NASHVILLE -- Tennessee's route to greater consistency runs directly through the SEC.
The Lady Vols are beginning the passage with their daily work, which began in earnest earlier this month and will set the course for their women's basketball season.
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"We've talked a lot about consistency," UT coach Holly Warlick said Thursday during the conference's media day at the Omni Hotel. "It starts in practice. If you practice hard, the result is you'll play hard in the game."
If so, the Lady Vols' results the past two seasons strongly suggest that they haven't practiced hard enough often enough. The league's preseason gathering served to underscore their recent struggles.
Check out scenes of Holly Warlick, @jaimenaredd & @mersladezz, as they represented UT at #SECTipoff in Nashville on Thursday.— Lady Vol Basketball (@LadyVol_Hoops) October 20, 2017
In the past two seasons, UT has lost 10 games to teams that didn't qualify for the NCAA tournament during that particular season. Seven of the losses were to SEC teams.
Tennessee suffered only four such losses from 1986 to 2015.
The SEC's improved depth has taken a stunning toll on the Lady Vols. Before last season, they hadn't lost to Alabama since 1984. Now they've lost three in a row to the Crimson Tide.
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"I think it wasn't necessarily anything other than how we played," forward Jaime Nared said. "We were so inconsistent last year."
Even more confounding, Tennessee won last season against conference powers South Carolina and Mississippi State, which played for the national championship in April.
After Vanderbilt's 91-63 loss in Knoxville last season, Commodores coach Stephanie White referenced the Lady Vols in saying, "I just think that sometimes they hold themselves back."
Their victory had followed a 79-61 loss at Auburn, during which Tennessee squandered an early 15-point lead.
“I really like this team. I don't have to motivate them to work hard. They come ready to work every day.” - Holly Warlick#SECTipoff pic.twitter.com/ZBiKMNOvnz— Lady Vol Basketball (@LadyVol_Hoops) October 19, 2017
"Sometimes, it's a mindset," White said on Thursday. "When you're consistently playing great teams, as you are in the SEC, there's a mentality that every athlete has to have to be on every single night."
Former Georgia coach Andy Landers, who serves as an analyst for the SEC Network, drew on his 40 years of coaching experience in reiterating the correlation between practice and consistency.
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"Consistency at the highest level, you can only realize that when you have it in practice," he said. "That was so big and important to us. For us to be consistent, we had to create a habit."
Nared and Mercedes Russell attended Thursday's event. Both players made a point of mentioning that full-scale team workouts began just weeks ago. Therefore, habits are in the formative stage.
We had a great time last night meeting our fans! Thanks to everyone for coming and helping us celebrate this game we love! pic.twitter.com/HZw7h5Aad8— Lady Vol Basketball (@LadyVol_Hoops) October 14, 2017
Russell said the early returns on the four freshmen's work ethics and attitudes are encouraging.
"None of them are really struggling with anything at all," she said. "They're working hard and giving as much as they can."
Nared's most pointed observation involved what's taking place in addition to practice.
"Since I've been here, I haven't seen this many people in the gym outside of practice," she said. "That's something that's just different this year."
Nared said there's a bulletin board in the team's locker room at Pratt Pavilion and players are recording their extra free throws. Nared said some players are logging as many as 1,000 to 1,500 per week.
"The coaches see that," Nared said. "We have cameras (there) so nobody can make up numbers."
They all count then toward the passage ahead.
This article is written by Dan Fleser from Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tenn.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.