Pat Summitt credits the establishment of the work ethic to senior Alex Fuller and the sophomore class of Vicki Baugh, Angie Bjorklund, Cait McMahan and Sydney Smallbone. Summitt also elevated redshirt freshmen Kelley Cain, who hasn't logged a second in an official game as a Lady Vol, to another level on the returnee scale.
"Our upperclassmen have set a pretty good tone," Summitt said. "Kelley, I don't consider her a freshman, not a true freshman anyway."
Cain continued to impress with her touch around the basket – she can bail out the team in busted plays – and her increasing ability to get up and down the floor.
"She's using her body and she's setting up before the ball arrives," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "A lot of time scoring looks easy because she's done so much work before the ball arrived. With her body and her size that is a tremendous asset.
"I tell her you can get three or four baskets a game just like that, catch and score. You get one or two stick-backs, you go to the free throw line, you've got 13, 14 points before you know what hits you."
McMahan had a solid session at point, and Smallbone and Bjorklund have been steady from the perimeter. Baugh remains limited to half-court work but has shown no hesitation to leave her feet or battle in the paint, as she continues to test her surgically repaired left knee.
Johnson was held out as a precaution but was much better Wednesday and could be cleared to practice Thursday.
"Jenny (Moshak) didn't want to push anything," Summitt said.
Gray remains day to day, and her availability for Thursday is not yet known.
"She wants to practice (Thursday), but I don't know if she'll be able to," Summitt said. She rolled it pretty good."
Two other freshmen were able to return. Alyssia Brewer was back Wednesday after missing two sessions because of a stomach illness. Shekinna Stricklen was on the floor for the first time since taking a shot to the face Saturday.
The team overall is improving with the ball in its hands – freshman Briana Bass is pushing tempo and nailed a three-pointer from the corner to end Wednesday's practice with 1.2 seconds on the clock in a scrimmage against the male practice squad – but the defense remains a work in progress as the freshmen try to both learn and execute the concepts in the paint and on the perimeter.
"Instead of just standing in front of you, we're going to dictate where you can go, what you can and cannot do, how you're going to run your offense," Lockwood said. "We have to be more of a dictating defensive team as opposed to a reactive defensive team. We're going to find a lineup that is going to do that to the best of our ability."
The first exhibition game is Nov. 6 against Carson-Newman, and the upcoming practice sessions will allow players to create some separation in terms of starting positions, rotation and floor minutes.
"The fun part for players and staff at this time of year is that it's settled on the court so we continue to make assessments and evaluations of what's happening on the court," Lockwood said. "Injuries are going to dictate some of this. When the time comes for us to zero in on a starting group, who's healthy?
"It's about the chemistry and about putting forth the best team that is going to give you the effort that we're looking for on both ends of the floor."