"I think it's one of our best efforts from the beginning to the end," said Summitt, who joked during the post-game press conference that she was wearing thermal long johns for the next game because of the cold spell.
East Tennessee has been exposed to frigid temperatures of late and with the post-game pressroom close to an arena exit, cold air permeated the area as the 14,363 fans headed home, apparently heeding Summitt's advice to attend early church services and then come to the game, which tipped a few hours earlier than usual to accommodate television.
"I thought it was a great crowd, considering that it was a noon start," Summitt said. "I am very, very pleased. Our fans are the greatest."
And while it may be cold in the Southeastern region – Ole Miss' charter plane had to land in Tupelo after the game because the Oxford airport doesn't have the capability to de-ice planes, and it would have been stuck there until the winter storm passed – Summitt has brought enough heat to infuse her team with a new attitude.
It's hard to dispute the results – Summitt's intensity ratcheted up after the loss to Baylor in mid-December – as the Lady Vols have won six consecutives games by an average of 34.6 points per game with only the contest at LSU being in single digits.
"We want the team to set the bar at the same place that our staff wants to set the bar," Summitt said. "And that is you've got to compete on everything. You've got to know your scouting report.
"They have to be just as invested as we are, and they haven't always been. But I feel like they're starting to really buy in, to taking ownership of this team. And when you take ownership great things happen.
"That is one of the reasons I want to meet with each one of them individually and just make sure that we're all on the same page."
Those meetings will take place during Tennessee's upcoming road trip to Florida – an overnight trip allows plenty of chances to talk, either on the charter flight or at the hotel – but Shekinna Stricklen's one-on-one chat came a little earlier. It started Saturday during practice and continued afterwards.
"I was pleased how Shekinna responded," Summitt said. "Because I will tell you I wasn't kind to her the other day, because I wasn't happy. I told her, ‘You should be an All-American.' And she played like one today, and I thought that was really key.
"I started to leave (Saturday after practice ended) and then I went back in the locker room and had a little prayer meeting. My prayers were answered.
"She responded. And I didn't know how she might respond, but very pleased. I just said, ‘You've got to lead by example. You've got to hold your teammates accountable. You've got to be a big-time player. If you're going to play at the next level, right now, I couldn't recommend you.' I think she kind of heard what I said."
Stricklen certainly did, as she was aggressive from the opening tip. She had 14 points and eight rebounds by halftime and finished with a double-double at 18 points and 13 boards with two assists and two steals.
"I can say Coach chewed me out," Stricklen said with a smile. "We had a good long talk, and she was just on me telling me that I haven't been aggressive and that I needed to step my game up to another level."
Stricklen started the season at point guard and has moved to power forward because post depth took a blow from injuries to Vicki Baugh and Alyssia Brewer, who are still more in rehab than playing mode right now.
Stricklen also can line up at shooting guard and small forward, making her one of the most versatile players on the court, but the shifts take some adjustment and while Summitt has been patient – Stricklen is the only player to start all 17 games this season – she also made it clear that the junior needed to elevate her play on offense.
"I had a new role since I had started playing inside, but the coaches told me, ‘Things don't change. You still create and just play hard and look for shots and get your teammates open,' " Stricklen said. "Basically what they told me is that I'm in the inside, but I still can step out and be a guard."
Stricklen's full offensive arsenal was on display Sunday as she scored in transition, hit three-pointers, posted up and dished to teammates, including a no-look pass from near the top of the key to Taber Spani, who buried the baseline jumper in the first half.
"When she does decide to shoot a jump shot or post up, step back or shoot a three," Glory Johnson said, outlining the weapons while Stricklen laughed, "she's really hard to guard, and especially when she puts the ball down on penetration when she drives to the basket. She's hard to guard in practice, so I'm sure she's hard to guard (for everyone else).
"I think when she brings that confidence, also it brings everyone else confidence and it brings energy to the game, so I love when she does that."
It certainly was infectious for Meighan Simmons, who played just seven minutes in the first half because of fouls, but scored 16 points in the second half and added three assists.
"It does," Simmons said. "It really does. It gets me hyped. When Strick gets into her flow, she just looks so smooth. She looks smooth, but she's getting hyped, and it gets me hyped, and I'm like, ‘Let's go.'
"That's just how it all starts. I think one person plays to their potential and gets everybody else in sync, and it kind of brings everybody together, and we continue to play hard."
Tennessee has gotten results in different games with assorted stars on the offensive end from the post power of Kelley Cain and Johnson to the marksmanship of Angie Bjorklund and Spani to the high-octane scoring of Stricklen and Simmons.
"I think we all can trust each other to go and get the job done, no matter what," Johnson said. "We all do different things; we all have different roles. Whenever Pat needs a rebounder, whenever she needs a defensive stopper or scorer, she knows who to put in, and she has a lot of people to choose from.
"I think (player roles) are somewhat clearly defined, but at the same time whenever Coach asks you to do something and you think you're just a shooter and she asks you to play defense and you have to get down and play defense, you have to change your whole mindset and be like, ‘OK, well she needs me to be a defensive stopper, so I need to be a defensive stopper.'
"Yet, offensively if you're not hitting your shots, you're not going to be the scorer of the game, of course. Like Angie, sometimes she's on and sometimes she's off but she knows that she still has to play a role and a significant role on the team. When she can pick up her defense it's great and it helps everyone else and the next scorer, Meighan Simmons, can lift up her role as an offensive scorer."
Angie Bjorklund started the game 0-4 from behind the arc and was just 1-4 from long range in the second but she hit two midrange shots, finished with nine points and, as usual, played solid defense.
Bjorklund was assigned to Ole Miss' Kayla Melson, the senior guard who lit up Vanderbilt a week ago for 30 points. Melson was 0-7 in the first half while guarded by Bjorklund and finished 4-23 from the field for 11 points.
The team defense also has been stout for the Lady Vols.
"I think our defense today was pretty solid," Summitt said. "We had a few situations where we weren't in the right place at the right time. When we were in our five defense (everyone switches), we didn't switch out as quickly as we needed to, but overall I thought this team had great focus and great commitment."
Sophomore guard Kamiko Williams has made steady progress in Summitt's demanding system and has tallied eight blocks in the past two games.
"Kamiko, I talked to her about giving in to fatigue and if you're not in shape then you can't be in the starting lineup, you can't play very much so you need to decide what you're going to do," Summitt said. "I thought today she had a really, really good game."
Simmons also has been instructed to elevate her defense or watch from the sideline.
"Meighan Simmons had a great game without any doubt," Summitt said. "She now knows what defense is. It's not something you put up in the back yard, so I had to explain that to her."
Summitt has been patient because she put the first-year player at the unfamiliar spot of point guard, a position Simmons is trying to absorb on the fly while also being a dependable scorer. But Simmons got the message to defend better or sit and she drew the assignment of freshman guard Valencia McFarland, a penetrator and Ole Miss' second-leading scorer.
"She's pretty good, and I give her her props," Simmons said. "She's a good player. One thing that my teammates were telling me as well as coach Mickie (DeMoss) and Holly (Warlick) (was) to stay over her right hand and force her to her left side to where our post players can get in and they can help.
"Other than that, she kind of picked up my defense a little bit because I was going to sit my behind on the bench if I didn't play defense. She's making me work while I'm making her work is kind of what happened today."
Simmons opened the game by fouling McFarland on a three-point, and Ole Miss took a 3-0 lead at the 18:17 mark of the first half when the freshman swished all three.
"The atmosphere was great," McFarland said. "I loved it. I was ready."
Tennessee got on the scoreboard when Cain posted up, got doubled and fired the ball to Bjorklund, who hit the 16-footer. Stricklen rebounded a teammate's missed trey and flipped in the ball for a 4-3 lead at the 16:45 mark, and the Lady Vols never trailed again. Simmons drove in transition and hit the pull-up for a 6-3 at the 15:35 mark.
During the first media timeout at the 15:15 mark, Summitt emphasized getting touches for Cain.
"Kelley has really fought through some fatigue and some issues with her lower back," Summitt said. "She's running the floor well. I couldn't believe we weren't getting her the ball early. So once we started to, I thought she was great."
The 6'6 center scored the next six points on a perfect lob from Spani, a tip-in of her own miss and then a transition layup on a feed from Stricklen after beating everyone down the floor, quite a feat for a player battling a sore hip and lower back who stretches into pretzel shapes before every game to get loose.
After Cain hit that layup, Ole Miss Coach Renee Ladner called a 30-second timeout to remind her team to slow down Tennessee in transition.
"If I had about 20 timeouts, I'd have been in great shape," Ladner said. "We did not want Tennessee to go on 10- and 12-point runs. We thought if we could keep them within five, we'd be OK. But we had to able to match them on the other end, we had to get key shots, and we struggled offensively."
The sight of Cain hustling down the floor inspires her teammates, too, because they know how much ice she is packed in after a game.
"It does, energy like crazy," Johnson said. "When Kelley runs and everyone else can run with her, it's just that much better. We know Kelley's running. We know she has energy at that point in time. And when she has the most energy, which is normally at the beginning of the game, you've got to run, you've got to push it.
"That's to our advantage. When she runs, she's gone. And once she gets inside position … "
"It's over," Simmons interjected.
"It's over for the other team, yeah," Johnson said, smiling at the freshman's exuberance.
It was over for Ole Miss basically in the first half as Tennessee led by double digits, 23-12, when Johnson and Williams paired to finish a play. Williams came out of a defensive scrum with the ball for the steal and found Johnson in transition at the rim with 7:12 left before the break.
By halftime, Tennessee led 42-22 and already had a 27-12 gap on the boards while shooting 50.0 percent overall despite a 3-11 line from behind the arc. Subtract the trey attempts and the Lady Vols shot 60 percent in the first half and still snared 11 offensive boards.
"Believe it or not, rebounding," Ladner said, when asked what she focused on in the scouting report when facing a team as deep as Tennessee. "You couldn't really tell that today.
"This is what I think you have to do with Tennessee. I think you have to stop their transition game. That was a huge, huge point of emphasis all week and we actually had five days to prepare for them. We were not successful in doing that today, but their transition is outstanding and the addition of Meighan Simmons has made them much better. To me, she is the biggest difference in their team.
"So, stopping their transition game us number one, trying to keep a hand or at least a little pressure on their shooters and, then of course, trying to be very physical on the boards with Tennessee. Those were keys for us. And then offensively limiting our turnovers. I thought we had some success with that, but on the other end they were just too much, probably at positions one through five today."
A bright spot for Ole Miss was the play of McFarland, who is just a freshman but wasn't overwhelmed on Tennessee's big stage. The 5'4 sprite once even tried to affect Cain's outlet pass and then thought better of it and hustled down court.
"I use my quickness to my advantage," McFarland said with a smile.
Ladner added, "She's mentally very strong. We're very fortunate to have her in our program, and the best thing is I'll have her three more years. She is a seasoned player right now. She is instinctual. She understands the game. She can make big shots for us.
"Right at this point, she's a little bit unselfish. I think she needs to score a little bit more for us. I don't think size has ever been a factor. She may only go to their knees, but her heart is so much bigger. Her understanding of the game is incredible. She does things that we cannot teach. I am one happy coach."
That wasn't Ladner's state during much of the game, but she also recognizes the fact that she's got a young Rebel team.
"I think we have a good little team that's learning," Ladner said. "Eight out of 10 kids have never really played on this level before, five of them being freshmen. But that's no excuse for effort. You should always put forth great effort, and we should always be in a position to rebound."
No Rebel player got more than five rebounds. Two Lady Vol players, Stricklen and Cain, were in double digits with 13 and 10, respectively. Johnson added six in 20 minutes of play while Alicia Manning also grabbed six in 18 minutes, and Tennessee dominated overall, 53-31, with 21 coming on the offensive end despite shooting 50 percent for the game.
"Pat was talking about how we're not going to get anywhere, we're not going to win very much if we don't get our defense and rebounding down," Johnson said. "I think that kind of hit us hard the last couple of practices, and just the guards crashing the boards today was crazy.
"There were so many people around me when I was trying to crash the boards. It was great just knowing that we're going to come up with the rebound no matter what, and I think that's what all our guards were motivated to do this game."
Summitt used nine players in the first half with Stricklen, Bjorklund, Cain and Johnson handling the bulk of the minutes before the break.
Stricklen's aggressive play set the tone for the half, and the Lady Vols responded by keeping an up-tempo pace for the first 20 minutes. At the 12:39 mark of the first half, Summitt brought in Johnson for Spani and Williams for Simmons, who had two fouls.
Summitt also has been emphasizing ball movement and on the next possession Williams, at the top of the court, passed to Stricklen in the corner, who fired to Bjorklund on the wing, who found Cain inside for a layup and a 16-10 lead. Stricklen nailed a three for a 19-12 lead at the 9:14 mark, and Ladner's hopes of staying within single-digit striking distance ended.
"I thought our ball movement was really sharp and good," Summitt said. "We got a lot of people touches."
Johnson scored in transition, as did Stricklen twice in a row, once getting the defensive board and going rim to rim and drawing a foul. Stricklen hit one free throw for a 26-12 lead with 6:11 left in the first half. Williams got an offensive board off a teammate's missed trey and hit the stick-back for a 28-12 lead at the 5:33 mark.
Manning grabbed an offensive board and fired to an open Stricklen, who drained the three and then hit another one when Briana Bass found her after Stricklen used a double screen by Johnson and Bjorklund to get open for a 34-16 lead with 3:37 left before halftime.
Bjorklund stuck a midrange shot after a shot-fake and stepping in front of the arc, and Spani re-entered the game shortly before halftime, drove the baseline, got fouled and hit both free throws for a 38-20 lead at the 1:11 mark.
Bass lobbed a pass ahead of Johnson on a fast break, and Williams worked the clock down to a few ticks before driving and banking in a short shot for the 42-22 halftime lead.
The second half started with Simmons nailing a baseline jumper off an offensive board and then with Summitt screaming, "Meighan, go!", the freshman went coast to coast after grabbing a defensive board and hit the layup for a 46-27 lead with 18:41 left in the game.
"I think the engine is Meighan Simmons," Ladner said. "I think she's the difference in the team. I thought that was the missing piece last year. They had to play people out of position. Now, she can take Shekinna Stricklen and play her at the two, three and four, where Shekinna was having to handle the ball a lot last year for them.
"I think Kelley Cain is much better this year with the addition of Meighan Simmons and then you've got your shooters. Goodness, they really don't have any weaknesses at any position, per se."
Bjorklund hit a three-pointer in transition from a Simmons pass, and then Bjorklund found Simmons for a trey and a 52-27 lead with 17:29 left, prompting Ladner to call timeout.
Summitt went to her bench, and the points kept coming as Manning scored on a drive for a 59-35 lead with 11:42 left. Stricklen got to the line after being fouled on a midrange shot for a 61-35 lead and when Johnson was fouled at the rim, she made one charity toss and missed the second one, but Manning got the rebound and fired to Bjorklund, who missed the three, but Johnson got the board, was fouled and made one shot.
Simmons drained a long three that wowed the crowd with the shot clock about to expire on a pass from Manning, and Tennessee led 65-35 with 9:20 left. The Lady Vols' next points came after Williams went to the floor for a loose ball rebound and got it to Manning, who got the ball to Simmons, who hit the jumper for a 67-35 lead with 8:38 left.
That got Williams a low-five from Summitt as she came to the sideline, as Ladner again called timeout.
"I told the kids there are a couple of things you can't control," Ladner said. "You can't control the environment. It's an incredible venue to play in. I want you to get excited about that. I didn't think we looked fearful, but I certainly didn't think we handled anything very well. Number two, you can't really control officiating, so there's not a lot to say about that. The only thing you can control is yourself.
"I thought Tennessee dominated us, for the most part, throughout the entire course of the game. The Vanderbilt (comeback) win, we had a big win, we were playing at home. This team has been an unusual team in that we have come from behind in several games to win. … I just was sad that we didn't bring the same fight. But maybe we were fighting and Tennessee was just too much for us."
Despite the big lead, Summitt remained upright near the scorer's table and in coaching mode as Williams went for the fake on Ole Miss' next possession and fouled the shooter.
When Summitt shouted an admonition not to do so, Williams yelled back, "Yes, ma'am," prompting laughter from a crowd that enjoyed the offensive explosion in the two-game SEC home stand.
Summitt used 11 players in the second half – freshman Lauren Avant entered with 6:53 left and at the 4:40 mark Spani and Bass returned and Sydney Smallbone, who grabbed two defensive boards, entered the game. Tennessee led 76-41 at that point, and the reserves maintained the pace, the highlights being an Avant drive and layup high off the glass and Spani scoring inside at the rim and on a 19-footer for the final 86-46 score.
Ole Miss missed its first eight field goal attempts, and McFarland and Shae Nelson combined for all of the Rebels' first-half points until Pa'Sonna Hope hit a layup on an assist from McFarland with 3:54 left before halftime. McFarland, who suffered a shoulder injury in a Dec. 5 game against South Alabama, and Nelson combined for 20 of Ole Miss' 22 first-half points.
McFarland led Ole Miss with 16 points while Nelson, who is also a freshman, tallied 10 and hit two treys. Melson finished with 11 points. The Rebels had four assists, 12 turnovers and four steals.
Ole Miss shot 26.6 percent (17-64) overall, 21.4 percent (3-14) from behind the arc and 90.0 percent (9-10) from the line. McFarland was a perfect 6-6 from the line.
"I think Valencia McFarland is a very mature freshman," Ladner said. "She certainly does not play like a freshman for us, and I think she stepped up to the plate. I think she loves this environment. It was her first true test and I thought she succeeded at a very high level."
Tennessee had four players in double figures led by 18 each from Stricklen and Simmons, who was 8-10 from the field. Spani was 6-8 from the field for 14 points while Johnson added 10. Cain and Bjorklund chipped in with nine points each. The Lady Vols had 15 assists, eight turnovers, six blocks and four steals.
Tennessee shot 50.0 percent (35-70) overall, 28.6 percent (6-21) from long range and 66.7 percent (10-15) from the line.
"We've had some long practices and some tough challenges, and this team, for the most part, has responded very, very well," Summitt said.
Tennessee will return to practice Monday before getting a day off Tuesday. Next on the schedule is Florida for a game in Gainesville on Thursday and then ESPN Game Day will be in town Saturday for an evening matchup with Vanderbilt.
Summitt's theme with Stricklen was about "more leadership and holding other people accountable," and it's likely something Bjorklund has heard, too. The head coach intends to use the road trip for some quality conversations.
"She and Angie Bjorklund are our two captains, and sometimes they speak up and sometimes they don't," Summitt said. "But now I think they've gotten it. I am going to meet individually when we go on the road with every player and we're going to identify what they think their role is, could be, should be."
The puzzle is still being sorted out as the coaches try to determine how the assorted pieces of the deepest Tennessee team in recent memory fit together. The Lady Vols could grow, literally, if the 6'4 Baugh and the 6'3 Brewer are able to make it back soon.
"Tennessee is an incredible team," Ladner said. "I thought they out-efforted us, outplayed us in every capacity. I didn't think that we challenged them very well and then Tennessee did what they do best.
"They rebounded, guarded the heck out of us and gave us fits all day."
VIDEO COVERAGE: Post-game press conference videos.
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt
Lady Vol players Meighan Simmons, Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen
Ole Miss Coach Renee Ladner and player Valencia McFarland