Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lady Vols Practice

Although Tennessee is out of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, the Lady Vols were back on the court Tuesday afternoon. Their presence at Pratt Pavilion spoke volumes about the state of the program.

“This to me says at Tennessee we’re not going to accept losing in the first round game and go home and go on spring break; No,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said.

According to the coaches, NCAA rules allow eight hours of work with the team until April 15. Two hours can be allotted for basketball-specific work, which was the case Tuesday. The other six hours are devoted to strength and conditioning.

Assistant coach Dean Lockwood said after April 15, coaches can work with the team only in groups of four players or less.

Tuesday’s workout followed a team meeting Monday after the Lady Vols returned from Bowling Green, Ky. — the site of their 71-55 loss to Ball State on Sunday night. It was the first first-round loss in program history and one of the most stunning results in tournament history.

Summitt said that she asked the players during the meeting whether they planned to stay.

“We went around the table and I said ‘you in or out. We need to know,’” Summitt said. “I told them if you want to leave now’s the time ... We’re getting ready to raise the bar on the expectations we have on the court and in all your strength and conditioning work.”

All of the players were present Tuesday. Departing senior Alex Fuller didn’t need to attend. Still, she showed up and pitched in as a practice player.

“She’s about as lost and confused as the coaches right now,’’ Summitt said. “She doesn’t know what to do with her time right now.”

Summitt thinks that the time spent with UT strength and conditioning coach Heather Mason in the coming weeks should help identify the true competitors among the players.

“It’s going to really challenge this team physically and mentally,’’ Summitt said, “and they need that because we don’t have the mental toughness. We don’t have the competitive drive on every play. We don’t. That’s my biggest concern for this team moving forward. How many of these people really will compete all the time.”

After using 12 different starting lineups this season, Summitt already is sorting out next season’s starting five. She told the team that Angie Bjorklund will report for the opening tip. So will Vicki Baugh and Kelley Cain, provided they overcome their knee problems and are healthy.

Cain still was distraught on Monday about not being able to play during the second half Sunday night after her surgically repaired right knee acted up.

“She felt like she was letting the team down,’’ Summitt said. “She doesn’t need to beat herself up.”

As for the remaining starting spots, Summitt told the players: “We’ve got two spots open. Start working.”

In the wake of Sunday night’s loss, Summitt said that she’s heard from several former players, primarily via text messages. Unlike the Ball State outcome, their response was predictable.

“They were shocked; they were angry,’’ Summitt said. “They’re mad about this. They said this doesn’t look like a Tennessee team. I share their feelings.”

But she’s the only one in charge of the cleanup, which has begun in earnest.

“Disappointed in myself, disappointed in the team,’’ Summitt said. “We let a lot of people down.”

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