When asked to provide some opening remarks in the press conference, Pat Summitt shook her head for a few seconds with a bemused look on her face as the reporters chuckled.
"Eighty-nine points on Saturday; 94 points on Thursday," Summitt said. "For a program that built great tradition of defense and rebounding, I don't know where our defense is right now. Obviously we did enough offensively to win. But I told our basketball team they're living on the edge. With our transition defense and our one-on-one defense, which is probably two of the hardest phases of the game to be able to commit to and get results, that's where we've got to get better. But obviously yes I'm happy. I don't look happy, but I am happy. It's a win, and I thought we did a lot of great things."
Those things included balanced scoring – four Lady Vols were in double figures – and getting the ball inside to freshman forward Candace Parker, who scored a career-high 26 points on an assortment of inside moves, jumpers and bank shots. She also had 10 rebounds to record a double-double and five assists.
Georgia coach Andy Landers was resigned to saying the same thing UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after the Huskies loss: Tennessee simply has too many offensive weapons.
Junior forward Sidney Spencer scored a career-high 21 points against UConn. She showed Thursday that wasn't an anomaly by scoring 17 against Georgia – the most for Spencer in a regular season SEC game.
"A lot of my open threes tonight came in transition," Spencer said. "They just weren't matching up. My teammates were drawing other defenders. I do think it does help, it does carry over from the Connecticut game, gives you a little confidence booster."
Senior guard Shanna Zolman also had 17 points and sophomore guard Alexis Hornbuckle added 12. The fifth starter, sophomore center Nicky Anosike was one point away from double figures with nine. Senior center Tye'sha Fluker had six, and junior forward Dominique Redding had seven off the bench.
"This team is by far the most balanced team I've played on," Zolman said. "It doesn't really matter who scores. It doesn't matter whether we're going inside or outside. We have scorers at all positions. If you take one person away, we've got four more coming at you. That's just how balanced we are. We've played against absolutely every type of defense so far, and we are still able to manage to come out with a win and been able to handle it."
No. 1 Tennessee (16-0, 2-0) is off to the second-best start in school history matching the 1994-95 team – the measuring stick is the 39-0 squad of 1997-98 – by beating No. 13 Georgia (11-4, 2-1). The win was Tennessee's 62nd in a row at home in conference play. The Lady Vols also have won 20 straight games overall in Thompson-Boling Arena, and a rowdy crowd of 11,908 was on hand to see this one.
But although Tennessee is outscoring everyone so far, Summitt is warning a game will come in which the Lady Vols won't score as much and can't stop the other team enough.
"We have to get better defensively," Summitt said. "As I told them we're living on the edge. We've been living on the edge. There are going to be nights where we're not going to score 94 points. They're a very confident team, but I think they have to be a very realistic team. If they don't step up their defensive intensity and do a better job in their transition defense and their one-on-one defense, then they're going to get beat when they have a poor shooting night."
Tennessee shot 56.5 percent for the game, 41.7 percent from three-point range and 95 percent from the line with 19-20 coming from the stripe. Spencer hit three of her five three-point attempts. Georgia shot 44.6 percent for the game, 38.5 percent from behind the arc and 77.3 percent from the line at 17-22.
Georgia was led by senior guard Sherill Baker, who had 25 points and six rebounds, and sophomore forward Tasha Humphrey, who scored 23 points and had eight rebounds. Senior guard Alexis Kendrick had 11 points, and junior guard Cori Chambers tallied nine with three 3-pointers.
Georgia is a guard-laden team by means of necessity after having its post game gutted by injury. Tennessee is thin at guard but goes deep in the post (though the Lady Vols were short one post player after sophomore center Sybil Dosty was suspended from the game for missing curfew Wednesday night; Dosty missed two exhibition games this season for missing class), and Georgia struggled to handle Parker, who was 10-15 from the floor and scored with left-handed and right-handed shots in the paint.
"When they went to their zone, I think we were able to get in the gaps," Summitt said. "Candace did a nice job of posting up. We ran a couple of wrinkles in our offense and I thought got her some really good looks. She was very efficient. She had great composure and just very efficient offensive player."
"My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball," Parker said. "I think it made it hard for Georgia because when they doubled, we have Sid and Shanna at the sweet spot, and they're some of the best shooters in America, and then we've got a budding post in (Anosike). I think our team has so many weapons. We did a good job of playing together and filling in or each other."
Spencer's scoring output has been key in Tennessee's past two games. Spencer moved into the starting lineup shortly after point guard Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood left the team, precisely because Summitt knew she could score, even if Spencer sometimes had to be convinced to shoot.
"I'm really proud of Sidney," Summitt said. "It only took her two-and-a-half years, but that's OK it takes some four. I just really think that she understands her role, and I told her that she had to be aggressive offensively, and she's been that for us. After she got over the initial shock of being a starter – that took her about a game-and-a-half – she's just been terrific. I think her size on the floor, she's able to shoot over people. She's able to get inside the zone."
Tennessee needs all the offensive firepower it can get right now. Georgia jumped out to an eight-point lead in the first half, 31-23, at the 8:43 mark. Then Tennessee, led by Redding, Parker, Spencer and Anosike, went on a run and took the lead at the half, 43-38.
The effect on the Lady Bulldogs was evident to their coach in the locker room. It wasn't a fatal blow, though, because Georgia, despite falling behind 13 to start the second half, battled back to cut Tennessee's lead to one, 63-62, with 11:34 to go.
"I think it could have been critical," Landers said of the way the first half wound down. "I think it could have been much more than it was. I felt like it took our kids their zing, their enthusiasm away. We just didn't look the same. We opened the game with bing, bang, boom. We're nailing a couple of threes, we've gone inside to Tasha a couple of times, we're doing what we thought we might do against man. Then they go zone, and we're not doing what we thought we might do against zone.
"And it took our enthusiasm away. I think it could have been absolutely horrific had we not responded at the half. We talked about that a lot at the half. That was the first thing I talked about – how they had lost it, that their body language was negative, I didn't see fight, I didn't see any bounce in their step. I think they understood that, and they came back again. When you go down 12 that's a good time to quit, and they didn't. In fact that's the time we asked them to respond, being aggressive defensively. They forced, I think, three straight turnovers, cashed them in for layups, and we're back in the game again."
It was that second half run that had Summitt steaming on her sideline during the subsequent timeout. While seated in front of her players, she sent a clipboard crashing to the floor. Whatever she said worked. Tennessee answered with a Zolman three-pointer; a Fluker steal and three-fourths of the court dribble drive for a layup; a Zolman layup off a Spencer steal and assist; and then a Spencer three-pointer.
"She was on us about defense and the defensive intensity," Zolman said of the timeout. "We just continually needed to get the ball inside and more importantly defensively we needed to turn up the heat a little bit and put a little bit of ball pressure on their guards like they were doing us and being able to get more out in the passing lanes, bodying up on them. When we did that we got a lot of deflections, we trapped and got steals, and we started making our run."
Georgia didn't go away though. Tennessee had built the lead back to nine, 73-64, at the 8:38 mark, but the Lady Bulldogs whittled it to one again, 77-76, with 3:53 left. Tennessee again went on an offensive flurry – this time it was Spencer, Hornbuckle and Parker – and finally pulled away for good.
For Summitt watching the defensive stumbles and breakdowns was agonizing.
"Very much so tonight, a little more stressed than I've been in the other games," Summitt said. "I just wanted to put on a uniform for the first time in a long time and go play defense. Y'all believe that? I just got really frustrated with our transition defense and our half-court defense, very much so."
That means Friday's late afternoon practice will likely be up-tempo and defense-oriented.
"We addressed it Monday and Tuesday, but obviously we need to address it Friday," Summitt said. "We're going to have to keep reminding them and sometimes the only way kids believe is when they get beat. What I told them is you have to learn while you're winning. We're winning, and sometimes when you're winning you think nothing needs to be adjusted. Our defense has got to get better."
Zolman said the players are fully aware of what awaits Friday. Tennessee also will play the next four games away from the friendly confines of Knoxville – Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Duke and Kentucky – and a loss could easily be looming if the defensive issues aren't fixed.
"Three days of practice has been defensively focused. I'm sure these next couple of days of practice will be the same," Zolman said. "We've got to get better defensively. I think a lot of that is a mindset, too. A lot of times it's just a matter of retaining what we know and being able to get back on defense and be in position and being able to pick up. That's what's most important for us."
Tennessee's defensive miscues make them look vulnerable. After the game Humphrey acknowledged how well Parker player – as did Parker in terms of Humphrey's game – but it was the Georgia forward's last remark that was more revealing.
"She did a lot of great things tonight, and I'm looking forward to them coming to Athens," Humphrey said.
That rematch will be Feb. 16. The Lady Vols have nine other games between now and then, thus some time for Tennessee to upgrade its play on both sides of the ball.
"It definitely was an up-and-down game; it definitely was a game where a lot of points were scored," Zolman said. "As much fun as it was sometimes, we still knew that we weren't playing very well defensively in certain segments. We knew what their strengths were, and we knew our weaknesses, and we struggled. Hopefully throughout the course of the season we're going to improve."
One sportswriter asked Summitt if she needed to accept the fact that perhaps this team is just better offensively than defensively.
"I refuse to accept that," Summitt said. "They can be a lot better defensively whether we're in zone or man. They can figure out how to limit touches and how to defend one on one."
For now Tennessee remains undefeated. The Lady Vols also have shown their coach that they can come back in a game.
"I don't know that we necessarily play better from behind," Summitt said. "I do think we play better when things get real tight, and we get challenged. The one good thing about this team is that we've been able to answer runs. Now we've been a team that unfortunately has gotten down early in games. We've been able to go on some runs, and then I think we did a good job of answering their runs in the second half."
"We don't get easily rattled, and that's a good thing," Zolman said. "It's just a matter of us doing what we've got to do."
Tennessee has been helped by the fact that several players can step up and score. Opponents are having a difficult time accounting for everyone on the floor. Auriemma said as much, as did Landers.
"The thing that is difficult about Tennessee is that they have so many weapons," Landers said. "They shoot the three very well from two positions, not one position. Not very well, probably an understatement, they shoot it excellently with Spencer and Zolman. So they spread you out and then they have the quality inside players. I thought Parker was excellent there. They're hard to guard. That's because they're good."