Friday, March 18, 2005

Lady Vols relieved by lighter practice slate

KNOXVILLE — Tasha Butts had to ask somebody what was up.

The Lady Vols graduate assistant, who led UT to the national championship game a year ago, pulled junior Shanna Zolman aside to see if she had any clue.

After winning the SEC Tournament two weeks ago, Coach Pat Summitt gave her players three days off. And since then, the practices have not been as grueling as typical practices leading up to the first NCAA Tournament game.

''I don't know what the change is, but I know that we've had very good practices,'' Zolman said. ''We've been practicing very well, so there's no reason just to keep on harping on us over and over again.''

The Lady Vols will be back at practice today after taking yesterday off. Zolman said even though she was a bit surprised, she understands why they got three days off last week.

''That comes from winning the tournament,'' she said. ''I think that had a huge part in it. Coach is intense, regardless. She still boosts up her intensity come tournament time.''

Another difference between this year and previous seasons is the timing of UT's spring break. In the past, the week leading up to the NCAA Tournament has coincided with the players' spring break — meaning no class-time restrictions for Summitt.

This year, spring break does not come until next week, after the tournament has already started.

Close series: Western Carolina — Tennessee's first-round opponent — has never been to an NCAA Tournament.

That doesn't mean the Lady Catamounts haven't given the Lady Vols some trouble in years past.

Tennessee actually lost the first four meetings in the series, during the pre-Summitt era. The last meeting between the schools was Feb. 17, 1977, a game UT won 85-48. That gave the Lady Vols an 8-7 advantage in the series.

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