Lady Vols return to practice

The Lady Vols had most of the team back Thursday evening for the first practice after the Christmas break, and Pat Summitt expects to be at full strength Friday. The coach applauded the effort she got in a short session – the Stanford loss and the mini-vacation appear to be in the players' rearview mirror with their sights set on the 2008 slate on the schedule.

"We had a good workout," Coach Pat Summitt said after the session ended. "We did a lot of offensive skill work and worked on our full-court defense. It was good. They went to work. I was pleased."

Two players were missing from the workout. Freshman Vicki Baugh's flight from Sacramento at first was thought to be delayed, but she made it on time. Senior Alberta Auguste spent Christmas with her brother in Washington state, and her flight got changed by the airline, so she was not expected to arrive until late Thursday.

Senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle was excused from the session because of a death in her family. Hornbuckle's paternal grandmother, Lucille Stephens Hornbuckle, died last Saturday at the age of 81. Alexis learned of her passing after the Stanford game before the team left California.

The funeral service was held Wednesday in Charleston, W.Va., and Lucille Hornbuckle will be buried this Saturday in her hometown of Uniontown, Ala.

"I talked to (Alexis) yesterday after the funeral and I talked to her tonight," Summitt said Thursday. "She's on her way to Knoxville. It obviously has been a very emotional time for Alexis with the loss of her grandmother coming during the holidays. There's never a good time for anything like this."

Alexis' father, Jerome Hornbuckle, called Summitt in California last Friday to let her know that his mother was not doing well. Alexis knew that her grandmother had been ill and had been worried about her.

"I know she was very concerned about her health," Summitt said.

Quan Hornbuckle called Summitt on the morning of the game to let her know that Alexis' grandmother had died that day.

"Her mother called me about 8 o'clock West Coast time and let me know that she had passed away and asked me if I would not say anything," Summitt said. "We take their phones up, which is a good thing, the night before game day. She asked me if I would talk with her after the game. Nikki and Dean and I were all with her."

Summitt and the staff, Dean Lockwood and Nikki Caldwell, knew about the death during the game but waited, at the family's request, to tell Alexis privately. The team left immediately after the game on a redeye flight.

"That was a long plane ride for her, but Nikki and Dean and I were with her on the flight back," Summitt said.

Hornbuckle was met at the airport in Knoxville by a family member, who drove her home to Dunbar, W.Va. Her brother, Cedric, drove her back to Knoxville late Thursday night.

"I think for her to have some time at home was good, and her brother drove her back to campus, and she's going to come to practice (Friday)," Summitt said. "We'll see how she's doing."

The family will fly to Alabama for the burial, but Alexis decided to come to Knoxville and is expected to be with the team next week for the DePaul and Notre Dame games. Summitt has endured deaths in the families of players throughout her three-decade coaching career and told Alexis to take all the time she needed.

"Her dad, they talked, and they decided she would come back here," Summitt said. "She said, ‘Dad and I talked and just decided I would come back to campus.' "

If Auguste's flight arrives as schedule, then the Lady Vols should have all nine players back on the court Friday. They will practice this weekend, too, and leave for Chicago on Dec. 31. The game against DePaul is Jan. 2 at 9 p.m. Eastern (ESPNU).

Summitt was ready to get back on the court. The Lady Vols went into the break following a 73-69 overtime loss to Stanford in Palo Alto.

"I think anytime you have a loss you tend to want to go back and reevaluate, watch the game tape and analyze and reanalyze," Summitt said. "We (the staff) did that for a couple of hours today on how we all thought we could get better. We go back to work, and that's what we did tonight.

"The wheels haven't all fallen off by any means, but we definitely did not do what we needed to do defensively defending the high-low. They scored 17 points just off high-low, and that was a point of emphasis. I think this team has to really commit to scouting report defense. They haven't been as committed as they should be. It's like giving a team the answers to a test before you ever take it. They didn't use it."

The fact Tennessee only got to the foul line 10 times – Stanford made 32 trips there – was still disconcerting to Summitt, who is limited in how she can talk about the officiating.

"I can say two things, and I said this at the press conference," Summitt said. "We couldn't even get to the free throw line in the first half, and we're going inside. It's pretty frustrating. All you've got to do is look at the discrepancy in the number of times they got to the line and we got to the line. I felt as though we went to Candace, but Candace couldn't get to the free throw line."

Candace Parker led all scorers with 25 points and took 21 of Tennessee's 63 shots. She got to the line six times.

Angie Bjorklund, Nicky Anosike, Shannon Bobbitt, Vicki Baugh and Alberta Auguste took five shots each. Bjorklund misfired on all five of hers in 37 minutes of play.

"Angie has got to score," Summitt said. "If she's going to play that many minutes, she has to knock down some shots, or Coach Summitt has got to put somebody in that's going to knock down some shots."

In hindsight, Summitt said, she should have played freshman Sydney Smallbone – another sharpshooter from long range – for some minutes.

"Looking back, Smallbone, I didn't give her a look," Summitt said. "I would have put Smallbone in and given her some touches. They're collapsing on Candace, they're double-teaming her and Angie didn't take but five shots. She's got to get more shots off, and she's got to get to the free throw line more. She knows that, and she's got to get tougher in that regard."

Anosike fouled out in regulation, and Alex Fuller started the overtime session. She acquitted herself well.

"She did," Summitt said. "Alex can make shots."

Summitt's tone was patient and calm. She had clearly deconstructed the game a number of times and Tennessee's deficiencies – along with the Lady Vols' lack of trips to the foul line – clearly stood out to her.

She quietly chuckled when asked if the rest of women's college basketball could breathe easier with a Lady Vol loss.

"We'll be all right," she said.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories