And the last team to do it? Georgia (11-3, 2-0), which will be in town tonight at 7 p.m. (Fox Sports Net, Lady Vol Radio Network). On Dec. 8, 1996, the Lady Bulldogs beat the Lady Vols, 94-93, in overtime. Tennessee started its spectacular streak the next game on Jan. 12, 1997 – and also went on to win a national title that year – against Kentucky.
This Georgia team is certainly capable of disrupting another Tennessee streak.
"I'm sincere when I say this but it's just another SEC game," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "But when you say, ‘It's just another SEC game,' you have to understand how very important all of them are. It's extremely important."
"Georgia is going to challenge our transition defense," coach Pat Summitt said. "What's the weakest part of our game? Transition defense. Next thing? One-on-one defense. We're getting ready to play one of the quickest teams in the league."
A quick team shines the spotlight even brighter on sophomore point guard Alexis Hornbuckle, who knows she must be ready for the pressure brought by Georgia's guards. She watched film on Wednesday before practice but will draw more knowledge from having faced them last season.
"I played against them last year," Hornbuckle said. "It (film) tells you, but it doesn't really tell you. Getting the chance to play against them last year you know you're facing tremendous quickness, a lot of defensive pressure. They're just quick. They're quick on quick. They're so fast. Sherill Baker brings the most I think intimidating defensive pressure because she can take the ball whether it's from a pass or whether it's from you dribbling. As a guard you're constantly worried about taking care of the ball. When you have a defender like that everything's going through your head, as well as trying to run your plays and get your team involved in the offense."
Hornbuckle (10.6 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game, 3.5 assists per game) will start at point guard for No. 1 Tennessee. Hornbuckle is expected to be joined in the lineup by guard Shanna Zolman (15.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.5 apg); forward Sidney Spencer (8.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg); forward Candace Parker (14.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg); and center Nicky Anosike (7.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg).
No. 13 Georgia is expected to start: Alexis Kendrick, No. 31, 5'7 senior guard (9.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Sherill Baker, No. 11, 5'8 senior guard (18.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg); Cori Chambers, No. 21, 5'9 junior guard (11.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Megan Darrah, No. 24, 6'3 sophomore forward (12.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg); and Tasha Humphrey, No. 34, 6'3 sophomore forward (20.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg).
Summitt is fully aware of the offensive weapons of Georgia. This week's practice was specifically tailored to try to counter the strengths of the Lady Bulldogs – transition offense, full-court pressure, the overall game of Humphrey and a slew of three-point shooters.
"Tasha Humphrey inside, their guard play," Summitt said. "They can all create and shoot the three. Baker is putting up a lot of shots. They can spread you out. That's what makes Tasha so effective on the inside is the fact they've got so many great weapons from behind the arc. We're just going to have to bring our defense and our intensity on the ball. We'll probably look to vary our defensive attack."
Hornbuckle is fully aware that she must stay out of foul trouble from here on out – she has taken over the point guard position since fellow sophomore Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood left the program Dec. 19, 2005 – but it is especially important against Georgia.
"I think it's very important, because it's going to be an up-and-down game," Hornbuckle said. "We don't want it to get out of hand - if we take care of the ball it won't be too bad - because they can go all day."
Zolman is the first backup at point guard, but as Tennessee's leading scorer she must also look for her shot. She very well recalls facing Georgia earlier in her career in Athens when they brought defensive heat and forced her into multiple turnovers.
"I remember that game very vividly," Zolman said.
Now Zolman is one of the first options in the offense, and she noted her ball-handling skills have improved markedly. Her shot wasn't falling against UConn on Saturday – she was 1-10 from the field but 10-10 from the line – in a game that Tennessee still won 89-80.
"A lot of people are thinking, ‘What's wrong? Is your shot broke? What's going on?' Nothing's wrong at all, except people have finally figured it out," Zolman said. "They're playing defense differently on me. I've got a target on my back, and that's something that's never going to change. The coaching staff and I were talking, too; it's a good thing that they're doing it now because that's the defense that we'll see in the postseason. So it's giving us the rest of this season to get ready for that, whether it's people face guarding me the entire game, whether it's two people guarding me, they're trapping me to get rid of the ball. Whatever it is they're doing that and thinking that's how they can beat us.
"But if I recall we're still undefeated. So as long as teams continue to do that, as long as we keep winning, so be it. But it's important for myself just to remain cool and not get frustrated throughout the course of the game that I'm not getting the normal looks that I'm getting. In turn it's also going to be more important for me to get open earlier to work on the timing of my cuts, to keep on moving and to use my screens better and to use the screens that I'm setting better as well."
Zolman also said she was ready to spell Hornbuckle at the point, though her goal is to get the ball and get the team in its offense as quickly as possible.
"Lex has done an unbelievable job whenever she handles the ball at the point position," Zolman said. "She's a one-man press breaking crew. She does an excellent job at that, but I'm also wanting to help relieve her of that because they're probably going to deny her a lot, whether it's full court, she can't get the ball. I have no problem with bringing it up. It's something I want to do. Just get the ball and go. Give it up; let's get in our offense. I don't want to be up there trying to beat them off the dribble. I'll help her with the pressure whenever I need to and just get into the offense."
Summitt watched the replay of the UConn game and had a talk with Zolman about what she saw.
"They just denied her the ball, chasing her around like she had a pot of gold," Summitt said. "It was obvious they didn't want her to get any open shots. She was definitely a high priority … the priority as far as coverage. She got a little frustrated, got a little overanxious at times, but she's going to see defensive schemes like this. I think as time goes on, she'll get better, and hopefully her teammates will get better at screening for her. Eventually she'll get back in the groove. If anything she has to be patient and then explosive. She has to change her speed up; she has to use her strengths.
"I think she'll learn from it, too. The times she did score, she saw it. She just wants to help our team. Being such a great offensive weapon you have to fight against frustration when you're not getting touches. You have to channel your energy into getting teammates open and doing other things."
Zolman will be counted on to give Hornbuckle some rest the rest of the way. After watching game film Summitt came away impressed with Hornbuckle's effort.
"She's terrific. She's just absolutely terrific," Summitt said. "She was a warrior the whole way. I think her teammates can take a lesson from her effort. She doesn't need to be playing those kind of minutes. That's why other people have to step up. Absolutely."
Junior Dominique Redding can play the forward position – inside or outside – and Summitt is going to try to mold her into a guard by the postseason. With her 6'1 size Redding can present some mismatches on the perimeter. Summitt realizes the Georgia game might not be the best place to get tossed into the point position, but she's ready to rely on Redding. Freshman guard Lindsey Moss also is trying to learn in a baptism by fire.
"Dom's got to simplify her game at the point," Summitt said. "It's critical for our team's success. Dom's probably more comfortable there than Lindsey and rightfully so because she's a junior in our system. They both have to be more serious about helping our team everyday in practice so they can help us in a game. Got to get really serious about their development in practice. Dom has obviously made a lot of progress, did a great job in the UConn game. I think she has more to do. Lindsey is still learning. She's a freshman and still learning. I can be more patient with her."
For her part Redding said she is ready to play on the perimeter – at the two or three spots – and she will take on the point responsibilities, too, if need be.
"I think this is my natural position," Redding said of playing as a guard. "I do have to handle the ball more, but it's not really that big of a difference. Just have to pick up the ball and then go to the boards aggressively. Basically just be a guard. Everything I want to be. I would prefer to play out on the wing. I've just got to make sure I take care of the ball. Two or three, doesn't matter."
She has seen Georgia on film and understands what kind of challenge its guards present. She also knows that Hornbuckle needs some help.
"I think now I do just seeing what we've got to go against," Redding said. "Georgia has really, really good quick guards. They push it every possession so to ask her to play 40 minutes like that is a lot so us as guards have to come in and step up."
Georgia has to rely on a guard-heavy attack after having its post game decimated by preseason injuries. But the Lady Bulldogs still have quite a presence in the paint because of Humphrey.
"They've had to tweak some things because of their injuries, but their guard play is very impressive," Summitt said. "They can dribble drive. They can shoot the three. They do a great job of creating for each other. Their quickness on defense can be disruptive. Humphrey – there's a lot you can say about her – but she just anchors them down."
Georgia has regrouped – its three losses were to Baylor, UCLA and Temple – and the Lady Dogs are ready to test their makeover against the Lady Vols.
"It always takes a little bit of time when you have some injuries and obviously as many as they've dealt with," Summitt said. "The thing about Georgia they always play hard. I can never remember playing a Georgia team that didn't bring the intensity. Their work ethic is tremendous, and they've got the speed and quickness, which makes up sometimes for lack of size. We always have great games."
Georgia's coach is happy so far by the way his team started conference play.
"I'm very pleased," Landers said. "I'm very excited about the way we've opened the Southeastern Conference schedule. I thought we played a terrific basketball game and probably executed the best we have all year at Ole Miss, and then we had a real high-energy game against Florida and again executed and played well. I think we're off to a great start, and we certainly want to continue and build upon the momentum that we have.
"Given our circumstances and all the things that have happened to us, I think we're the only place we can be. We're playing good basketball. We're reasonably healthy. We've just got to prepare and make sure that we're rested and see if we can survive a 40-minute battle with a very deep team."
It should be a dogfight, if history is any indicator between these programs. The score is usually close of late – the average score in all Tennessee-Georgia games since 2000 is 71.1 for the Lady Vols to 66.0 for the Lady Bulldogs. Tennessee is the only SEC team to hold an all-time series lead, 33-14, against Georgia. Landers, a native of Louisville in East Tennessee, will always spark a reaction from the orange faithful.
"A typical, I think, Georgia-Tennessee matchup is on the way because they like coming down, and we like to push tempo as well so it's going to be a big test for us," Summitt said. "We've had some down-to-the-wire games; this could be the same."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant coach Nikki Caldwell handled the scouting report on Georgia. Here is her assessment.
Caldwell noted keeping the ball when Tennessee has possession is paramount.
"The way they get the ball is going to be critical," Caldwell said. "We've got to come out and make sure that we're taking care of the basketball. Their guards generate a lot of their transition and early offense through their defensive pressure and their ability to get in the passing lanes and create turnovers. First and foremost I think taking care of the basketball on our part is going to be key so that they can't establish their transition or running game."
When Georgia does have the ball Tennessee has to account for Humphrey, Caldwell said.
"I think offensively they've got a great post player in Tasha Humphrey," Caldwell said. "She's a player that's hard to guard because she can play in the mid-post, three-point line, low post. We're going to have to mix up who we put on her, mix up giving her different looks. As we talked about in film session, we're going to have to guard her. Everybody will. Deny one ball away, deny the middle of the floor to keep her from getting the high low action. That's going to help in defending a player like Tasha Humphrey.
"On the other post player they've got No. 24 Darrah. She can knock down the three ball, has guard skills. They're a very versatile basketball team. You can't say enough about what Baker means to this team with her ability to create points. Her defensive pressure is what really stands out and then she's doing a great job of putting the ball in the hole. She's shooting over 50 percent."
Another guard also got Tennessee's attention.
"Alexis Kendrick brings a lot at the point position, hardworking player, a player who doesn't get a lot of the glory or a lot of the press, but she's the kid who can get things going for them when they need a basket," Caldwell said. "She too is a difficult guard because she's able to shoot the three, penetrate, pull-up jumper. She plays so hard. I think their guard play is definitely peaking right now, and that's something we're going to have to be able to during the course of the game mix up how we're going to defend them."
When the Lady Vols have the ball, Caldwell said, they have to take care of it and remember what got them to 15-0.
"On the defensive end their ability to generate steals, they get after it," Caldwell said. "They're going to run their two-three matchup. They do the best job of covering areas, of covering passing lanes that we've seen out of the two-three zone. And then the fact that their man to man is a good bread-and-butter defense for them, too. We're going to stay in our sets, do what we do best, establish our inside game, our transition game. There's going to be a good battle, but I think it's going to be a battle of who's going to defend the transition game and then who's going to take care of the basketball to eliminate a lot of easy baskets for the opposing team and as always a battle on the boards."
MOORE ON MORE: After Tennessee beat No. 7 UConn on Saturday to go 15-0 on the season it seemed like a good win. And it was for January. But Summitt and her mentor and former coach, Billie Moore, saw a lot of things that needed fixing. Moore and Summitt noticed them during live time. What they saw Sunday on film only confirmed it. Class was in session starting Monday.
Moore, who coached Summitt at the 1976 Olympics, is a longtime friend of the Lady Vol coach and travels to Knoxville on occasion during the season to check in on her protégé. Moore was the first coach in women's basketball history to lead two different schools to national championships – California State-Fullerton (1970) and UCLA (1978). The retired Moore became the eighth coach in women's basketball history to reach the 400-win mark and has an overall record of 436-196. She was inducted, along with Summitt, in the inaugural class of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.
"Riding home after the (UConn) game I said this is one of those rare opportunities where you are going to get a wealth of material out of a ball game that you didn't lose," said Moore, who watched the game film Sunday with Summitt. "Most coaches have to lose."
When Summitt hit the practice floor Monday she had consumed an eyeful of memorable moments from the tape, including the fact sharpshooter Ann Strother was left open behind the arc and hit five of 15 from long range. The players got an earful for nearly three hours of full-court drills that left them exhausted but acutely aware. The routine was repeated at Tuesday's practice. Wednesday's session – the day before tonight's game – was light, and the players were loose.
Zolman, a four-year player for Summitt, said her coach's fire Monday was initially jolting for some players, but she remembered for whom she played.
"Kind of used to that honestly," Zolman said. "I was a little unaware of how she was going to come out, but I wasn't surprised. After watching the film we deserved that. There were way too many defensive possessions that we had miscommunications, we didn't know who was guarding who.
"We let Strother get 11 wide-open threes out of her 15, and that's just ridiculous. If I were to have 11 wide-open threes I would be loving it. You need to look back and rethink what you're really doing. The way that she's pushed us, the intensity that she's brought to us for two practices has definitely caused us to raise our intensity level as well. She's just preparing us because we don't want to have a loss for us to learn. We don't think that's going to have to be necessary. We've got to just take what the teams are giving to us."
Moore watched all three practice sessions this week from the sidelines. The former coach recognized immediately what was happening – initially shocked players and a determined coach.
"It's hard because you have a dual way of coaching," Moore said. "You have a standard. You set the standard. The players get confused because this bar is being raised another level. All Pat did was raise the bar. What the players didn't understand is the bar is going to go up another level yet."
The goal at Tennessee is to compete for championships. The UConn game showed Summitt all the shortcomings.
"You come out of this game and think this is what we have to do to get to the Final Four and compete for a championship," Moore said. "What they did and how they played against UConn is not going to get them to a Final Four, and it's not going to get them a championship so let's correct it right now.
"A lot of people with less drive, a lot of people win a championship, and they take a couple of years off. They don't recruit hard, they don't work as hard, and then they have to climb back. Her desire, her enthusiasm, her passion, her willingness to work are all based on the fact that she refuses to lose … so all the UConn game was was a learning experience. It's like yeah, it's great we won, but this is not Tennessee basketball. This is not going to get you a Final Four. This is not going to get you a national championship."