"I talked about the slow starts, and I think it starts in their warmups," Summitt said. "I think we're very casual. We have a lot of casual players. If you watch our warmups and say, ‘Is that game intensity? Absolutely not.' And that starts with our seniors, but we have to have leadership, and everyone has to take ownership of how we do things here. I really think we have too many casual people just going through warmups to get to the game instead of warming up preparing to start and play the game."
So, with the clock running, Tennessee practiced game intensity Wednesday while warming up with layup, shooting and dribbling drills. The team will take this newfound pre-game focus to Auburn, Ala., tonight when the No. 7-ranked Lady Vols (12-3, 2-0) take on the Auburn Tigers (9-7, 0-3) at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum (9 p.m. EST, CSS, Lady Vols Radio Network).
Auburn's probable starters are a three-guard, two-post player lineup: Senior guards Nicole Louden (5'7, Paterson, N.J.); Natasha Brackett (5'9, Charlotte, N.C.); and Tiffany Presley (5'6, Birmingham, Ala.) and junior forward Louise Emeagi (6'1, Melbourne, Australia); and junior center Marita Payne (6'5, Melbourne, Australia).
"I have to find five players who can get us off to strong starts," Summitt said. "We should want the first four minutes. We should want to win the first four minutes of every game. I'll probably stay with the same lineup, but if we go down to Auburn, and we're not getting it done, then we've got to look at making a change.
"There's too much talent on this team not to have five people who are competitive when we start. People jump out on us typically. They (opponents) know if they dig a hole, then they never get out of it. We dig a big old hole, and then we manage to crawl back and beat people. That's not how I want this team to accept playing the game. I want to get out of the gate really fast."
Summitt is convinced the tone, or lack thereof, set in warmups, is the key to turning around the way her team starts the game. An incident at Rutgers involving assistant coach Holly Warlick underscored that.
"I think that's it," Summitt said. "Holly had a woman off the street at Rutgers talk about how our warmup was so laidback. I had someone from the Connecticut game – wasn't off the street, someone that I knew – said the difference in the intensity of Connecticut's warmup and ours was night and day. At Vanderbilt I planted someone in there to watch."
It must have been casual. Tennessee fell behind by 15 points in the first half against the Commodores but led by Jackson's three-point shooting and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood's buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the first half, the Lady Vols evened the score at 37-37 and went on to win 79-65.
Summitt had warned her players about not getting caught in a Vandy screen and leaving a three-point shooter open on the left baseline. Jackson ran into a Vandy screen on the Commodores first possession of the game and did just that.
"She redeemed herself with those four threes," Summitt said. "Literally I looked up and said, ‘Well, Brittany just put us back in the game.' That happened like boom, boom, boom. That was a great momentum switch for us. I thought Gatewood's three was big at halftime."
"We were hoping that Shanna (Zolman) would get the last shot," Wiley-Gatewood said. "But they had covered her. Dom (Redding) got the ball, and she noticed I was open."
"That was a great team win," Jackson said. "Different people stepped up at different times. I hit a couple of key shots. Shanna hit definitely some key shots. Everyone just stepped up. That was how we came back and how we won that game. We played together."
Jackson is usually stoic on the court, even after draining a long-range three. But against Vanderbilt she let loose a few fist pumps and outward signs of emotion.
"It was an exciting game," Jackson. "I don't usually show a lot of emotion, but it was there. Hopefully it will be there the rest of the season. I thought we played really good together. It was emotional."
Summitt is sticking with her three seniors in the starting lineup, but she made it clear she expects more from them, especially point guard Loree Moore. Because of the layout of Vandy's gym with its baseline benches, Summitt was relying on Moore and the seniors to lead the team when they were on the far end.
"It was a lack of leadership," Summitt said, explaining why she benched Moore in the second half and started freshman Alexis Hornbuckle. We didn't have the intensity on the ball we needed. We were standing on offense. Defensively we were breaking down. No one said a word during that time. That's when those seniors go, ‘C'mon.' But they're at the far end. That's the thing about that court. We've got to have great leadership, because I am so far removed, and my point guard has got her back to me. The team can't communicate with the bench. You expect your seniors to be the ones that step up."
"She just wasn't happy with my leadership and how we were down in the first half, and we didn't have a good start in the beginning of the game," Moore said. "That was her biggest frustration with me. That's why she sat me. I was just making sure I was a cheerleader and making sure I was still in the game (from the bench) and helping out Sa'de and Alexis."
Summitt's assistants convinced her to put Moore back in the game in the second half, specifically Nikki Caldwell.
"Really all of them but Nikki was the one who said, ‘We need her back in the game,' " Summitt said.
The third senior, Shyra Ely, also didn't escape Summitt's wrath because of her defense.
"Her defense in that game didn't even sputter," Summitt said. "I didn't think it had enough energy to sputter. She's got to bring more at the 3 (position). She could be really a tenacious defender on top of the floor and generate some more offense for herself. I think she plays conservative at times. She should have made that ball game a miserable experience for whichever player she's guarding. Ely's not defending or rebounding as well from the 3. But with (Sidney) Spencer and Fluker and (Sybil) Dosty and Anosike, you've got to think of the number of people we've got in the 4 and 5 spots."
In other words, Ely has to perform on the perimeter, because the 6'5 Fluker and the 6'4 Anosike have teamed up to be a very effective combo in the paint.
"They do present a difficult matchup for some of our opponents, because of their size and mobility," Summitt said. "Tye'sha is a very mobile player and has good first-step quickness. Nicky is even more athletic and much quicker from point A to point B. I think that helps us become a better defensive team and a harder team to defend as well."
Dosty, a 6'3 freshman center, didn't see action against Vandy because of game tempo, but Summitt is still seeking ways to get her more minutes and hopes to get her on the floor against Auburn.
Sophomore Dominique Redding will not make the weekday trip to Auburn or next week's Thursday trip to South Carolina because Summitt doesn't want her to miss class. Summitt was disappointed in Redding's classroom performance last semester – she is academically qualified, but Summitt think she's a better student than her grades reflect.
It's one more indication that Summitt won't hesitate to take action or stir things up when necessary. The seniors have received Summitt's message.
"We're going to change up some of our (pre-game) routines and try a different look," Moore said.
"We've got to take ownership of our team," Jackson said. "We just have to come out in warmups, and that's where it starts. We've definitely got to change our intensity in warmups. We've got to step up our leadership."
Hornbuckle, a freshman guard who has said she leans on Moore for support and guidance, has also received the message. After playing in both a home and an away SEC game, she understands the importance of intensity.
"I just think we've got to bring it 40 minutes, and we didn't do that in the Vandy game," Hornbuckle said. "I learned a lot from SEC home game and SEC away game. You've got to bring it every game. It's not a walk in the park at all. At all. Not even close. The next day at practice is harder than the game sometimes, but that will only get you better and stronger quicker."
GOOD DOG: Give an assist to the Summitt family's yellow Labrador retriever, Sally Sue Summitt, for a fortuitous meeting with Joe Ciampi last summer in the Seagrove area of Florida's Gulf Coast. Summitt had always wanted to learn Ciampi's matchup zone, which he used to great effect against SEC teams. He retired from Auburn last season so she finally had a chance.
"I was at the beach. They (the Ciampis) have a place right across the street from us. I ran into him one morning. I was walking the dog. He was getting ready to run," Summitt said. "We were talking, and he said, ‘I'm thinking about doing some consulting work.' And I said ‘What are you going to do because Joe I've always wanted to learn that matchup.' And he said, ‘Well I'll teach it to you.' So Buzz and I brought him in for a day. They came in and taught it to our staff."
Summitt and UT men's coach Buzz Peterson, who runs a point zone, soaked in the intricacies of Ciampi's matchup. Ciampi took his teachings to a number of schools, including Stanford, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Michigan State.
When Summitt had a fall retreat for her staff at the beach, Ciampi stopped by.
"He's got a wealth of knowledge," she said. "He's got so much experience. We had a great time. He shared a lot with us. We shared with him. He can tell you how to beat a matchup, too. He plays it, and he knows what the hardest things are to defend."
Summitt said the principles of the zone are fairly simple.
"It's man-to-man on the ball with ball pressure and four people helping," she said. "You don't extend beyond the 3-point line. It's one on the ball and four in the paint. You have to learn to sprint to your coverage. Their defense takes the shape of the offense. That's why it's called a matchup. If everybody matches up and you guys are all four out on the perimeter, it should look like man. If they set a 1-3-1, it looks like we're in a 1-3-1. If they set a 2-3, we're in a 2-3, because the offense (then) takes the shape of the defense. And then there's specific coverage you have to have."
The execution isn't as easy as it seems, and sometimes Tennessee has benefited from the fact opponents don't know what defense they are in.
"We have a lot of defensive confusion," she said. "It confuses them probably more than we're confused."
Auburn is now coached by Nell Fortner, who has employed a mix of the matchup and man-to-man. Tennessee will use its man – their "bread and butter" as Summitt says – but is also inclined to switch into the matchup when needed.
"I didn't like our matchup at Vandy, but in all fairness to our players, we hadn't really worked on following cutters or shooters to the ball," Summitt said. "That's why we spent a lot of time (Monday at practice). I think it can be good. It's been good to us. Don't get me wrong. It changed the rhythm of the game (Sunday). That's what I tried to emphasize to them. Sometimes when people get really comfortable, you have to make them uncomfortable. Sometimes changing defenses can do that, even if you're not great in it, it's just a change in the tempo of the game. I would not be opposed to using it."
But if Auburn starts dropping three-pointers like Vandy did, Summitt will switch out in a hurry.
"I think it's a situation where it's not going to be something we're playing for 40 minutes. It's a changeup for us," Summitt said. "What happens a lot of time, just like with Vandy when they kept running those shooters to the corner and getting those open threes, we had to get out of it."
SCOUTING AUBURN: During practice Wednesday assistant coach Nikki Caldwell asked the upperclassmen to give her some scouting info on Auburn's returning players and what they remembered about how they play. It's another means of getting the team to take responsibility.
"Once you get into the conference and play teams over and over you kind of know what a team is noted for, and certain players stand out in their mind," Caldwell said. "Some players who are now getting more playing time I'll touch on them. But it's about leadership, ownership and having a sense of urgency."
Auburn's senior guards in Natasha Brackett and Nicole Louden certainly have their attention. So does Marita Payne, who has 76 blocks this season and now holds the school career mark with 205, breaking Linda Godby's record of 199. Payne had eight blocks in the first 10 minutes against Georgia on Jan. 16 and finished with 10 for the game.
"Payne is a player that can alter shots," Caldwell said. "She's got 76 blocks on the year. That's sending a couple of messages to our post players: They're going to have to go with their power games and use their quickness and athleticism to give them good scoring opportunities. And I think our guards once they look to get past the first line of defense (know) she's coming. I think they've got to look to dish, not really going into her. Her shot block is just like a deflection. She's deflecting balls out of the air. We've got to be aware of that."
Auburn's conference record – losses against Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia – isn't to be taken lightly, Caldwell said.
"When you go against an Auburn-type team first and foremost you've got to have the intensity," she said. "When you're on the road in the SEC your intensity level has to be just as high. We can't go in there and take anyone for granted. Auburn's had a few losses, but they've been in games. Their record is not any indication of how strong they are as a ball club. Anytime you're on the road you've got to have your defensive play."
Tennessee must defend the perimeter shooters – something the Lady Vols didn't do early against Vanderbilt, Caldwell said.
"I think that's going to be key for us is making sure they don't get open looks, contesting everything, limiting touches of certain players like Brackett and Louden," Caldwell said.
Tennessee's post players also must control the paint. The ever-improving Fluker will have her work cut out for her as she goes against a player with her same size in Payne.
"Board play - we're not only going to have to keep them off the boards, but I think offensively we need to attack the boards, too," Caldwell said.
Tennessee's guards must protect the ball and not make lazy passes.
"They're such a scrappy, defensive team," Caldwell said. "Our turnovers have got to be low. We're going to have to take care of the basketball. They're a scrappy basketball team with quickness and athleticism on the perimeter, and they get after it defensively. They're probably one of the better teams in their ability to hawk the ball and harass the ball. And then you've got players who are able to get out into the passing lanes and cause some turnovers that way."
Points also aren't easy to come by against the Tigers, especially at home.
"They're limiting their opponents to 55 points a game," she said. "Defensively they're doing a great job, and that's what Auburn teams have always been known for. That's something I know coach Ciampi has instilled in his kids, and now Nell Fortner is instilling that in her kids. Those areas are the keys."
Fortner is in her first season at Auburn, but is well known to Summitt and the Tennessee program through her coaching tenure at Purdue, with the U.S. Women's National Team and at the Indiana Fever, where former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings is a WNBA All-Star.
"I have known Pat for about 14 years or so," Fortner said. "We have been good friends. She has been a great friend to me and a mentor, also, which she is to so many women in this profession."
After starting conference play 0-3, Fortner seems even more in awe of Summitt's willingness to schedule so many tough out-of-conference schools before the beginning of SEC play.
"As long as I have been in this profession, I have never seen another team play a schedule like Tennessee does," Fortner said. "It is really unbelievable. Night in and night out, this team plays a non-conference schedule that no other team can touch. On the flip side of that, they recruit great athletes in high numbers. You have to give those kinds of players that kind of competition; they crave that. She schedules to her talent, which is something they can handle with talent like that. It is unbelievable. She is one strong woman to be able to deal with that kind of pressure every night and then, to take on the conference schedule."
Fortner does give credit to her team for not caving after opening the SEC with three straight losses.
"They continue to work hard, they continue to give their best effort, and you do have to keep the faith and believe and continue working towards those wins," she said.
Auburn drew the cream of the conference to start the SEC season in Vanderbilt, Georgia and Tennessee with a trip to LSU looming on Jan. 30 and in-state rival Alabama coming to Auburn on Jan. 23. Its first SEC game was on the road against Florida.
"You start with four other SEC teams and maybe you see a little different record for Auburn," Fortner said. "This is the hand we were dealt, and you try to deal with it. We don't like the losses, but we are trying to learn as much as we can from it.
"We try to hang in there and not lose our confidence and make your breaks sometimes. Hopefully we can do that soon. It is still early in the conference season. You can't lose your confidence, and you just have to keep fighting the good fight. This is the toughest part of our conference season; the very beginning of it. As long as we understand that and keep working hard to win ball games, good things will start happening."
ODDS AND ENDS: Former Lady Vol Carla McGhee (1986-90) is an assistant coach at Auburn. McGhee started for Tennessee against Auburn in the 1989 national championship game in Tacoma, Wash., which was won 76-60 by UT. … Pat Summitt was wearing glasses at practice Wednesday because her eyes are inflamed, apparently because of her contact lenses. She joked that at Vandy her players couldn't hear her and at Auburn she won't be able to see them. … Former Lady Vol assistant coach Mickie DeMoss, now the head coach at Kentucky, will be at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, Jan. 22, for a reception. The "meet and greet" will be at 6:30 p.m. at the hall of fame in downtown Knoxville and is open to the public. The Wildcats play the Lady Vols at 3 p.m. Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena.