach.
"It was the first day he was here," Summitt said. "Houston said, ‘You know your cousin's out here.' I'm coaching the players. I said, ‘Really?' And then I look and say, ‘Well, there's Clay. That is my cousin.'
She added with a smile, " I would eventually have recognized him."