The NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament is just around the corner as the games begin on March 23.
For the Tennessee Lady Volunteers, that means eight days and less than 200 hours to prepare for, arguably, the most important event of their year. The team has proven itself resilient time and time again, suffering disappointing losses and injuries throughout the season.
Last week the Lady Vols fell to Texas A&M in the Women's SEC Tournament semifinals, but head coach Holly Warlick said the disappointment didn't have any lasting effects. She believes the team's confidence level is where it needs to be.
"I think this team has always been positive and they think they can win every game, which I like," Warlick said. "I think they understand that we have to go back to work and get some practice time in and get better at certain things, but I think I feel good about going into the tournament."
Warlick didn't think the loss demanded more strenuous or longer practice sessions. Instead she felt the team, lacking necessary depth due to injuries, needed some time off to regroup and repair.
"We're just trying to heal right now," she said. "We're doing a lot of individual things primarily on the defensive end and then we'll start our team concept stuff on Saturday and work with our team."
While conditioning is important for the upbeat tempo the Lady Vols set during game time, Warlick said this was no time to push the team. She said there is a time and place for tough practices, but this week is a time for more focused individual work.
"I wanted us to stay in shape, but there was no way we could come back and have a three hour full blown practice because we're just banged up right now," Warlick said. "I think it was important for us to get some time off and heal and get some rehab in and then focus on individual needs that we thought we needed to address."
Selection Monday takes place on March 18, when players and coaches will huddle around the TV, anxiously awaiting their official seed for the tournament. Warlick said she believes the team will be marked as a No. 3 seed.
As a first year head coach of a team predominately made of freshmen, Warlick said she was satisfied with the lower seeding.
"(In August) we hadn't even seen them on the court," Warlick said of her 2012-2013 team. "They looked good on paper, but we hadn't seen them at all together and they really gelled and got better and the freshmen have stepped up, the sophomores have been great leaders, our seniors have been great leaders, so it's kind of all come together in a positive way for us."
While younger teammates may not realize the importance of a week of practice or failing to reach the Women's SEC Tournament Championship game, Warlick said it hits home with the seniors.
"They understand the importance of each day getting ready," she said. "When you're younger you don't necessarily relate to, 'well, this may be my last game' and I think they understand the importance of each day and each practice and each moment that they can get better and help lead this team. They feel what any senior feels. They have to come and bring it and (each) play their best ... game."
As it comes down the the final moments of the season, seniors Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams don't know how many games they have until their last, but Spani knows they just have to take it one game at a time if they want their careers to last as long as possible.
"NCAA championships are why you play," Spani said. "Hopefully we'll have up to six games. But we got to take it one at a time. Honestly I think the biggest part of our season is still left to come."
For now, the team will focus on an area that proved weak during the Women's SEC Tournament.
"The next three days, we're gonna do all defensive stuff on the court," Warlick said. "All defensive individual instruction and trying to get us better individually on the defensive end."