KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Tennessee Lady Vols are struggling in record fashion.
They scored the fewest points in program history in what was the second-largest margin of defeat in a 72-44 pounding at No. 2 Notre Dame on Monday. This after Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike dropped 42 points on Tennessee last month - the second most by a single player.
And looming over it all is Pat Summitt coaching through early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.
"No matter how many games we go out there and lose, we have to stick through it,'' sophomore guard Meighan Simmons said Wednesday.
"We have to fight through it, and make sure that we take one day at a time and take one game at a time, and make sure that we get back to Final Four because I know if Pat ever coaches again she wants to remember this program as the team that went out and tried to win a Final Four before she stopped coaching.''
This season began almost like any other at Tennessee with a No. 3 preseason ranking and the goal a ninth national championship despite Summitt's announcement in late August of her diagnosis. But the Lady Vols (14-5, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) already have more losses than all of last season (three).
Some have been unexpected and downright ugly.
They lost in overtime at unranked Virginia 69-64, then lost at home to Brittney Griner and No. 1 Baylor 76-67. Tennessee lost 97-80 at No. 4 Stanford on Dec. 20 when the Lady Vols gave up 42 to Ogwumike - the most by a single player since Texas' Clarissa Davis had 45 against UT on Dec. 9, 1987. Mississippi's Peggy Gillom also scored 45 points against the Lady Vols on Feb. 4, 1978.
But this latest loss marked a new low.
The 44 points were the fewest in the school's modern history, just off a 69-46 loss to Louisiana Tech in the 1982 Final Four and a 77-45 loss to Belmont on Jan. 17, 1976. They couldn't shoot against Notre Dame and didn't defend.
Tennessee had an extended and closed practice Wednesday until near the end when reporters were allowed to watch a bit. Summitt said the coaches were in charge at this session.
"They were in charge the other night,'' Summitt said. "Today, we were in charge. I thought they responded pretty well overall. Still, one of the most disappointing losses we've had in a long time.''
Summitt said she was very disappointed by a lack of intensity and not following the game plan.
"It's the reason we're back out here. We know we have to get a lot better. They took it to us. They never let up, and obviously, we never found a way to bring that energy we needed to have, that toughness,'' Summitt said. "You just have to give them all the credit and we're back here trying to learn a real valuable lesson. That's what we're doing.''
The team has apparently learned how to deal with Summitt's illness, making several adjustments to ease the demands on her: Associate coach Holly Warlick speaks to reporters after each game and handles more of the coaching duties in practice along with Mickie DeMoss and Dean Lockwood.
But this isn't about Summitt. The coaches are looking for more energy and effort from the players and both Summitt and Warlick think the Notre Dame loss could be a turning point.
"So it's going to be interesting to see how our team responds,'' Warlick said.
Tennessee still ranked second in RPI according to the NCAA on Monday and also has No. 1 strength of schedule, which is challenging even by Tennessee standards. The Lady Vols already having played 10 ranked opponents, including five in the top 10, with at least two more such games left this regular season.
They also have dealt with a variety of injuries that kept all 11 Lady Vols on the roster from practicing together for the first time until last Sunday, a day before the loss at Notre Dame.
"We have to learn to be disciplined after a game like that,'' Simmons said. "We have to be able to come back and respond. Forget about it, it's in the past, it's in the history books, we just have to move to the next game and not worry about it.''
The Lady Vols should get back on track against Alabama (10-10, 0-6), and this challenging week ends Sunday with their third game in seven days with a trip to No. 17 Georgia. Tennessee beat Georgia 80-51 earlier this month.
Tennessee hasn't won a national championship, or even reached the Final Four since 2008, and this year's team still wants to end that drought, especially with Summitt's uncertain future.
"I think that this game really just put a lot of things in perspective for us,'' senior forward Alicia Manning said. "Us seniors, we want to go out and get that national championship.''
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
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