Lady Vol coaches, players meet

Pat Summitt did a reverse pivot and decided not to have her team practice Friday. Instead she and the coaching staff met with the players and then left them to talk among themselves.

"We've got to have our legs," Coach Pat Summitt said of her Friday decision. "We're short on bodies. We need rest. Look at all the people playing extended minutes."

Tennessee will travel to Nashville today and practice at Vanderbilt to get ready for Sunday's SEC matchup.

Summitt would have liked in all likelihood to have gotten her players on the practice floor the day after the desultory 78-62 loss to LSU in which Tennessee surrendered a 19-point first-half lead.

But Sunday's game with Vanderbilt will be the third one this week, and the staff realized the team had to conserve some energy in order to be in a position to close it out with a much-needed win.

So the team lifted weights after class and then assembled in the Lady Vol offices to meet with Summitt and the three assistants.

"We were all in there," Summitt said. "Once we talked to them and looked at stats and talked about what we needed from them, then we left them to talk. This team has to take some ownership right away.

"Obviously our staff is very, very disappointed. We would like to hope that our players are as disappointed."

Summitt didn't ask the players what they said. She wants them to work it out among themselves. Considering there are three seniors and a redshirt junior in the starting lineup that certainly seems to be a reasonable expectation.

Summitt had been telling the team all season that it couldn't coast in games and wait to turn it on. If they got a lead, they needed to hold it. They needed to play two complete halves. If they didn't, they would lose. The team didn't seem to be truly listening until after Thursday's outcome.

"You don't do it this long and not have a feel -and watching them and seeing what you're getting," Summitt said.

A loss last year to LSU in the SEC tourney spurred the team to an NCAA title as the players came together on their own during the time between the loss and the start of NCAA play. This loss was different, though, since it falls in the regular season, and another game is on the schedule right away.

Also in that tourney game, Candace Parker was ineffective on both ends of the floor. The lesson was that Tennessee could not win unless Parker brought it on offense and defense. Parker did her part and then some Thursday – she had 26 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, six steals and four blocks – but got little help from her teammates. The lesson this season is Parker needs help, especially from seniors Alexis Hornbuckle and Shannon Bobbitt at the guard spots.

So can the team rally again?

"I don't know. I wish I knew," Summitt said. "They came together as a team (last year). They were headed right into postseason. We've got some (regular season) games left to play (this time)."

Summitt didn't see much of her team today because she wants them to work out some issues without the coaches, who have been preaching the same message all season that didn't sink through until the costly conference loss.

"The only time that I was with them was in the meeting and our coaches talked, and we asked them some things," Summitt said. "We left them to discuss it."

Summitt didn't seek much feedback. This was about delivery of information.

"We probably gave them more information," Summitt said." It was more about what we've been seeing. Our lack of commitment to defense last night was, quite honestly, embarrassing and then our guard play. If Shannon and Lex play that way, we shouldn't expect to win."

Summitt liked the perimeter looks at the basket that Bobbitt and Hornbuckle got against LSU, but they combined to shoot 5-21. The only solution is to take more shots. On their own.

"I'd like to see them get in the gym and shoot more," Summitt said. "Have they? No. Should they? Yes. They need repetition, and we can only get so much in in our practices. If you want to shoot the ball better you've got to get more shots in."

Associate Coach Holly Warlick said the process of making shots starts in the mind.

"They're out of sync right now as far as offensively," Warlick said of the two guards. "They've got to get in the gym and get up shots. I'm sure they're going to do that. They're disappointed in their play, too.

"They've got to change their mindset. I think for a lot of shooters it's between your ears. They're two very good shooters, but sometimes I think they could get a better positive mindset, and they need to get in the gym a little bit more and just get some confidence. Shooting is confidence and getting in a flow and getting in a rhythm. For some reason they've just been out of sync."

Perhaps the biggest challenge is not just bouncing back from the loss but purging the way it happened. A 21-2 lead on Tennessee's home floor should be insurmountable for a visiting opponent. Although that lead showed what the Lady Vols were capable of doing on both ends of the floor, the loss of it revealed a lack of toughness.

"When you see that (lead) and then you don't bring it, that's more aggravating than anything," Summitt said.

But Summitt, who has a wait-and-see attitude about how her team will respond, is hoping to see some fight Sunday.

"We can mope around and keep our heads down or we can take it to heart and come back and fight, pull together, realize how much they need each other," Summitt said. "There will be some players who will take this to heart, come back and fight hard. I'm not going to predict right now who all they are. And the ones that don't get on board they won't be able to help us."

The ball is in the players' court. Of course, that's where it ultimately ends up anyway so where they go from here – on and off the court as a team – is completely up to them. And Sunday's performance will give Summitt some of the answers she's seeking.

"I think it will definitely tell us," Summitt said. "We'll get a lot of feedback from seeing how they come off of this loss and go in to Vanderbilt to play. You learn a lot about the character of your team when you face adversity and then have to move forward."

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