By Beth Rucker
The Associated Press
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee has the size and skill to compete with any women’s basketball team in the nation, Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt believes. But she wonders if the seventh-ranked Lady Vols have the heart.
The players perform well on the practice floor when Summitt and her assistants are there to be push them, but she said they’ve lacked the self-motivation to play the same way during games.
“We’ve got to be a whole lot tougher,” Summitt said. “We’ve got to hunt paint points. We’ve got to just be warriors on the boards. I think they’re starting to understand that. We can’t be kind to this group, because they’re not self-starters. I don’t know why. You look at our team right now, we’ve got veteran players. For our coaching staff, it’s just really frustrating.”
Summitt has been critical of the Lady Vols’ lack of leadership, but no more so than after a 65-54 loss at No. 2 Baylor on Tuesday night when they shot just 25 percent. Summitt said her team was intimidated some by Baylor’s record crowd but mostly by imposing post Brittney Griner, who had 21 points and nine of the Lady Bears’ 13 blocked shots.
Though Tennessee (9-2) is at home on “The Summitt” court for its next three games, things won’t get much easier. Third-ranked Stanford (6-1) visits on Sunday night looking to earn coach Tara VanDerveer her 800th victory after a 91-71 loss at No. 22 DePaul on Thursday night.
The Cardinal took advantage of the Lady Vols’ poor play a season ago in a 67-52 win at Stanford, when Kayla Pederson scored 16 points and Nnemkadi Ogwumike had 14.
“That’s the worst thing that could happen to us, to have Stanford go in and lose to DePaul,” Summitt said. “We’ve got to pick up early and really get up in their grill, if you will. Hopefully we’re going to be committed to our defense.”
In case the Baylor game didn’t get enough of her players’ attention this week, before practice Wednesday Summitt outlined where each has fallen short this season. During practice, they were given the option to go hard or return to the locker room.
The Lady Vols also are in charge of coming up with their own scouting reports for Stanford, an approach Summitt has successfully used to motivate players in the past.
She has reminded them repeatedly to talk more to each other on the floor and make sure every player touches the ball during offensive sets before anyone gets a shot off, unlike the “me-first” kind of shooting that led to the poor offensive performance against Baylor.
“Coach told me there’s a difference between being a leader in a positive manner and being a leader in a negative manner,” junior forward Vicki Baugh said. “She sees within our team that a lot of people are trying to step up and lead, but it’s not so positive. I think right now everyone needs to take care of themselves and their own business before they can tell someone else what they need to do.”
Baugh, who Summitt thinks can be one of the team’s top leaders, thinks the Lady Vols will improve as their health improves. They’ve been without a solid post game with Baugh, center Kelley Cain and forward Alyssia Brewer all missing practice regularly because of injury issues.
“When that comes, I think we’ll learn chemistry. A lot of good things will come from that,” Baugh said. “We’ve got to get back on the court and practice consistently, and you’ll see the difference in the games. What happens in practice happens in games.”