"They haven't lost in that building since we beat them in 2006," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "They're going to have a lot of confidence in their building. It's going to be a great challenge. This is the second experience of this nature this year where we have to rebound after a loss and bounce back so we're going to find out a lot about our team on Thursday night. I really look at this game as being very telling."
No. 11/13 Tennessee, 7-2, used three sessions of practice this week – two on Monday and one on Tuesday – to work on shooting, free throws, offensive sets and defense in the half-court and in transition.
Pat Summitt had all of her coaches address the players this week during one of the pre-practice meetings in the circle at center court.
"I think it's important, because our staff is so involved, for them to express what they expect, what they saw, what we need to get better at," Summitt said. "If they're only hearing my voice they can tune me out in a hurry. I've always thought it was important that they know what individual coaches are bringing to, in that case, the circle to talk about. I think it's healthy."
The Lady Vols remain in various states of health. Vicki Baugh and Kelley Cain are still adjusting on the court from knee surgery. Cait McMahan, who has a chronically sore right knee, remained out Tuesday. Amber Gray, who missed most of Monday's practices because of illness, was back Tuesday.
Baugh had ACL surgery last May. Cain had her kneecap realigned a year ago, and it got irritated after a practice collision on Dec. 7.
"I think when she is more comfortable and can trust the knee … anytime you come off of knee surgery, having had it myself, there is a period where the fear factor is there, Summitt said. "And it talks to you at times. I'm sure it's talking to her and talking to Vicki and like it is with Cait."
The development of Cain is critical for the post game. The 6'6 center had an excellent preseason in practice and in the two exhibition games she scored 30 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in 37 minutes of play.
Then, Cain sustained a concussion in practice after taking an elbow to her cheek and jaw. She missed a week of practice, came back for the game against Virginia, had a return of symptoms and missed two more weeks of practice and games. The loss of time also means loss of conditioning.
"I think as she gains more playing time and gets the repetitive drills in practice and gets more comfortable, she's just going to get better and better," Summitt said. "There is no doubt if she gets herself in better shape, and I think that will give her reason to have more confidence. It just takes time."
Time also means experience, and the coaching staff has said since September that the clock can't be fast-forwarded, and the young players need practice repetition and live action. The coaches know the team hasn't been completely healthy, even when all 12 are available, and lacks experience with just one senior on the roster.
"We try to look at the big picture frequently," Lockwood said. "I think Pat that's her role more than anyone else's but as a staff collectively we certainly do. We're excited about this team. We really like our team. We like the talent on our team.
"We do know that we have to mature competitively. We have to get more consistent. One area in particular that stands out is free throw shooting. We've had games where we shot in the high 70s and last game (in Sunday's loss against Texas) we shot 45 (percent). A sign of a mature competitor is you know pretty consistently, night in and night out, what you're going to get. The shooting percentages may vary but in terms of effort and what you can hang your hat on we have to become more consistent.
"But we are excited. I can tell you we are definitely excited about our team."
The coaches are hoping that the youngsters learn from the Texas loss and then let it fade away as they enter preparations for the Old Dominion game. Tuesday's practice session was used to go over the scouting report for Thursday's matchup with the Lady Monarchs.
"We've only experienced it twice," Lockwood said of losses. "We haven't gone through the second one yet because this is the first game after (the loss). We're hoping they become resilient, but at the same time you find with very young people that things weigh heavy on them when you need to let them go. It needs to be like water off a duck's back.
"We're hoping that they can move on and go on to the next game but, quite honestly, this is new ground for all of us with this team, and we're going to find out a lot about them at Old Dominion."
Summitt liked the work accomplished in practice, but whether or not that translates to improved game performance is not something she can call.
"I think with young teams you just have to wait and see," Summitt said. "I can usually predict with the last couple of teams what we're going to get. I'm still learning from individuals what they're going to bring and will they bring the consistency game in and game out."
Sophomore Angie Bjorklund, who has been asked by Summitt to take a bigger leadership role with the team, said the players aren't looking behind them.
"We learn, we get better but we're not dwelling on that loss," Bjorklund said. "We're going to the next game and making the improvements we need to."