Summitt has 868 career wins – 12 away from the record for the all-time victory total by a NCAA collegiate basketball coach, men or women, held by former North Carolina coach Dean Smith with 879. Florida is coached by Tennessee native Carolyn Peck, who has a national title with Purdue and is on an exclusive list herself: she's the only former Summitt staff member to beat her old coach. She did it in 1998 while at Purdue.
Summitt has spent the season cobbling together a roster due to injury and illness. On Thursday she will be without junior center Tye'sha Fluker, who needed to travel home to Pasadena, Calif., to be with her seriously ill grandmother. The good news is that Summitt will have guards Loree Moore and Shanna Zolman. Moore, who broke her nose in the game against Georgia, had surgery Wednesday morning and is available for tonight's game. She will have to wear a nose splint for protection.
"Her toughness is not in question," said UT assistant coach Dean Lockwood. "She's a very tough kid to deal with this."
Within the last year, Moore has had surgery to repair a shredded knee, has had her tonsils removed and just recently, had her smashed nose fixed. The senior's only concern this week was her status for the Florida game.
Junior Shanna Zolman tweaked her right knee in the closing minute of the Georgia game, but was ruled OK to play after an MRI by Dr. William Youmans showed no damage.
"We'll treat her knee symptomatically and resume activity as tolerated," said Jenny Moshak, associate athletics director for sports medicine. "I think she should be a ‘go' for the Florida game."
Tennessee's senior class – Moore, Shyra Ely and Brittany Jackson – has a career SEC regular season record of 47-1. The lone loss occurred to Vanderbilt in Nashville in 2002 when they were freshmen. They will put their reputations on the line again tonight against Florida.
With the absence of Fluker, Summitt is considering a lineup of Jackson, Ely and Alexis Hornbuckle on the perimeter and Nicky Anosike and Sidney Spencer inside. She also could opt to use a three-guard lineup of Moore, Hornbuckle and Jackson. That would move Ely to the high post position. Anosike would remain at center.
"I am planning to put Spencer at the other post spot and leave Anosike out there," Summitt said. "The other option would be to go with Shyra at the four and maybe start another guard. I have not made that decision. I am waiting to see how Loree responds in the next 48 hours.
"At this point, I am looking for Spencer to step in. She gave us better board play the last couple of games and has been very active. She is still not shooting the ball the way she should be, but that is obviously mental; we are hoping to get a confident Sidney Spencer soon."
"I've been working on it before the game, before practice. It's going to come," Spencer said. "I'm not too worried about that. I can make free throws. I can make putbacks. It's definitely been a test of my faith with God. Whatever his course is, I'm running."
The three-guard lineup – which also can include freshman Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood matched with Moore and Hornbuckle – has proven to be very effective, especially against the quickness of Georgia.
"Our three-guard perimeter game was I thought again very effective for us," Summitt said after the win over the Lady Bulldogs. "When you match a team like Georgia, you need speed and the quickness and the athleticism, and those three possess that, and we could match up with them much better."
Florida is expected to counter with its own veteran three-guard lineup in: Tishona Gregory, 5'5 senior, 6.8 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game (Romulus, Mich.); Tamia Williams, 6'0 senior, 12.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg (West Palm Beach, Fla.); and Tashia Morehead, 5'11 senior, 7.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg (Panama City, Fla.). The inside players are two juniors in Brittany Davis, 6'2 forward, 8.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg (Gainesville, Fla.); and Bernice Mosby, 6'1 forward, 14.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg (Brooksville, Fla.).
"Florida is going to be a challenge for us without Tye'sha Fluker," Summitt said. "Hopefully Loree will be able to play. Jenny Moshak is optimistic, but that injury may not give us the best or the healthiest Loree Moore. … Florida will be a big challenge for our frontline. The play of Anosike has been important and her time will be increased. We have got to get better play out of Spencer, (Dominique) Redding and (Sybil) Dosty. If that doesn't happen we will have to move Shyra to the four, and I am comfortable moving her to that position. We would like to think that our other frontline people will step up. They have the door open and an opportunity in front of them to step up. That will be good for them and obviously good for us in the long run."
Summitt is particularly concerned about Morehead.
"I look at Morehead, her play has been impressive," Summitt said. "As an athlete, she is a difficult matchup for us and will certainly be a challenge. I look top to bottom at their talent and athleticism, and Morehead, and you are looking at players that can match us with physical play and board play. They are scary when you think about their ability to crash the boards. I see this being a good matchup for us."
Spencer, who has put together two solid defensive efforts in her last two games, figures to be key in this game. The sophomore from Hoover, Ala., also has emphasized rebounding at the behest of her coach.
"Definitely," Spencer said. "I've really been focused on that lately because that's what Pat has wanted me to do. Rebounding is all about heart, so just giving it your heart and watching the ball and knowing where it's going to bounce is also important."
After the Georgia game, Summitt was pleased with the guard play off the bench, but not the post play. The exception was Spencer.
"While I did not think that we played well off the bench in the first half in the frontline I thought on the perimeter we played very well off the bench," she said. "Unfortunately we didn't get the quality minutes or production from the post – I thought Spencer gave us some good minutes, but aside from that we didn't get as much as we wanted."
Against Florida, Summitt will be looking for better bench play across the board.
"I think we can get a lot better off our bench," she said after the Georgia game. "I think we have to have more consistency and more numbers off of our bench. I think that we just have to continue to strive to be a better half-court team. I like our transition, but I thought we were a little careless and took a lot of risks.
"I think we have to understand the tempo that we want to play and when we need to change that up. We have a lot of room for improvement, and that's exciting because we've already made great strides. It's a journey, and we're a long way from finishing our journey."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant coach Nikki Caldwell prepared the scouting report on Florida, but she was on the road recruiting Wednesday so assistant coach Dean Lockwood pinch hit for her for this story. Here's Caldwell's report delivered via Lockwood.
"Florida is an athletic team," Lockwood said. "They have good quickness. They have a number of players who are multifaceted."
Tennessee is most concerned about dribble drives and the transition game of Florida. The Gators also do a good job on the offensive boards and at stopping penetration, he said.
The players drawing the most attention are Mosby and Williams.
"Both of those players have led them in scoring pretty much," Lockwood said. "Mosby and Williams are two players we are very concerned with."
Tennessee also will have to keep a defensive eye on Gregory and Davis.
"You let her get in a rhythm, she can make a shot," he said. As far as Davis, "just a good solid player," Lockwood said. "She's an inside-type player."
SEC STRENGTH: Summitt has heard the talk that the SEC is not as strong as years past, but she's not buying it.
"I think the league is tough," she said. "It seems like a lot of times the talk around the country is that the SEC is down, but I believe that is just wishful thinking. I do not think that the conference is down. As I look at the teams we have played, you have Georgia who has some losses, but they have played a tough schedule. A loss within this league is not necessarily what I would say is a bad loss. We probably played our best game against Kentucky, but they are a much-improved team as well. Georgia is impressive. We went down the wire with Auburn, and they are a quality opponent. I think people who say this league is down are hoping that, but I do not see it."
The SEC will get a chance to see how it all shakes out next month when its post-season tourney is held March 3-6 in Greenville, S.C. The NCAA Tournament begins March 19.
SEC ON TAP: Besides Tennessee, the following conference schools are playing tonight. All times are Eastern: Georgia at Alabama, 8 p.m. (CSS); Arkansas at Auburn, 8 p.m.; LSU at Ole Miss, 8 p.m.; and Vanderbilt at Mississippi State, 9 p.m. (Fox Sports South).
ODDS AND ENDS: In their last outing, the Gators shot 48.4 percent, but couldn't fight off a late rally in an 84-73 loss at Vanderbilt on Jan. 30 in Nashville. The Gators led 59-51 at one point, but Vandy's Abi Ramsey started draining three-pointers and finished with a career-high 30 points. Mosby had 15 points and six rebounds; Gregory added 14 points and Tamia Williams, 10. … Besides looking to halt their three-game losing streak, the Gators are seeking program win No. 500. They have a 499-377 record in 31 years of varsity competition. … Tennessee is playing three SEC games in six days: Georgia this past Monday; Florida on Thursday and then Ole Miss at home Sunday. At least fans can tune in to watch. Counting the Monday game against Georgia, the Lady Vols are on television for six consecutive contests: Florida (Fox Sports South); Ole Miss (CSS), LSU (ESPN2), Vandy (ESPN2) and South Carolina (CSS). It is apparently a first for the regular season for Tennessee. … Tennessee leads the series with Florida, 33-1. The lone Gator victory came in 1997 in Gainesville. … Lady Vols Zolman and Ely should be happy to see Gator uniforms. Zolman has averaged 15.3 points against them, Ely, 12. … If Tennessee scores at least 60 points the game is over so far. UT's record is 15-0 when scoring at least 60 points this season. The Lady Vols only won once when scoring less than that, a 54-52 win over Temple on Nov. 28.