Lady Vols return to practice

The Lady Vols returned to the practice court Thursday evening and were down one player at the start and another player before it was over in what seems to be the season of blows to the head. Pat Summitt's head apparently was hurting after watching the film of Tennessee-George Washington, and the break between games will be used to try to turn a scattershot squad into a fluid team.

Freshman guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen was excused from practice Thursday because of an infection in her cheek. In the 71-59 win over George Washington on Tuesday, Stricklen bumped heads with a Colonial player and crumpled to the floor. The collision caused her to bite the inside of her cheek, and the gash got infected. Her status is day to day.

Freshman forward Amber Gray was on the floor for part of practice but collided head-on with a practice player while pursuing a long rebound and spent the rest of the session in the training room. The impact sent Gray tumbling backwards, and she was pulled from practice. Her status also is day to day.

Thursday's session began with a film session from Tuesday's game in which Pat Summitt expressed her disappointment about the team's overall lack of commitment to the Tennessee system.

"It didn't take long to realize we didn't play hard," Summitt said. "That's not Tennessee Lady Vol basketball what I watched. We were lazy, we didn't communicate, the ball got too deep, we got beat off the dribble at will. Very disappointing."

The players have practiced well, for the most part, so far this season, but those performances haven't always translated into how they play in live action.

"Just remember when the game starts player are in control," Summitt said. "The only thing we're really in control of is managing huddles and trying to help them in the timeouts. All you can do if they're not playing hard is start substituting freely. That's about the extent of it. It was very revealing about not sprinting the floor, not playing hard together and communicating all the time.

"They had no respect in my opinion as a team for each other and what we had to get done."

Which was rather baffling considering how well the team had played just two days earlier in the home win over DePaul.

"I'm thinking maybe they thought they had arrived," Summitt said. "I always say, ‘You never arrive.' Right now I am very disappointed in our team's performance coming off of that particular game. We've had two road games, and they have to understand we're not going to play all of our games at home.

"Both road games we have struggled. One we had to come from behind to win, the other we had to close out with all of our might to beat George Washington on their home floor. As I look ahead if they aren't serious about becoming a great team on the offensive and defensive end it's going to be a challenging year. Every game is going to be a challenge. They made those two road games a bigger challenge than in my estimation I thought they should be."

Thursday's practice began with a film session during which Summitt outlined her concerns. On the court they drilled layups, defense, box-outs, offense out of traps, reversing the ball and reading the defense.

The players – with the coaches in charge – once again had a solid three-hour practice. The session ended with series of sprints – the lengthiest ones since the season started – mixed in with free throws. The players talked and supported each other. Angie Bjorklund ran with the guards and jumped in another set with Kelley Cain to help pace her to reach her time with the post players. Their practice performance overall has not been an issue, minus a few miscues here and there.

Summitt wants the entire team to realize during this mini-break – the next game is not until Dec. 11 because the players are in exams for the next week – that they have to become unified in games.

"I am hoping that this team will understand they must play together," Summitt said. "They must execute on the offensive end. They must dictate with their defense and board play. That defense, it was non-existent at times. I couldn't hardly watch the tape.

"(On offense) the ball got stuck in players' hands. They all came here as the best player on their respective team. Now they have to play team ball. They haven't quite figured that out yet. We are a work in progress. Will be the entire year. Every moment is a teaching moment. You have to remember that."

Once exams end the Lady Vols play Middle Tennessee, which beat LSU, at home and then go on the road to play Texas and Old Dominion before returning home to host Stanford. The Lady Vols' path doesn't get any easier; in fact, it gets a lot harder.

"Amen," Summitt said. "I know it. I understand it. They have no idea."

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