Summitt: Most talented but not the best

Pat Summitt has mentioned several times lately that she thinks her team is the most talented in the country but not necessarily the best one. So that statement was posed to two of her players, Candace Parker and Shannon Bobbitt, who seemed surprised, but ultimately took it as a challenge.

Candace Parker, a junior forward, and Shannon Bobbitt, a senior guard, answered questions from the media post-game Sunday after the 71-48 win over South Carolina – a game in which Tennessee did some things really well and fell well short of Pat Summitt's expectations in other areas.

Summitt talked about perfection being the goal while acknowledging that it wasn't possible on every possession of every basketball game. Summitt then left the press conference for her post-game radio show, and her players fielded the questions.

Parker and Bobbitt answered the standard fare – and for Parker that always seems to be something about dunking and the WNBA, for which the answers were perfunctory – and then handled one about Summitt's declaration of the dichotomy of talented and best.

When told that Summitt considered them the most talented team in the country, both players smiled. But when they heard she did not think they were the best team, their faces fell.

"When did she say that?" Parker asked.

After the Auburn game.

"Oh, OK," said Parker, who appeared both puzzled and disappointed.

So what does Summitt mean by that?

"Shannon?" Parker asked by way of asking for help.

"We're going to win this championship," a feisty Bobbitt replied. "We're going to try our best to win another championship and hopefully we're going to be THE best team."

Parker was more pensive than her exuberant teammate.

"I don't know how to answer that," Parker initially said. "I guess that means we're not living up to our potential. I think that's what she's saying. So we have a few more games to hopefully change her viewpoint on that."

When the exchange was relayed to Summitt on Monday, she just smiled.

"Mission accomplished," the coach said.

But Summitt also truly believes it and the South Carolina game – the Lady Vols' play was sporadic – underscored her position.

"In order for the most talented team to be the best team they have to bring the best effort all the time," Summitt said. "Because what happens is there're are a lot of teams in this country that are very talented. North Carolina is very talented. Maryland is very talented. LSU is very talented. Connecticut is very talented. Rutgers is very talented.

"You can have the best talent, but if you're going against teams that are talented and play hard on every possession and play well together, they can beat the most talented team if they're not playing that way. So I think it's our job as a coaching staff and it's their job as a team to understand that women's basketball, while the depth of great teams is not that many, the group that is among the top on a given night can beat anyone else and that may be eight teams, 10 teams, but those are the teams you're going to have to beat in a regional or Final Four environment."

Parker appears to understand that. She was in the room Sunday when Summitt said this team could do anything well that it set its mind to, whether rebounding or pressure defense, and that absolute perfection was a worthy, if unattainable, goal.

"I feel like the reason why Coach Summitt is where she is in her career and who she is in her career is because she always chases perfection," Parker said. "She always expects the best out of every one of her players, and she gets the best out of her players because she knows how to motivate us and knows how to challenge us.

"Our team knows that she knows what it takes to win championships because she's won seven. We have the best leader and I feel like as a team we've bought into her philosophy."

Summitt's philosophy centers on rebounding and defense, and she has found a fault line in her own process when it comes to board play.

She watched the film of the South Carolina game – a contest in which the Lady Vols were out-rebounded, 41-33, with Alexis Hornbuckle, a 5'11 guard, leading the team with seven.

"The turnovers had a lot to do with it," Summitt said of South Carolina's 30 miscues, which cut back on possessions and thus the opportunities for defensive boards.

"But I think sometimes we watch and don't react. As I told my staff today I'm going to take responsibility right now because when we do shooting drills we do repetition, and we don't rebound shots. If you look at how we break down our shooting drills it does not encourage rebounding. It's more about getting a lot of repetition in so today we changed our shooting drills to shooting and following your shots or shooting and having a buddy follow."

Summitt incorporated rebounding – and more importantly, boxing out – into all drill work. Anyone's failure to go to the boards or put a body on somebody meant the entire team lined up for sprints.

"Everything we did today with shooting involved rebounding," Summitt said. "I can't believe it didn't hit me until last night. I watched the tape. I watched it twice. Lex is an instinctive rebounder. Bird (Alberta Auguste) is an instinctive rebounder. Candace is a very good defensive rebounder. We've got to get her to be a better offensive rebounder.

"But we haven't presented them with the type of drill work and the emphasis to really allow us to make it a habit. But we will. Trust me. We're getting ready to make rebounding a real habit."

The Lady Vols were low on numbers Monday. Junior forward Alex Fuller was held out of practice because of pain and swelling in both knees. Freshman forward Vicki Baugh took a shot to the outside of her left knee and missed the latter part of practice for treatment.

That meant the players left got plenty of reps. Parker and Nicky Anosike, especially, expended a lot of energy Monday because they were the only post players on the floor after Baugh went out.

Parker spent most of the afternoon posting up and driving to the basket with an assortment of power moves. She also worked on her fall-away jumper, a shot that is basically indefensible. It was a particularly long day for Parker, who was on the floor taking extra shots on her own well before practice started.

"You don't have to condition them when you have smaller numbers," Summitt said. "They get the conditioning in practice. We had a lot of energy today, good leadership. They responded to what we wanted to do."

Before the team left South Carolina on Sunday, Summitt addressed her players.

"We talked about the good stuff – our defense and our pressure in the full court was really good," Summitt said. "We missed a lot of shots we should have made. You compliment people that did good things on the court. I told them we had to get better on the boards.

"It's a win. Let's get a shower and get on the plane and go back to work."

Practice on Monday emphasized defense and board play and included a lot of full-court work and matching up in transition. Tuesday and Wednesday's sessions will be shorter as the team tapers before Thursday's game at Kentucky.

The Lady Vols lost in Lexington two years ago at a game in which then-Head Coach Mickie DeMoss, a longtime Tennessee assistant, presented Summitt with a gift to commemorate her 900th career victory that included a bottle of Kentucky bourbon.

The bottle was never opened, but Summitt might have thought about it on the three-hour bus ride back to Knoxville after that loss.

"It's in my office," Summitt said. "It's on display in the film room. I told the bus driver you need to put this under the bus."

Summitt has not yet talked to her players about that game –Anosike, Hornbuckle, Fuller and Parker remain from that 2005 team – but she will.

"When we do our scouting I'll ask them what they remembered about the last time they played there," Summitt said. "I think they'll be able to remember."

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