Coach Pat Summitt's top New Year's resolution seems to be to find the right buttons to push with her team. That includes some soul searching of her own.
"I think this team is underachieving," Summitt said. "I think they have yet to put together a 40-minute game. The person I have to look at is myself and accountability for playing both ends of the floor."
Summitt's voice was heard at practice Sunday, but she wasn't as animated as usual. The pensiveness remained as she tries to get a pulse of this team, which is talented but plays without any sense of urgency for stretches of time.
"It's been a challenge," Summitt said. "It's been frustrating for me to see our team not play hard all the time at all five positions. It's like they're on cruise control thinking all of a sudden they're going to put the pedal to the metal and do what they did."
What they did last season was hit the throttle – after a season of pacing themselves – and win a national title. Summitt said history wouldn't repeat itself.
"They got away with it last year," Summitt said. "They can't get away with it this year. It's just a false impression of who they are and what they can do. Great habits are hard to break, and bad habits are hard to break, and we've got some bad habits of not playing hard.
"I blame myself. I've got to find a way to get it out of them. I've had teams in the past that just couldn't figure it out."
Summitt's voice was one of concern. And frustration. And irritation. She did see some things that she liked Sunday – practice again was preceded by a long meeting and then a lot of floor work. Afterwards, the players had a weight-lifting session.
"I thought we accomplished some good things today toward our scouting for DePaul," Summitt said.
"It helps us to have 10 players on the court," Summitt said. "It all depends on if she has any swelling (as to if she can continue to practice this season). I don't think we can count on Cait every day, but every little bit helps and it helps toward her future."
Freshman center Kelley Cain did some rehab on the sideline. She had season-ending knee surgery in mid-December to realign her right kneecap. Cain will make the trip for the DePaul and Notre Dame games. She didn't travel to California because she had just had surgery the week before. McMahan also will travel with the team. She had been suspended for the California trip for an undisclosed violation of team rules, but Summitt has reinstated her.
Associate Coach Holly Warlick also is medically cleared to travel. She missed the California trip because of a blood clot in her calf. Perhaps it will help to have the team intact again.
"I think it will," Summitt said. "It's great to have Holly back, and Kelley's doing well. It's good to have Cait back."
The Lady Vols used the four days of practice after the Christmas break to work on their deficiencies – defensive breakdowns, turnovers and board play.
The Tennessee staff, with the aid of media relations chief Debby Jennings, put together a game-by-game breakdown of how big their leads have been this season and how the team lost them.
Tennessee, 10-1, sustained its first loss of the season in its last game before the Christmas break. The Lady Vols were up 11 on Stanford in the first half, but the Cardinal whittled five points off of the lead in two minutes, while the Lady Vols didn't score over that same time period.
"We did a breakdown (of leads lost and how they were lost)," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "Stanford, we're up 11. We have five possessions (to close the first half), no conversions and three turnovers."
Instead of Tennessee being up 33-22, the halftime score was 33-27. The Lady Vols ended up losing in overtime, 73-69.
"We're trying to give our team a greater sense of awareness," Lockwood said. "Here's what happened but more than that here's why it happened. When we lose leads it's usually because we are not taking care of the ball, and we are not converting on offense. Those two things work hand in hand.
"We can work on our execution and make them have an awareness of how important it is to have more sureness with the ball, take better care of the ball, not to force passes. As a point guard I always knew if we had two possessions and we didn't score I felt like I had left the iron on at home all day, and I couldn't wait to get home. We have to have a greater sense of awareness."
So practice this week was intended to address specific flaws and put the players in game-simulated situations.
"There's a reason those things happen, and it's correctable," Lockwood said. "All we've done is try to work on our execution and raise the players' awareness level."
Did it work?
"It's a wait-and-see right now for me," Summitt said. "I'm not sold on this team playing hard for 40 minutes and as a head coach I have to take that personally. I've got to figure out what I can do."
Summitt and the coaches held two lengthy team meetings this weekend. She sat silently and watched one practice. It's in the players' control on game night. If Summitt doesn't see what she wants Wednesday, she indicated that changes could be made.
"You don't want to play games with a veteran team, but I may have to," Summitt said. "I may have to sit people. I may have to change the lineup. I'm not opposed to that. I'm going to see what happens."