Tennessee, 30-2, opens NCAA tourney play on Sunday night (9:30 p.m., ESPN2) in West Lafayette, Ind., against Oral Roberts, 19-12. Wednesday's practice was similar to Tuesday's – up-tempo and longer than during the season with an emphasis on offensive execution and defensive pressure.
Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike stayed afterwards to get in even more shots. They were joined by Alex Fuller, who sat out most of the session to rest her left knee – precautionary and a continuation of the approach with the junior forward that Jenny Moshak has used all season – with Parker, once again, being the last to leave the gym.
The Lady Vols will practice Thursday afternoon and then take off Friday to travel to Indiana.
It was old-timer's day at practice again Wednesday as former players arrived to help the team get ready and another male practice player came on his own. Tennessee is on spring break this week so the campus is nearly deserted.
Lisa McGill Reagan (1976-79); Shelley Sexton Collier (1983-87); Karla Horton Douglas (1984-87); Suzanne Barbre Singleton (1974-78); and Sue Thomas Martin (1974-77) formed a practice squad for the ages. Horton, a 6'2 center who played with Sexton on Summitt's first national title team in 1987, provided some height, and the former players acquitted themselves well with plenty of effort and a lot of smiles.
"It's been fun with the former players just to see them come back and still be able to run up and down the court. That probably won't be me," said Alexis Hornbuckle, whose knees are already aching. "It's nice to see they still have it in them."
It was Barbre's shot that Hornbuckle blocked.
"I apologized," Hornbuckle said. "I felt like they're fragile. They don't want to be treated as fragile, but if I was that age out on the court I would be nervous."
Vols Coach Bruce Pearl came onto the court to talk to Summitt before his team left for its NCAA tourney site, saw the practice players stretching and yelled for a trainer. They survived intact and got an ovation from the fans in attendance for their efforts.
"Of all the teams that I've coached they've come back more than any, but there's a lot of them that live here," Summitt said. "I was just a few years older than them when they played for me. That was a group that I really enjoyed. They drove me crazy, but I enjoyed them."
The 1987 team made its connection last season with the current Lady Vols when the 20th anniversary of the national championship was commemorated. They also traveled to Cleveland to cheer for the 2007 team that won the program's seventh national title.
The prognosticators haven't been picking Tennessee to get its eighth banner in April.
"Right now no one is really thinking we're going to cut down nets in Tampa," Summitt said. "I think we put ourselves in a position for people to feel like they can criticize us because we haven't been a team that committed to a 40-minute game consistently, but I think this team is different. I think going into the SEC we were different.
"I told them, You can't just want to win. You've got to be starved to death for this. You've got to play every possession and really know it's difficult. Not many people really understand how difficult it is to win a championship. You know from last year.' Hopefully that will be a good carryover for us."
Summitt met with the players individually over the past two days and asked what they intended to bring to postseason.
"I'm just trying to bring leadership, and I think that sums up everything I want to do as far as trying to play defense, rebounding and just staying positive and letting the team feed off me," Hornbuckle said. "Everything possible just try to gather it up and put it all into leadership."
Summitt hasn't scheduled too many prearranged individual meetings – players can meet with her or an assistant or just talk all season long – but she wanted some formal one-on-one time in March.
"I did it at the first of the year," Summitt said. "Typically I do it at the beginning of the SEC season but after the Stanford loss I figured we'd met enough."
The team held multiple meetings after the Christmas break to digest that December loss, and Summitt even watched practice in silence for one session. That is a distant memory now as her voice fills the arena in March.
"You feel different," Summitt said. "The players always say I'm different. It's a greater sense of urgency."
The players use their downtime among themselves to relax. One way to do so is to play video games.
"We talk so much; we all know where we stand," Hornbuckle said. "We're all excited to get back on the court. We all want a championship, and we're all ready to bring whatever is necessary. When we get together we've been playing ‘Rock Band.' "
The video game, like "Guitar Hero," allows the player to be a rock star. Hornbuckle isn't hesitant to take the mike even if the tunes are unfamiliar.
"I don't know any of the songs because it's rock 'n roll," Hornbuckle said.
"Just chilling," Hornbuckle said of the team's approach when it gets together. "We're going to watch a movie tonight."
The break from classes allowed some time to sleep and catch up on schoolwork.
"We've been able to get a lot of rest," Summitt said. "We've been able to get a lot of repetition on the floor."
Prevailing in postseason also means being able to focus and blocking out distractions. In what appears to be political opportunism, a state senator from New Jersey filed non-binding legislation asking the NCAA to investigate a Feb. 11 game between Rutgers and Tennessee in which the clock stopped and restarted in the closing tenths of a second. The NCAA issued a statement saying regular season officiating issues are a matter for the conferences, not the NCAA. The SEC and Big East addressed the matter last month.
"I have no comment," Summitt said.
Summitt's concern is getting her team ready to defend its national title. She has five seniors and one of them, Alberta Auguste, will move into the starting lineup in place of Bjorklund, a freshman. Both players have done well in practice this week.
"We're the type of team we understand we want what's best for the team," Hornbuckle said. "Angie knows, ‘OK, I haven't been producing,' and Bird has stepped up all aspects of her game so you've got to give her a chance to get out there and continue to do what she's doing.
"You don't really worry about starting. It's more like, ‘What am I going to do when I'm on the court? Each possession how am I going to contribute to the team?' I think that's how (Bjorklund) looks at it."
Auguste's message to Summitt was to deploy her however she is needed.
"Bird said, ‘Coach, I'll do whatever. I'll start or come off the bench. It doesn't matter to me,' " Summitt said. "And I think Angie is the same way."
Auguste has been through the crucible of postseason and stepped up a year ago when Tennessee needed her defensive pressure against North Carolina. She also scored 10 points in a low-scoring title game and made Rutgers pay for doubling Parker.
"She's got the experience factor, too," Summitt said of her decision to start the senior.
"She's very focused," Hornbuckle noted. "I like it. I love the Alberta of postseason."
The seniors know this is their final run at Tennessee before the WNBA and post-collegiate life comes calling.
"This senior class is very special, and we want them to put an exclamation point, if you will, on what they've been able to do and the legacy that they would leave," Summitt said. "They have a great opportunity and if they win back-to-back championships that will definitely be a great mark for them to leave at Tennessee.
"We talked about it. I think they want it. We'll find out. You've got to really, really want it and be willing to pay the price."
Parker has been very candid all season long. She said one banner is an accomplishment; two is a legacy.
The seniors have to both think about that and not let it get in the way.
"You think about it because you have to have a goal," Hornbuckle said. "You have to have something to strive for, but at the same time you can't lose focus. Every game is important. You take it one game at a time."