KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Pat Summitt says her freshmen-laden squad has finally started to get it: You can’t win just because Tennessee is on the front of your jersey.

And the light may have come on just in time as the young Lady Volunteers begin the trek to keep the program’s unblemished streak of reaching the regional semifinals alive.

Now all Summitt has to do is keep the light on.

“I think it finally, hopefully, might have sunk in for them, in terms of what they have to do to be successful,” Summitt said. “You just don’t show up and play.”

Things seemed to click for the Lady Vols (22-10) when they watched their first NCAA selection show on Monday night, drawing a No. 5 seed and No. 12 Ball State as the first round opponent. They were treated to a broadcast that included clips of other teams’ success against them and talk of Tennessee’s “off season.”

Since then Summitt has been fairly pleased with her players’ attitudes and focus in practice. But with seven freshmen, two sophomores and only one senior, she knows there’s still plenty that could go wrong.

“I could sit here and drive myself nuts about how are we going to respond and who’s going to show up. I think the thing for our coaches right now that is so important is that we bring a calmness and direct approach to how we want to do things,” she said.

The Hall of Fame coach with eight national titles on her resume – including the last two – has been reminding the Lady Vols to take everything one possession at a time, one opponent at a time.

Because of its inconsistent play, Tennessee has not been able to handle the best effort it always gets from every team it plays.

“It’s even magnified when you go into the tournament because it’s a one and done, you win or go home,” Summitt said.

The coach also doesn’t want her players thinking a Final Four bid is impossible.

Tennessee took 10-losses into the 1997 NCAA tournament and ended up winning the whole thing.

Summitt said she plans on showing a highlight video called “Cinderella” produced for fans after that season was over to the Lady Vols on their bus ride to the first and second round site in Bowling Green, Ky.

While their youth may not have served the Lady Vols well this season, they are tested beyond their years having played the toughest schedule in the nation.

In 20 games against Tennessee’s 16 opponents who are competing in the NCAA tournament, the Lady Vols hold an 11-9 record.

Summitt said the schedule has made the players more tough-minded.

“They’ve been in the trenches. They’ve had to dig deep a lot of times, and they’ve had to come from behind, and they’ve had to deal with losses,” she said. “I think the schedule that we put together for them, while it might have been a little over their head when we started into it, but I think right now it’s one of the best things that happened to this team.

“We’ll find out.”

AP-ES-03-19-09 1908EDT


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